The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the Palestinian territories – despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary – has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad. Even Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage. Downplaying the Levy report’s significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report’s publication rather than its substance.
Little more than a decade ago, in a brief interlude of heady optimism about the prospects of regional peace, the Israeli Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings that, it was widely assumed, heralded the advent of a new, post-Zionist era for Israel. But with two more watershed judgments handed down over the winter of 2011-2012 the same court has decisively reversed the tide.
Already-strained relations between Israel and Europe hit an all-time low this week after a leaked internal European report on the so-called peace process criticised Israel in unprecedented terms. The document, which warned that the chances of a two-state solution were rapidly fading, appeared to reflect mounting exasperation among the 27 European member states at Israel’s refusal to revive talks with the Palestinians.
Thousands of pilgrims flocked this week to Israel’s latest tourist attraction, touted as the place where Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan. Visitors to Qasr al Yahud, in the Jordan Valley, received an unusual welcome, however. They had to pass through a fenced-off corridor warning that landmines surrounded them on all sides. At the river’s edge, they were watched over by armed Israeli soldiers in watchtowers with orders to stop anyone trying to cross the short stretch of water that marks the border with Jordan.
The construction of sections of a controversial segregated road network in the West Bank planned by Israel for Palestinians – leaving the main roads for exclusive use by settlers – is being financed by a US government aid agency, a map prepared by Palestinian researchers has revealed. USAid, which funds development projects in Palestinian areas, is reported to have helped to build 114km of Israeli-proposed roads, described by human rights groups as Israel’s “apartheid road” plan.
Today’s West Bank is a land of shocking contrasts – of one set of rules and rights for Palestinians and another for Jewish settlers. Palestinian lives are under the absolute control of the Israeli army, which can either seal off communities with roadblocks or invade them at will. The Palestinian economy is being slowly strangled by the separation barrier. Few Palestinians are allowed any longer to seek work inside Israel, and their freedom to move around the West Bank is severely curtailed by hundreds of checkpoints and the need for almost unattainable travel permits.