Settlements a threat to Israel, Peres says

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Shimon Peres called West Bank settlements a threat to Israel.

The remarks, made Tuesday at the annual ceremony in memory of Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, appeared to address a report released Sunday that said “Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law” in the West Bank, and that therefore settlements and West Bank outposts are legal.

"It is doubtful that a Jewish state without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish," Peres said, inferring that settlements would lead to the inextricable inclusion of the Palestinians living on the West Bank.

The Obama administration criticized the findings of the Levy Committee report.

"We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Monday evening in answer to a question about the Levy Committee report. Ventrell added that the State Department is "concerned about it, obviously."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns could bring up the report during meetings this week in Israel. Burns will be there with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to the region.

The Levy Committee, which was formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and headed by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, called in its 89-page report for the legalization of all outposts and allowing people who built homes on Palestinian-owned land to pay compensation to the alleged owners, recommends changing the legal regulations concerning Jewish settlement in the West Bank in the areas of zoning, demolitions and building.

Dovish Jewish groups in the United States criticized the report.

Americans for Peace Now in a statement called on the government of Israel "to repudiate the findings of the commission it appointed to address the problem of illegal outposts in the West Bank." APN added that Israel "would cause terrible damage to its international standing, to its relationship with the United States, and to prospects for peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world" if the government adopted the report.

J Street called on the Israelis "to reject the committee’s recommendations and to choose instead a path that leads to two states, thereby securing both Israel’s Jewish and democratic future."

The findings of the committee are subject to the review and approval of Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Netanyahu established the committee in January after settler leaders called for a response to the 2005 Sasson Report on illegal outposts, which concluded that more than 100 West Bank settlements and outposts constructed from the 1990s and forward were illegal.
 

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