Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the government-appointed panel that was charged with determining whether Israel had a legal basis for building in the West Bank.
“These were professional people of the highest caliber who did their work in an exemplary manner,” the Prime Minister said of the Levy panel.
He also noted that the panel members were appointed according to law. “The members of the committee were appointed in accordance with all of the necessary approvals, including those of Justice Minister Prof. Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein,” said an email from the Prime Minister’s office.
Controversy swirled around both the panel and Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom Monday, after Walla news released a recording from last month in which Shalom appeared to suggest that members of the panel were appointed because of their perceived support of the current government.
In July the Levy Panel issued a report that said “according to international law, Israel has a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least in areas that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority.”
It concluded, “Therefore, the establishment of Jewish settlements [in Judea and Samaria] is, in and of itself, not illegal.”
On the tape Shalom can be heard implying that the government essentially knew what the outcome of the panel would be.
“He [Levy] was associated with the Likud, he was a resident of Ramla, where he served as a deputy mayor as a Likud appointee, he was a legal prodigy; he was appointed to the Supreme Court as part of a political deal between (then Likud minister) Meir Sheetrit and (then Supreme Court President) Aharon Barak,” Shalom said.
“He was totally divorced from the whole Supreme Court experience; he never attended its events, he was just a lone wolf,” Shalom continued. “So when the prime minister tapped him [to head the committee] was he unaware of whom he was appointing?”
According to Israel Hayom, Shalom also reportedly said that the background of the other two members on the committee, Alan Baker and Tchia Shapira, led to their appointment. “When the prime minister appointed Baker, do you really think we had no idea who Baker was? He was the Foreign Ministry’s legal advisor when I was foreign minister. Did we not know who he was?” Shalom said.
On Shapira, Shalom cited the fact that she was the daughter of former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren (who was considered to be an enthusiastic supporter of Israeli settlements). “It’s quite clear that this trio was not expected to produce a Talia Sasson-style report,” Shalom stated. That report, authored in 2007, questioned the legality of some outposts in Judea and Samaria.
Israel Hayom reported that a spokesperson at Shalom’s bureau said his statements were not designed to suggest “that the committee was biased or lacked impartiality; any attempt to claim otherwise using the transcript of the conversation misquotes what was actually said as it is void of the proper context.”
The spokesperson added: “Had he actually wanted to suggest that the committee’s findings would have been implemented without delay, but this has not been the case.”
According to the spokesperson, Shalom’s comments were in response to a question on Sasson and her report. “The vice prime minister said obvious and well-known facts that are available to everyone with access to an online serach engine,” the spokesperson said. “He merely mentioned what was already known on the political affiliation of Edmond Levy, Alan Baker and Tchia Shapira.”