Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin NetanyahuFlash 90

Several former Israeli diplomats and politicians, along with leaders of Jewish organizations and pro-Israel groups, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the eve of his address Tuesday to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC. The letter urges Netanyahu to clarify Israel's status in Judea and Samaria – that under international law, Israel is not an “occupying power,” and is the legal ruler of the area, even if it has not been formally annexed to Israel.

The letter was the initiative of Legal Grounds, a group that is leading a campaign to promote Israel’s rights. In an interview with Arutz Sheva, the co-chairs of the group, Arlene Kushner and Jeff Daube, who is also the director of ZOA in Israel, said that "While the position of successive Israeli governments has long been that the communities in Judea and Samaria are legal under international law, Israel’s political leaders have been reticent about consistently and openly expressing that position, which is backed by many prominent legal experts.”

The letter to Netanyahu was signed by 23 individuals and organizations — including former ambassadors Yoram Ettinger and Zvi Mazel, former Knesset member Arieh Eldad, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the National Council of Young Israel and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel — and says that “over the years, Palestinian Authority officials and their supporters have repeated the same message: Israeli settlements in the areas beyond the 1967 lines are illegal according to international law. This mantra has been repeated with great consistency.

“Because Israel has not countered with a consistent and solid refutation of this position, it has become accepted by most of the world’s governments, as well as by international media and a host of international organizations and academic institutions.”

In addition, the letter says, “this provides the rationale for an economic, academic and cultural boycott on the part of nations and organizations in many places in the world. It becomes a weapon that serves the goal of weakening Israel. It is, as well, a tool for putting pressure on the Government of Israel in the midst of negotiations, so that it is difficult for Israel to come to the table from a position of strength.”

However, notes the letter, “There is an exceedingly credible body of legal opinion, as offered by highly respected jurists, international lawyers and academics, refuting the notion that the Israeli presence beyond the 1967 line is illegal. The world must begin to hear this message: Israel is not an occupier, Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria is not illegal. International law does not support the position that Israel is illegal past the 1967 line.”

The letter concludes, “We call upon you, Mr. Prime Minister, to make this position clear during your speech at AIPAC Policy Conference next week: The State of Israel has solid legal grounds in the areas beyond the 1967 lines.”

According to Daube and Kushner, “We believe that the Prime Minister’s address to AIPAC, coming at a time of unprecedented attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, is a perfect time to make that position clear.”