Defending Israel's Legal Rights to Jerusalem
Submitted by YJ Draiman (United States), May 5, 2015 at 16:23
Defending Israel's Legal Rights to Jerusalem
The author of this chapter argues that while Israel has legal rights to retain a united Jerusalem as its capital, there is a sense that its claim is being challenged more than ever. He further argues that in addition to the historical rights of the Jewish people to Jerusalem that were voiced in the 19th century, there is a whole new layer of legal rights that Israel acquired in modern times that need to be fully elaborated upon.
Schwebel wrote his article, which was entitled "What Weight to Conquest," in response to a statement by then Secretary of State William Rogers that Israel was only entitled to "insubstantial alterations" in the pre-1967 lines. The Nixon administration had also hardened U.S. policy on Jerusalem as reacted in its statements and voting patterns in the UN Security Council. Schwebel strongly disagreed with this approach: he wrote that the pre-war lines were not sacrosanct, for the 1967 lines were not an international border. Formally, they were only armistice lines from 1949. As he noted, the armistice agreement itself did not preclude the territorial claims of the parties beyond those lines. Significantly, he explained that when territories are captured in a war, the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the conflict directly affect the legal rights of the two sides, upon its termination.
Two facts from 1967 stood out that influenced his thinking:
First, Israel had acted in the Six-Day War in the lawful exercise of its right of self-defense. Those familiar with the events that led to its outbreak recall that Egypt was the party responsible for the initiation of hostilities, through a series of steps that included the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the proclamation of a blockade on Eilat, an act that Foreign Minister Abba Eban would characterize as the ring of the first shot of the war. Along Israel's eastern front, Jordan's artillery had opened fire and re-pounding civilian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, despite repeated warnings issued by Israel.
Given this background, Israel had not captured territory as a result of aggression, but rather because it had come under armed attack. In fact, the Soviet Union had tried to have Israel labeled as the aggressor in the UN Security Council on June 14, 1967, and then in the UN General Assembly on July 4, 1967. But Moscow completely failed. At the Security Council it was outvoted 11-4. Meanwhile at the General Assembly, 88 states voted against or abstained on the first vote of a proposed Soviet draft (only 32 states supported it). It was patently clear to the majority of UN members that Israel had waged a defensive war.6
A second element in Schwebel's thinking was the fact Jordan's claim to legal title over the territories it had lost to Israel in the Six-Day War was very problematic. The Jordanian invasion of the West Bank - and Jerusalem - nineteen years earlier in 1948 had been unlawful. As a result, Jordan did not gain legal rights in the years that followed, given the legal principle, that Schwebel stressed, according to which no right can be born of an unlawful act (ex injuria jus non oritur). It should not have come as a surprise that Jordan's claim to sovereignty over the West Bank was not recognized by anyone, except for Pakistan and Britain. Even the British would not recognize the Jordanian claim in Jerusalem itself.
Thus, by comparing Jordan's illegal invasion of the West Bank to Israel's legal exercise of its right of self-defense, Schwebel concluded that "Israel has better title" in the territory of what once was the Palestine Mandate than either of the Arab states with which it had been at war. He specifically stated that Israel had better legal title to "the whole of Jerusalem."
Schwebel makes reference to UN Security Council Resolution 242 from November 22, 1967, which over the years would become the main source for all of Israel's peace e orts, from the 1979 Egyptian Israeli Treaty of Peace to the 1993 Oslo Accords. In its famous withdrawal clause, Resolution 242 did not call for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the territories it captured in the Six-Day War. ere was no e ort to re-establish the status quo ante, which, as noted earlier, was the product of a previous act of aggression by Arab armies in 1948.
As the U.S. ambassador to the UN in 1967, Arthur Goldberg, pointed out in 1980, Resolution 242 did not even mention Jerusalem "and this omission was deliberate." Goldberg made the point, reacting the policy of the Johnson administration for whom he served, that he never described Jerusalem as "occupied territory," though this changed under President Nixon.7 What Goldberg wrote about Resolution 242 had added weight, given the fact that he previously had served as a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Indeed, among the leading jurists in international law and diplomacy, Schwebel was clearly not alone. He was joined by Julius Stone, the great Australian legal scholar, who reached the same conclusions. He added that UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947 (also known as the Partition Plan) did not undermine Israel's subsequent claims in Jerusalem. True, Resolution 181 envisioned that Jerusalem and its environs would become a corpus separatum, or a separate international entity. But Resolution 181 was only a recommendation of the General Assembly. It was rejected by the Arab states forcibly, who invaded the nascent State of Israel in 1948.
Ultimately, the UN's corpus separatum never came into being in any case. The UN did not protect the Jewish population of Jerusalem from invading Arab armies. Given this history, it was not surprising that Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, announced on December 3, 1949, that Revolution 181's references to Jerusalem were "null and void," thereby anticipating Stone's legal analysis years later.8
There was also Prof. Elihu Lauterpacht of Cambridge University, who for a time served as legal advisor of Australia and as a judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire formally renounced its sovereignty over Jerusalem as well as all its former territories south of what became modern Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres from 1920. is renunciation was confirmed by the Turkish Republic as well in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. According to Lauterpacht, the rights of sovereignty in Jerusalem were vested with the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, which transferred them to the League of Nations.
But with the dissolution of the League of Nations, the British withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine, and the failure of the UN to create a corpus separatum or a special international regime for Jerusalem, as had been intended according to the 1947 Partition Plan, Lauterpacht concluded that sovereignty had been put in suspense or in abeyance. In other words, by 1948 there was what he called "a vacancy of sovereignty" in Jerusalem.
It might be asked if the acceptance by the pre-state Jewish Agency of Resolution 181 constituted a conscious renunciation of Jewish claims to Jerusalem back in 1947. However, according to the resolution, the duration of the special international regime for Jerusalem would be "in the first instance for a period of ten years." The resolution envisioned a referendum of the residents of the city at that point in which they would express "their wishes as to possible modifications of the regime of the city."10 The Jewish leadership interpreted the corpus separatum as an interim arrangement that could be replaced. They believed that Jewish residents could opt for citizenship in the Jewish state in the meantime. Moreover, they hoped that the referendum would lead to the corpus seperatum being joined to the State of Israel after ten years. 11
Who then could acquire sovereign rights in Jerusalem given the "vacancy of sovereignty" that Lauterpacht described? Certainly, the UN could not assume a role, given what happened to Resolution 181. Lauterpacht's answer was that Israel filled "the vacancy in sovereignty" in areas where the Israel Defense Forces had to operate in order to save Jerusalem's Jewish population from destruction or ethnic cleansing. The same principle applied again in 1967, when Jordanian forces opened fire on Israeli neighborhoods and the Israel Defense Forces entered the eastern parts of Jerusalem, including its Old City, in self-defense.
A fourth legal authority to contribute to this debate over the legal rights of Israel was Prof. Eugene Rostow, the former dean of Yale Law School and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Johnson administration. Rostow's point of departure for analyzing the issue of Israel's rights was that the Mandate for Palestine, which specifically referred to "the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" providing "the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country."
These rights applied to Jerusalem as well, for the Mandate did not separate Jerusalem from the other territory that was to become part of the Jewish national home.
Rostow contrasts the other League of Nations mandates with the mandate for Palestine. Whereas the mandates for Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon served as trusts for the indigenous populations, the language of the Palestine Mandate was entirely different. It supported the national rights of the Jewish people while protecting only the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in British Mandatory Palestine.12 It should be added that the Palestine Mandate was a legal instrument in the form of a binding international treaty between the League of Nations, on the one hand, and Britain as the mandatory power, on the other.
Rostow argued that the mandate was not terminated in 1947. He explained that Jewish legal rights to a national home in this territory, which were embedded in British Mandatory Palestine, survived the dissolution of the League of Nations and were preserved by the United Nations in Article 80 of the UN Charter.13 Clearly, after considering Rostow's arguments, Israel was well-positioned to assert its rights in Jerusalem and fill "the vacancy of sovereignty" that Lauterpacht had described.
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