U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent declaration that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not inconsistent with international law is an important step in righting a historical wrong when it comes to the settlement enterprise, which has been besmirched purely for political reasons.
The U.S. statement reaffirms Israel’s position that the area is not “occupied territory.” The term “occupation” has a very precise meaning in international law. Judea and Samaria would have been considered occupied had Israel conquered the area from a sovereign entity, but Jordan, which controlled it between 1949 until 1967, was never considered a legitimate sovereign there.
Thus, under international law, the area should be considered “disputed territory” or “contested territory” that lacks a recognized sovereign. In fact, for historical reasons, Israel has the strongest claim to being the rightful sovereign.
There is no disagreement that Jordan and Egypt launched an illegal invasion of Mandatory Palestine after the U.N. Partition Plan was rejected and Israel was founded. Under international law, countries can start a war only for self-defense, but the two countries’ invasion was an act of aggression.
Jordan’s efforts to annex the West Bank in 1950 were not recognized by the international community, with the exception of the United Kingdom (which refused to recognize Jordan’s hold on eastern Jerusalem) and Pakistan. Likewise, Egypt never claimed to be the sovereign power in the Gaza Strip.
The claim that the Green Line is Israel’s international border is also wrong. An international border can only be formed by the consent of the two relevant countries, as was the case with Egypt and Jordan following their respective peace treaties with Israel.
The 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors after the War of Independence clearly stipulate that the armistice lines are not borders. Thus, the Green Line is not an international border and cannot be used to determine the fate of Judea and Samaria.
None of this is new—immediately following the Six-Day War, experts on international law agreed that Israel had a more legitimate claim on Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip than its adversaries. Among these experts was professor Stephen M. Schwebel, who later became the president of the International Court of Justice.
But in today’s geopolitical climate, anyone who sides with Israel is banished from international forums. Thus, political constraints are preventing a real debate.
Judea and Samaria were designated to be part of the Jewish national home as envisioned by the League of Nations when it created the British mandate, confirming the age-old bond of our people to its land. This has been reaffirmed in the U.N. Charter. Thus, there is no need for Israel to annex Judea and Samaria if it wants to apply Israeli law there—it already has that right because of the laws dating back to the British era.
Some have claimed that Pompeo’s statement has undermined the chances for peace. According to that rationale, speaking the truth regarding the status of Judea and Samaria precludes a peace deal. Must peace depend on a lie?
President Donald Trump, Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be commended for their work towards a real peace, one based on the truth.
Talia Einhorn is a law professor at Ariel University’s Department of Economics and Business Management and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Management.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.