Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet will adopt parts of a report by a cabinet-sanctioned panel that advised to legalize West Bank outposts and which rejected the claim that Israel's presence in the territories is that of an occupying force, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.
Netanyahu's move comes amid pressure from right-wing ministers, and out of a desire to appease the settlers ahead of the upcoming general elections, due to take place January 22.
A senior cabinet official confirmed the report, saying that the government was set to adopt the paper's "practical parts," dealing with planning and building procedures in the West Bank, in the legalization of illegal outposts, and by making it easier for settlers to buy land in the territory.
A team in the Prime Minister's Office is currently working on forming the decision's wording, one which would be brought to the cabinet's approval either this coming Sunday or the next.
According to the senior official, the cabinet's decision won't refer to the reports' diplomatic sections, such as those determining that Israel wasn't an occupying force in the West Bank, and that, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, settlement building did not go against international law.
The adoption of these latter parts of the Levy report could be interpreted as a de facto annexation of the West Bank, or parts of it, which would cause a severe response from the American administration as well as from the international community as a whole.
In June, the Levy Committee, headed by former Supreme Court vice president Edmond Levy, recommended a fundamental change in the legal regime in the West Bank, including the annulment of a long list of laws, High Court of Justice Rulings and procedures in order to permit Jews to settle in all of Judea and Samaria.
At first, Netanyahu tried to "bury" the report, and prevent it from becoming a cabinet decision. However, the premier has been the subject of intense pressure from Likud ministers in recent weeks, such as, among others, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.
Netanyahu was able to fend off these attempts, but those increased as it became clear that the premier intended to move up the elections. Many of the Likud's ministers, aiming to placate settler and far-right representatives in Likud, published a press release in recent days, in which they urged Netanyahu to accept the report and make it into a cabinet decision.
The PM, aiming to prevent Likud voters to move their support to other parties such as Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu, ultimately decided to remove his objection and advance a government decision that would accepts portions of the report.
In a statement released in response to the report of Netanyahu's intention to bring parts of the document for the cabinet's approval, Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed the move, saying that "the approval of the Levy report by the government will backfire on those who support it."
"The report's adoption won't strengthen the settlement in the West Bank, but will instead cause diplomatic damage and will increase Israel's isolation in the world," Barak wrote, adding that for those reasons the cabinet must refrain from approving the document.