Despite popular, yet dubious claims to the contrary, Israel has international law on its side for legal sovereignty over the areas commonly referred to as the “West Bank”.
By Rachel Avraham
History reminds us that the Palestine Mandate, supported by all 51 members of the League of Nations at the time, and codified in international law, is recognized as legally valid by the United Nations in Article 80 of the UN Charter. In addition, the International Court of Justice has reaffirmed this on three different occasions.
Legal Opinion #1
While some people argue that the Palestine Mandate became obsolete following its termination in 1947, international legal scholars claim otherwise. According to Eugene Rostow, a Dean of Yale Law School, “A trust never terminates when a trustee dies, resigns, embezzles the trust property, or is dismissed. The authority responsible for the trust appoints a new trustee, or otherwise arranges for the fulfillment of its purpose.” While the Palestine Mandate ceased to exist in Israel and Jordan when Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom obtained independence, Rostow maintains that “its rules apply still to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which have not yet been allocated either to Israel or to Jordan or become an independent state.”
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This international law expert adds that the Armistice Lines of 1949, which are part of the West Bank boundary, “represent nothing but the position of the contending armies when the final cease-fire was achieved in the War of Independence. The Armistice Agreements specifically provide, except in the case of Lebanon, that the demarcation lines can be changed by agreement when the parties move from armistice to peace.” Simply put, international law does not consider the 1967 borders the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.
Israeli legal claims to Judea and Samaria are strengthened by the fact that no other sovereign nation state claims this territory as her own. Both the Ottoman Turks and the British Mandate renounced their claims to the Land of Israel decades ago, including Judea and Samaria. Furthermore, Jordan’s annexation of Judea and Samaria following Israel’s declaration of independence was never internationally recognized, since it amounted to an act of aggression. Both the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly declared at that time that Israel was a peace-loving state in the 1948 war.
Legal Opinion #2
Professor and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, who served as President of the International Court of Justice, explains that the principle of “acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible” must be read together with other principles, “namely, that no legal right shall spring from a wrong, and the Charter principle that the Members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” In other words, territories acquired through wars of aggression don’t hold validity, which effectively repudiates Jordanian claims to Judea and Samaria. Observers argue too that the fact that Jordan has officially renounced her claims to Judea and Samaria and signed a peace agreement with Israel without gaining back these territories seals the water-tight case for Israel’s jurisdiction there.
The situation, however, is different when a country reclaims lands that originally belonged to her as part of a war of self-defense, as Israel did in 1967. “Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title,” adds Professor Schwebel. ”Between Israel acting defensively in 1948 and 1967 on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors acting aggressively in 1948 and 1967 on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”
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About the Author:
Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel’s Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.”
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