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Focus On: The Arab-Israeli Dispute and International Law

There are many international legal issues arising out of the recent history of Israel. International law is defined by agreements between nations and often set out in documents like treaties, armistice, international conventions, and United Nations resolutions. For example, following a conflict or war a treaty will become the international law defining what both sides agreed upon. The history of events and the agreements or lack of agreements in Israel define the international law in the region.

Following the 1948 War, Jordan and Israel annexed the areas they were overseeing, while Jerusalem was to be an international city administered by the United Nations. As the United Nations did not exert its control over Jerusalem, the city was split with a portion governed by Israel and Jordan. Egypt continued to occupy Gaza and maintain a military force in the area.

The Arab states neighbouring Israel continued to reject its sovereignty and right to exist after the 1948 War until 1979 when Jordan, Mauritania, and Egypt changed views on the matter.

After the 1967 War, Israel attained all the areas that were defined by the 1947 Mandate by Great Britain in addition to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Israel claimed that the West Bank and Gaza were “disputed territories.” Israel also claimed the Sinai Peninsula. According to international law, occupied territories exist where a nation occupies territories with no treaty, which other nations also claim.

In the areas that have been defined as occupied, settlement was taken up by Israelis. Many point out that this is clearly illegal in international law as the Fourth Geneva Convention states that a nation cannot allow its own citizens to settle on occupied lands. There are arguments made to suggest that these are not occupied lands because they were defined by the 1947 British Mandate and, therefore, they were always Israeli. Arab groups reject the 1947 Mandate and disagree with those who support the settlement of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The United Nations declared all those who had been Arab residents in the territories claimed by Israel after the 1948 and 1967 wars as refugees. Those Arabs living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have suffered human rights abuses that include the confiscation of their land, demolition of their homes, loss of livelihood, and the lack of basic needs.

After the 1948 War, those Jews who had been living in Arab countries left, with most of them going to Israel. However under the Israeli Law of Return, Jews from around the world have immigrated to Israel as they have a right to citizenship. The arrival of Jews from around the world has created a complex society with groups like European, American, Russian, and Ethiopian Jews to name a few.

Those Arabs that have Israeli citizenship are greatly outnumbered by the Jewish population.

The United Nation Security Council Resolution 242 established a “land for peace” formula for resolving the issues around the conflict in the Middle East. Further, there is a general agreement internationally that a solution in the Middle East includes the return of Palestinian people to their homelands. Others supporting Israel argue that United Nations resolutions are only recommendations in support of broad principles in international law and do not have to be followed.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 that established borders between them and left the issues around the Gaza territories to be negotiated between Palestinians and Israelis. This agreement was followed by the establishment of a declaration of principles in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority that outlined mutual recognition and set the goal of establishing Palestinian self rule. Another peace treaty was signed between Jordan and Israel in 1994. All other Arab states continue to be in a state of war with Israel and have their relationship with each other defined by armistice agreements.

International legal issues have arisen around Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and declaring it as the capital of the nation in 1950, and later, in 1980, declaring the united city of Jerusalem as its capital. This Israeli declaration has been rejected by the international community. It has been pointed out that this action can be defined as annexation and therefore illegal in international law. The result has been that nearly all the nations of the world have placed their embassies in Tel Aviv.

All issues of international law relating to Israel are complicated by the many different perspectives that lead to conflicting views. International agreements that can define relationships between nations and groups often remain illusive.

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