Sovereignty and Legitimacy of the State of Israel under international law

By Dr. Cynthia Day Wallace, senior fellow at thinc.


Remarks delivered on the occasion of the 125th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel – 1897-2022, sponsored as a Solidarity Event of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem on Sunday, August 28th, 2022, Stadtcasino Basel, Switzerland, arranged by ICEJ Swiss Branch. 

As you will all surely know – following two recent centenary celebrations highlighting these historic documents – the sovereignty of Israel relies on 3 major international legal instruments: 

  • the Covenant of the League of Nations (by its Article 22);
  • the San Remo Resolution; and
  • the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine

The earlier Balfour Declaration – that first formally espoused the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people – was a critical catalyst, but it was originally neither “international” nor “law.” It was a British policy statement. It ultimately became international law when it was incorporated – verbatim – into the San Remo Resolution and the Mandate for Palestine.

We need no further elaboration on these historic documents today, as we celebrate the First Zionist Congress, which precedes these foundational legal documents by some 25 years.

Suffice it simply to remind ourselves here that: these international legal instruments constitute the primary foundations in international law for the “legal” claim – based on the recognized “historical connection” (– or “historic title”) of the Jewish people – to reconstitute their ancient national home in what was then known as “Palestine.” 

Nothing has ever deprived Israel of the sovereign rights ultimately gained through these international instruments having the force of treaty law:

NOT the dissolution of the League of Nations in 1946, whose replacement – the United Nations – in Article 80 of its Charter, expressly preserves the rights contained in the Mandates; 

NOT Jordan’s illegal occupation and annexation of Judea & Samaria in 1948, which – as an unprovoked act of aggression to gain territory – is prohibited under customary international law, as codified in Article 2(4) and Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and which was never recognized by the community of nations – not even by the Arab League itself; 

NOT the re-naming of the entire area of Judea and Samaria “the West Bank” to psychologically conjoin it with the east bank of the Jordan, as if it should be an integral part of the State of Jordan;

NOT the inaccurate designation of the 1949 armistice lines as “1967 borders,” when ALL the 1949 bilateral Armistice Agreements expressly stipulated that the armistice lines should NEVER be construed as national borders – at the insistence, in fact, of the Arabs, especially Egypt and Jordan itself; 

NOT the spurious argument by the International Court of Justice (the legal arm of the UN) – in a (non-binding) Advisory Opinion – that Israeli settlements are “contrary to international law,” without citing ‘chapter and verse’; and despite Article 6 of the Palestine Mandate that expressly encourages “close settlement by Jews, on the land”; 

NOT the disinformation that Israel’s so-called “occupation” of Judea and Samaria is belligerent occupation rather than (legitimate) “occupation” for the recognized international legal purpose of keeping the peace and ensuring the public order and safety of all inhabitants, according to the Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention;  

NOT the Oslo Accords, originally seen only as a stepping stone toward an eventual formal peace treaty between the two sides, which in fact never materialized and which, in any case, contain no provisions that surrender Israeli sovereignty;

NOT the Palestinian authorities naming Palestine “the State of Palestine,” when they do not fulfill all 4 international law criteria for statehood, as set out in the Montevideo Convention, which further prohibits the recognition of territorial gains made by force, as was the case with Jordan’s invasion of the “West Bank” in 1948.

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So, despite all the obstructions and challenges to Israel’s control within its own borders, sovereignty rests with Israel under international law.

The Mandate for Palestine contains no provisions for governing this territory by any other peoples, though the civil and religious rights of all other inhabitants are expressly protected.

At the same time, by virtue of the Mandate’s Article 25 – inserted at the behest of Britain as a temporary measure, which predictably became permanent – 78% of the Mandate territory was handed over to an Arab king, (a Hashemite) to rule over local Arab tribes, which ultimately became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, leaving 22% for the Jewish national home, which ultimately became the State of Israel. 

This division of the Palestine Mandate into an Arab and a Jewish territory – each with self-determination – constitutes the first Partition of Palestine – the original and ongoing ‘two-state solution.’  

As former King Hussein of Jordan himself exclaimed in 1981: “The truth is that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan.” 

What is especially important to emphasize in today’s polarized political environment is that the Mandate language contains no provisions for further carving up of the remaining 22% of the territory designated in 1920 and ‘22 by the community of nations as the sole and unique “national home” for the Jewish people. 

Moreover, the Arabs already have 21 states – with vast geographical territory – that they collectively call their “homeland;” the Jews have one state – one homeland, with constant pressures to give more of it up – to form a 22nd Arab state. 

Nonetheless, for the sake of peace, the Arabs have been offered their own new state several times within that small remaining Jewish territory, but have rejected it each time, with a tacit pledge to not be satisfied with less than 100%.

In conclusion: The 3 primary international legal instruments have recognized the historic rights of a unified People to have a place to come “home” to – after some two thousand years of statelessness and separation from the land of their forefathers – as well as codifying their sole legal rights to govern territory where they were the indigenous people over 3,000 years ago.

Israel’s legitimacy and sovereignty do not depend on public opinion, where there is widespread disinformation and a resultant ill-informed public, backed by agenda-driven global political pressures. 

Israel’s sovereignty should also not be made subject to imbalanced negotiations that repeatedly end in broken commitments by the other party, which rejects Israel’s very right to exist.

To establish its legitimacy, Israel’s destiny cannot be made contingent upon “negotiating partners” who are bent on its destruction.

Israel’s legitimacy and sovereignty have been established, through legally binding instruments of international law that together constitute the “Charter of Freedom” of the Jewish people; 

… and Israel’s national sovereignty is not negotiable!

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