The EU says Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal under international law. Nothing new there – so do the UN and associated bodies say so. But they are simply wrong.
International law in general is known to be highly contentious and far from authoritative, since it is anchored in no single jurisdiction and arguably therefore constitutes nothing other than international politics by another name.
In any event, the charge that Jewish residence over the Green Line is illegal first rests on the application to this situation of the wrong treaty; and second, totally ignores the treaties which gave the Jews the right to settle anywhere in these territories.
To take the second point first. The San Remo Treaty of 1920, in which the victors of the First World War parceled out the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire, created a geographical area called Palestine along both sides of the Jordan River.
Article 6 of the Palestine Mandate signed by the League of Nations in 1922 stipulated ‘close Jewish settlement’ on the land west of the Jordan River. The river served as the boundary because that year the UK created a new Arab country, today known as Jordan, by unilaterally bestowing the land east of the river onto the Hashemite dynasty and thus giving some three quarters of Palestine away.
That Mandate treaty obligation to settle the Jews in Palestine from the river to the sea has never been abrogated and endures today. The 1945 UN Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80 explicitly says that nothing within it shall ‘alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties’.
Now to the main argument mounted by the ‘illegalizers’. This rests on their claim that the Israeli settlements breach Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. But this article does not apply to the settlements. Written in the shadow of the deportation of European Jews to their deaths in Nazi Europe, it prohibits
‘individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or that of any other country, occupied or not…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’
But none of the Israelis living beyond the Green Line has been transferred or deported, forcibly or not; they all chose voluntarily to live there. (The only force ever used against these residents was in fact when Israel forcibly transferred them from Gaza into Israel in 2005.)
Moreover, the Geneva Convention applies to actions carried out on the territory of a ‘High Contracting Party’ with a sovereign claim to that territory. But the areas in question over the ‘Green Line’ never belonged to any sovereign power. As remains the case to this day they merely constitute no-man’s land, having never been allocated to any ‘High Contracting’ sovereign state. The only treaty obligations ever made in respect of these areas was in fact to the Jews, who were promised ‘close settlement’ of the land in which they were included.
Furthermore, Israel’s ‘occupation’ of these areas is legal twice over – since it merely gained them in a war of self-defense in 1967, and is thus legally entitled to hold onto them until the belligerents stop waging war upon it. Which they still have not.
As for the ‘Green Line’ itself, this is not a legal border. It has no significance other than where the cease-fire line was drawn in the war of 1948-49 when the Arabs tried to destroy the newly restored State of Israel. Indeed, the Armistice Agreements of 1949 stated that the demarcation lines were ‘not to be construed in any sense’ as political or territorial boundaries’, and were not in any way to prejudice the parties’ claims in ‘the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine problem.’
Which ‘prejudice’ is of course, precisely what the EU is now busily imposing. Indeed, by effectively corralling Israel behind the 1949 armistice line it is forcing it back behind what has been called the ‘Auschwitz border’, since this line leaves Israel militarily indefensible against attack.
This is an act of malevolence. But the fault in large measure surely lies with Israel. For although some may find this incomprehensible, Israel does not make to the world the one case that matters – why Israelis are fully entitled under international law to build their homes in these territories; and exactly how Britain, the EU and the UN have grossly mis-stated and misapplied that international law.
Instead, Israel merely protests that the EU move will inhibit a peace settlement. Which it undoubtedly will. But it will do so principally by upending law, truth and justice – a case Israel never makes in public, thus allowing the irrational hatred of Israel in the west, fed by racist lies and propaganda, to spread its poison unchecked.
The reason it does not properly make this case is partly through the epic dysfunctionality of the Israeli political class (which could fill many volumes). It is partly through Israel’s isolation in the face of the bully-boys of the western diplomatic world. But it is also through Israel’s bleak and despairing judgment that the international community, composed of those who historically and presently were and are driven by obsessive hatred of the Jewish people and which finds expression for that hatred through vehicles such as the UN and EU, will always do the bidding of those who wish to destroy the Jews and is therefore impervious to reason and morality.
News of the EU’s act of existential spite against Israel broke on the fast of Tisha b’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple (you know, that Temple, the one that stood in Jerusalem all those centuries ago before any Arabs existed, let alone any Green Line) along with the seemingly never-ending list down through the ages of all those prosecuting their uniquely murderous and baseless hatred of the Jewish people.
Some coincidence. To that list of infamy, the EU can now add its name. For shame.
Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail.