A Layperson’s Guide to Some Basic Concepts in International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

International law can be confusing even for lawyers and law students who are trying to grasp its basic concepts. What do terms like “conquest”, “belligerent occupation”, “annexation”, “statehood”, “non-self-governing territory” and “the right to self-determination” mean? To the average non-lawyer, these terms might sound like a completely foreign language. In this article, we hope to provide a simple layperson’s guide to some basic concepts in international law, and their relevance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel on Trial

In 2018, the State of Israel turned 70, but it has never been fully accepted as a member of the international community. Notwithstanding peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, conflict between Israel and some of its neighbors in the region is looming. And peace between Israel and the Palestinians seems as far away as ever. Why?

The Importance of Studying the Position of Israel under International law

Every day, media around the world report on the “illegality” of Israeli settlements, and the obligations of Israel under international law to withdraw from the “occupied Palestinian territories”. Time again, Israeli presence in the “Palestinian territories” is claimed to be an “obstacle to global peace”, and as a result all states are required not to recognize those illegalities, and are even obliged to ensure that they stop.  Such  statements are repeated time and again in the UN organisations like the General Assembly, the Security Council and UNESCO, and are often picked up and repeated by religious bodies like the World Council of Churches. Many national governments, following those statements, are committed as a matter of foreign policy to condemnation of the illegality of many of Israel’s activities and policies, and recognition of the State of Palestine on the basis of the “1967 borders”. Challenging these assertions is often regarded as politically incorrect and those who do so are subject to being shouted down as opponents of peace and justice.