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The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal under international law,[1][2][3][4][5] however Israel maintains that they are consistent with international law[6] because it does not agree that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the territories occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.[7] The United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Convention have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply.[8][9]

Numerous UN resolutions have stated that the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are a violation of international law, including UN Security Council resolutions in 1979 and 1980.[10][11][12] UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the applicable international legal instrument, and calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into the territories or changing their demographic makeup. The reconvened Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions has declared the settlements illegal[13] as has the primary judicial organ of the UN, the International Court of Justice[14] and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The position of successive Israeli governments is that all authorized settlements are entirely legal and consistent with international law,[15] despite Israel's armistice agreements having all being with High Contracting Parties.[16] In practice, Israel does not accept that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure, but has stated that on humanitarian issues it will govern itself de facto by its provisions, without specifying which these are.[17][18] The majority of legal scholars hold the settlements to violate international law, while others have offered dissenting views supporting the Israeli position.[2]


Shortly after independence, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental principles of international law, accepted as binding by all civilized nations, were to be incorporated in the domestic legal system of Israel.[19] In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel was in control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights. Immediately after the war, the Israeli government authorised the construction of military settlements for security purposes. They were built on the fringes of the territories, along the Jordanian and Syrian frontiers and along the edges of the Sinai Peninsula.[20] At the same time, Israel conveyed that it was willing in principle to return most of the newly captured territory.[21][22] Levi Eshkol offered to return the territories with only minor border modifications. Nevertheless, with government permission granted, Kfar Etzion was re-established in September 1967, becoming the first civilian settlement to be built in the West Bank. During the 1970s, Israel's Supreme Court regularly ruled that the establishment of civilian settlements by military commanders was legal on the basis that they formed part of the territorial defense network and were considered temporary measures needed for military and security purposes.[23] After Likud came to power in 1977, seizing land on the basis of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which implied a temporary nature of Israeli presence, was not employed anymore as the new government declared land in the West Bank "state land".[23]

In 1978 and 1979 the Israeli Supreme court, prompted by the new government policies, ruled on two important cases that set out the requirements for Israeli settlement legality under international law. In Ayauub et al. vs. Minister of Defence (the Beit-El Toubas case), the Court determined that the Hague Conventions but not the Geneva Conventions could be applied by Israeli courts on land and settlement issues in the occupied territories. The following year the Court ruled on Dwikat et al. vs. the Government of Israel (the Elon Moreh case), outlining the Hague Conventions' limitations on Israeli land acquisition and settlements. Settlements, whether on private or public land, could not be considered permanent, nor could the land be permanently confiscated, only temporarily requisitioned. Settlements on private land were legal only if determined to be a military necessity; the original owner retained title to the land and must be paid rental fees for its use. Public lands' "possession cannot be alienated, nor its basic character transformed".[24]

In 2004, an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice concluded that Israel had breached its obligations under international law by establishing settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and that Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of imposing a régime, which is contrary to international law. The Court also concluded that the Israeli régime violates the basic human rights of the Palestinians by impeding the liberty of movement of the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (with the exception of Israeli citizens) and their exercise of the right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living.[25]

Status of the territories

Although all areas in question were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has treated them in three different ways:

  • "East Jerusalem"—Jerusalem and its surroundings were envisioned as an international area under United Nations administration in the 1947 partition plan, which was accepted by Israel but rejected by all Arab nations. In 1948, Jordan captured and annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem, while Israel captured and annexed the west. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel annexed the eastern part, together with several villages around it. In 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law stating that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel".
  • The Israeli Golan Heights Law of 1981 applied Israel's "laws, jurisdiction and administration" in the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967. The public viewed the move as an annexation, but the law itself refrained from using the term officially.
  • The Gaza Strip and West Bank form part of the areas offered by the UN to a prospective Arab state of Palestine in the Partition Plan, which was rejected by the Arabs. From 1948 until 1967, The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank was annexed by Jordan. Together with the annexation of East Jerusalem mentioned above, Jordan's annexation of the West Bank was not recognized internationally. Since 1967, the West Bank has been under military occupation. Gaza was also occupied in 1967, but after Israel's unilateral disengagement in 2005 the status has become disputed, with conflicting opinions on whether or not the occupation has ended.

The Jerusalem Law and the Golan Heights Law have both been deemed illegal by the UN Security Council (resolutions 478 and 497 respectively), and are not recognized by the international community. The United States abstained from the vote on Resolution 478 and the U.S. Congress (which does not define U.S. foreign policy[26]) passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act,[26] recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The U.S. views that parts of Jerusalem are not in Israel[27] and the official U.S. position is that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in negotiations.[28] The EU views that Jerusalem is a corpus separatum,[29] and the United Nations considers Israel's proclamation of Jerusalem as its capital to be "null and void".[30]

Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt (removing all Israeli settlements and returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian sovereignty), and Jordan (returning small sections to Jordanian sovereignty); there are currently no peace treaties governing Israel's borders related to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. Israel therefore asserts that the armistice lines (known as the Green Line) of 1949 have no other legal status.

Palestinians object to this view as the Israel–Jordan peace treaty was not to alter the status of any territories coming under Israeli control during the hostilities of 1967 (article 3(2) of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty).[31]

Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the International Criminal Court Rome Statute defines "[t]he transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies" as a war crime.[32] Israel did initially sign the statute, but later declared its intention not to ratify it.[33][34]

International legal opinions

At present, based on the result of numerous UN resolutions that cite Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, the consensus view of the international community is that Israeli settlements are illegal and constitute a violation of international law.[10][11][12][35][36] According to the BBC, every government in the world, except Israel, considers the settlements to be illegal.[37]

United Nations

In 1979 and 1980, numerous UN Security council resolutions, including 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476, considered the settlements as having "no legal validity" under the Fourth Geneva Convention.[38] In 2004, an advisory opinion by the primary judicial organ of the UN, the International Court of Justice, also found the settlements to be illegal under international law.[14] The court's finding was based on the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council resolutions that condemned the establishment of settlements and attempts by Israel to alter the demographics of the territories under its control. The United Nations General Assembly, which regards itself as having a chief role in the process of the codification of international law, has passed several resolutions with an overwhelming majority that denounce settlements as being illegal.[citation needed] The United Nations Human Rights Council has also called the Israeli settlements and related activities a violation of international law.[39]

According to records of the 1998 meeting of Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Theo van Boven said

The status of the settlements was clearly inconsistent with Article 3 of the Convention, which, as noted in the Committee's General Recommendation XIX, prohibited all forms of racial segregation in all countries. There is a consensus among publicists that the prohibition of racial discrimination, irrespective of territories, is an imperative norm of international law.[40][41]

International Committee of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) holds that the establishment of Israeli settlements violate Fourth Geneva Convention.[42][43] The ICRC also holds that the displacement of Palestinians that may occur due to the settlements also violates Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[44]


United States

An opinion by a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State found the settlements contrary to international law in 1978, though no Administration has officially stated so since the Carter Administration. On April 21, 1978, Legal Adviser of the Department of State Herbert J. Hansel issued an opinion, on request from Congress, that creating the settlements "is inconsistent with international law", and against Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[45] Hansell found that "[w]hile Israel may undertake, in the occupied territories, actions necessary to meet its military needs and to provide for orderly government during the occupation, for the reasons indicated above the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law."[46][47] This opinion, "has neither been revoked or revised",[45] and remains the policy of the United States according to Hansel, The Washington Post, and the Rand Corporation's Palestinian State Study Project.[48] The Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations all publicly characterized the settlements as illegal.[49]

The United States has never voted in favor of any UN Resolution calling the settlements illegal except for Resolution 465 in 1980, and in that case the Carter administration subsequently announced that the vote had been cast in error[50] due to miscommunication and would have abstained as it had for Resolution 446 and Resolution 452. Two US Ambassadors to the UN have stated that Israeli settlements are illegal: William Scranton and former President George Bush. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance also said the settlements were illegal.[51]

In February 1981, Ronald Reagan announced that he didn't believe that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were illegal.[52] He added that "the UN resolution leaves the West Bank open to all people, Arab and Israeli alike".[53] Hoping to achieve a peace deal, he nevertheless asked Israel to freeze construction calling the settlements an "obstacle to peace". The permissive attitude taken by America accelerated the pace of Israel's settlement programme.[52] Reagan's view on the settlements legality was not held by the State Department.[45] Since the Clinton administration, the U.S. has continued to object to the settlements, calling them "obstacles to peace" and prejudicial to the outcome of final status talks. Although President Barack Obama and diplomatic officials in his administration have stated, "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,"[49][54][55] in February 2011 the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have declared the settlements illegal.[56]


In 1967, Theodor Meron, legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated in a legal opinion to Adi Yafeh, the Political Secretary of the Prime Minister, "My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."[57] The legal opinion, forwarded to Levi Eshkol, was not made public at the time, and the Labor cabinet progressively sanctioned settlements anyway; this action paved the way for future settlement growth. In 2007, Judge Meron stated that "I believe that I would have given the same opinion today."[58] Nevertheless, Israel considers its settlement policy to be consistent with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, while recognizing that some of the smaller settlements have been constructed "illegally" in the sense of being in violation of Israeli law.[59] In 1998 the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs produced "The International Criminal Court Background Paper".[60] It concludes

International law has long recognised that there are crimes of such severity they should be considered "international crimes". Such crimes have been established in treaties such as the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions.... The following are Israel's primary issues of concern [ie with the rules of the ICC]: – The inclusion of settlement activity as a "war crime" is a cynical attempt to abuse the Court for political ends. The implication that the transfer of civilian population to occupied territories can be classified as a crime equal in gravity to attacks on civilian population centres or mass murder is preposterous and has no basis in international law.

Israel also argues that some of the settlements are built in areas where Jewish settlements existed before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and violence prior, when many West Bank settlements were destroyed and the residents massacred or expelled, such as Hartuv, Kfar Etzion, Hebron, and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, and therefore the application of the Geneva Convention is an entirely different issue.[61][62][63]

According to international law Israel is the custodian of absentee property in the West Bank and may not give it to settlers. In 1997 the Civil Administration's legal adviser gave his opinion:

The Custodian of Absentee Property in the West Bank is nothing but a trustee looking after the property so it is not harmed while the owners are absent from the area ... the custodian may not make any transaction regarding the asset that conflicts with the obligation to safeguard the asset as stated, especially his obligation to return the asset to the owner upon his return to the region.[64]

Israel contends that the Geneva Convention only applies in the absence of an operative peace agreement and between two powers accepting the Convention. Since the Oslo Accords leave the issue of settlements to be negotiated later, proponents of this view argue that the Palestinians accepted the temporary presence of Israeli settlements pending further negotiation, and that there is no basis for declaring them illegal.[63][65][66]

Israel has justified its civilian settlements by stating that a temporary use of land and buildings for various purposes appears permissible under a plea of military necessity and that the settlements fulfilled security needs.[67] It is further argued that United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 calls for "secure and recognized boundaries", and that neither the 1946–1967 armistice demarcation lines, nor the 1967 cease-fire lines have proved themselves secure.[68]

In 2002, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that the settlements were being developed consistently with international law and that they did not violate any agreements with either the Palestinians or Jordan. They added that the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were recognised as legitimate by the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, and that the only administration that completely prohibited Jewish settlement was that of Jordan from 1948 to 1967. Regarding the Geneva Convention, they maintained that the Israeli government was not forcibly transferring its population into the territories. Neither had the land that was being settled been under the legitimate sovereignty of any state beforehand. It further highlighted that no clauses in the Convention could be used to prohibit the voluntary return of individuals to towns and villages from which they or their ancestors had been previously ejected by forcible means. It claimed the settlements had only been established after exhaustive investigations making sure none were built on private land.[15]


Canada, agreeing with UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) and that Israeli settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[69]

United Kingdom

In 2009, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Israeli settlements as "illegal".[70] In December 2012, William Hague, the British foreign secretary stated that all Israeli settlements were "illegal under international law".[71]

Other views

In 2003, The Non-Aligned Movement declared Israeli settlements as illegal, stating, "the main danger to the realization of the national rights of the Palestinian people and the achievement of a peaceful solution is the settler colonialism that has been carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, through land confiscation, settlement building and the transfer of Israeli nationals to the Occupied Territory."[72] The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation views settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, as "blatant violations of the relevant United Nations resolution, international agreements – especially the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention – and of international law".[73] In 2002 and again in 2012, The European Union expressed its view that the settlements are illegal.[74][75] In June 1980, the (then nine-member) European Economic Community declared in the Venice Declaration that "settlements, as well as modifications in population and property in the occupied Arab territories, are illegal under international law."[76] In 2005, The human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem viewed Israeli settlements as violations of international law,[77][78][79] while the Anti-Defamation League has stated that the settlements are legal under international law.[80]

International law expert Julius Stone, and Eugene Rostow, Dean of Yale Law School, argued that the settlements are legal under international law, on a number of different grounds.[81][82] Stone held that it was legal for Israel to establish Nahal settlements, necessary for military purposes along the ceasefire lines and in the Jordan Valley. The fact that they had been established to initiate profitable agriculture was of no legal concern.[83] William M. Brinton, an American international lawyer, held that Israel was "at least quasi-sovereign with respect to both areas [the West Bank and Gaza Strip] under principles of customary international law", and deemed the settlements legal.[84][85][86]

Legal arguments

Fourth Geneva Convention

There are two disputes regarding the Fourth Geneva Convention: whether the convention applies to the territories in question and whether the Convention forbids the establishment of Israeli settlements. Article 2 concerns the applicability of the Convention whereas article 49 concerns the legality of population transfers.

Article 2

Article 2 extends the Convention to "all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties" and "all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party".[87]


The applicability of the fourth Geneva Convention to "all the territories occupied by Israel in 1967" is held with "a remarkable degree of unanimity" among international actors.[36] In an 2004 advisory opinion to the UN General Assembly, the International Court of Justice stated that Article 2 of the Convention applied to the case of Israel's presence in the territories captured during the 1967 war. It stated that Article 2 applies if there exists an armed conflict between two contracting parties, regardless of the territories status in international law prior to the armed attack. It also argued that "no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal" according to customary international law and defined by "Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations" (General Assembly Resolution 2625).[88]

At their July 1999 Conference, the States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention issued a statement in which they "reaffirmed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem". In December 2001, the High Contracting Parties to the Convention reaffirmed the "applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestiniari Territory, including East Jerusalem". They further reminded the contracting parties, the parties to the conflict and the state of Israel as the occupying power, of their obligations under the Convention.[89]

The International Committee of the Red Cross in a declaration of December 2001 stated that "the ICRC has always affirmed the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories occupied since 1967 by the state of Israel, including East Jerusalem".[89]

The United Nations General Assembly has affirmed the applicability of the Convention to the Palestinian Territories in many resolutions. The United Nations Security Council has taken the same view. Security Council resolution 271 (1969) called upon "Israel scrupulously to observe the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and international law governing military occupation". Security Council resolution 446 (1979) affirmed "once more that the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, is applicable to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem".[89]

The Supreme Court of Israel in a ruling of 30 May 2004 declared, "the military operations of the [Israeli Defence Forces] in Rafah, to the extent they affect civilians, are governed by Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land 1907 ... and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949."[89] A further June 2004 Israeli Supreme Court ruling concerning the West Bank stated that "the point of departure of all parties – which is also our point of departure – is that Israel holds the Area in belligerent occupation (occupatio bellica)" and that the military commander's authority is "anchored in IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949".[90][91]


The official Israeli legal argument against the application of Article 2 to the situation in the West Bank is based on a 1971 interpretation by Israeli Attorney-General, Meir Shamgar.[92] His view was presented by Moshe Dayan in a speech before the 32nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1977.[93][94] Shamgar believed that the Convention did not pertain to the territories captured by Israel since they had not previously been recognised as part of a sovereign state and could not be considered "the territory of a High Contracting Party".[92][95][96][97] According to the argument, the last legal sovereignty over the territories was that of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which stipulated the right of the Jewish people to settle in the whole of the Mandated territory. According to Article 6 of the Mandate, "close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use" was to be encouraged. Article 25 allowed the League Council to temporarily postpone the Jewish right to settle in what is now Jordan, if conditions were not amenable. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter preserved this Jewish right to settlement by specifying, "nothing in the [United Nations] Charter shall be construed ... to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or peoples or the terms of existing international instruments."[98]

Shamgar further stated:

There is no rule of international law according to which the Fourth Convention applies in each and every armed conflict whatever the status of the parties.... The whole idea of the restriction of military government powers is based on the assumption that there has been a sovereign who was ousted and that he was a legitimate sovereign. Any other conception would lead to the conclusion, for example, that France should have acted in Alsace-Lorraine according to rule 42–56 of the Hague Rules of 1907, until the signing of a peace treaty.[93]

The Israeli legal argument was dismissed by the International Court of Justice. The Court cited the Geneva Convention's travaux préparatoires, which recommended that the conventions be applicable to any armed conflict "whether [it] is or is not recognized as a state of war by the parties" and "in cases of occupation of territories in the absence of any state of war" as confirmation that the drafters of the article had no intention of restricting the scope of its application.[89]

Article 49

Article 49 (1) states

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.[87]

Article 49 (6) states

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.[87]

According to Jean Pictet of the International Committee of the Red Cross, this clause intended to prevent the World War II practice of an occupying power transferring "portions of its own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories", which in turn "worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race".[99][100]


U.S. State Department Legal Advisor, Herbert J. Hansell, in a letter dated 1 April 1978, concluded that although Article 49 (1) prohibits forcible transfers of protected persons out of the occupied territory, "paragraph 6 is not so limited."[47]

He argued:

The view has been advanced that a transfer is prohibited under paragraph 6 only to the extent that it involves the displacement of the local population. Although one respected authority, Lauterpacht, evidently took this view, it is otherwise unsupported in the literature, in the rules of international law or in the language and negotiating history of the Convention, and it seems clearly not correct. Displacement of protected persons is dealt with separately in the Convention and paragraph 6 would seem redundant if limited to cases of displacement. Another view of paragraph 6 is that it is directed against mass population transfers such as occurred in World War II for political, racial or colonization ends; but there is no apparent support or reason for limiting its application to such cases.

Ths interpretation was adopted by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory opinion,[101] and 150 countries supported a non-binding General Assembly resolution demanding Israel to "comply with its legal obligations as mentioned in the advisory opinion".[102]

David Kretzmer, Professor of International Law at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has argued that it is "quite clear that by actively organizing or encouraging transfer of its own population into the occupied territory, an occupying power does indeed violate Article 49(6)".[103]


Those who reject the application of Article 49 to the situation in the Israeli-held territories argue that even if the Convention did apply, it should be read only in the context of the World War II forcible migrations. It is only intended to cover forcible transfers and to protect the local population from displacement:

  • Article 49 (1) specifically covers "individual or mass forcible transfers", whereas the Israelis who live in the settlements have moved there voluntarily.
  • Article 49 (6) only applies when the transfer of the Occupying Powers civilian population involves the displacement of the local population, whereas the Israeli settlements are not intended to, or have ever resulted in, the displacement of Palestinians from the area.[62][63][95][96][97]

In addition, they state that the Geneva Convention only applies in the absence of an operative peace agreement and between two powers accepting the Convention. Since the Oslo Accords leave the issue of settlements to be negotiated later, proponents of this view argue that the Palestinians accepted the temporary presence of Israeli settlements pending further negotiation, and that there is no basis for declaring them illegal.[63][66][95][97]


In July 1999, the conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention ruled that the Convention did apply in the Israeli-occupied territories.[104][105] In 2001, the conference called upon "the Occupying Power to fully and effectively respect the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to refrain from perpetrating any violation of the Convention." The High Contracting Parties reaffirmed "the illegality of the settlements in the said territories and of the extension thereof".[106] In response, some argued that the conference had amended history and had construed the Convention only for this specific situation.[citation needed] According to barrister and human rights activist Stephen Bowen, arguments dismissing the ruling as applying to more specific cases were rejected "because the Convention also states that it applies 'in all circumstances' (Article 1), and 'to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict' (Article 2)".[107]

In practice, Israel does not accept that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure, but has stated that on humanitarian issues it will govern itself de facto by its provisions, without specifying which these are.[17][18]

Arguments based on UNSC Resolution 242 and the British Mandate

Rostow and others further argue that UN Security Council Resolution 242 (which Rostow helped draft) mandates Israeli control of the territories, and that the original British Mandate of Palestine still applies, allowing Jewish settlement there.[63][66][108] In Rostow's view

The British Mandate recognized the right of the Jewish people to "close settlement" in the whole of the Mandated territory. It was provided that local conditions might require Great Britain to "postpone" or "withhold" Jewish settlement in what is now Jordan. This was done in 1922. But the Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan river, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated and cannot be terminated except by a recognized peace between Israel and its neighbors. And perhaps not even then, in view of Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, "the Palestine article", which provides that "nothing in the Charter shall be construed ... to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments...."[108]

According to Rostow "the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there".[109]

This right is based on Article 6 of the Mandate, which states: "The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use". In addition, many Israeli settlements have been established on sites that were home to Jewish communities before 1948 such as Neve Yaakov, Gush Etzion, Hebron, Kalia, and Kfar Darom.

Contrary to this view other legal scholars have argued that under Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties the only common sense interpretation of UNSC 242 is that Israel must withdraw from all of the territory captured in 1967, as any interpretation permitting the extension of sovereignty by conquest would violate the relevant governing principle of international law as emphasized in the preambular statement, i.e., "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" as established through the abolition of the right of conquest by the League of Nations following World War I.

Furthermore, it is argued that UNSC 242 has binding force under Article 25 of the UN Charter owing to its incorporation into UN Security Council Resolution 338 and that it is also binding on Israel and the PLO by agreement owing to its incorporation into the Oslo Accords.[110]

Others argue that the Oslo Accords supersede UNSC 242 rather than making it binding.[111] The Declaration of Principles in the accords only state that future negotiations will "lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338".[112]

Additionally, as the international community considered the status of Jerusalem to be unresolved, even after 1967, and did not deem any part of the city to be Israeli territory, including that part held since 1948, UNSC 242 did not settle territorial issues between Israel and Palestine left unresolved by the 1949 Armistice Agreements.[113] Indeed, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and others have argued that, because of the disorder in Palestine at the time, the territorial framework of the 1947 Partition Plan did not come into effect in such a way as to ipso jure grant Israel sovereignty over the territory allocated to the Jewish state under that plan.[110] Stone agrees with Lauterpacht's analysis, and his view that sovereignty was acquired through other means:

Lauterpacht has offered a cogent legal analysis leading to the conclusion that sovereignty over Jerusalem has already vested in Israel. His view is that when the partition proposals were immediately rejected and aborted by Arab armed aggression, those proposals could not, both because of their inherent nature and because of the terms in which they were framed, operate as an effective legal re-disposition of the sovereign title. They might (he thinks) have been transformed by agreement of the parties concerned into a consensual root of title, but this never happened. And he points out that the idea that some kind of title remained in the United Nations is quite at odds, both with the absence of any evidence of vesting, and with complete United Nations silence on this aspect of the matter from 1950 to 1967?... In these circumstances, that writer is led to the view that there was, following the British withdrawal and the abortion of the partition proposals, a lapse or vacancy or vacuum of sovereignty. In this situation of sovereignty vacuum, he thinks, sovereignty could be forthwith acquired by any state that was in a position to assert effective and stable control without resort to unlawful means.[95]

Antonio Cassese disagrees with this analysis, arguing that although Israel's original occupation of West Jerusalem might have been carried out in an act of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, this did not confer legal title to the territory owing to the general prohibition in international law on the acquisition of sovereignty through military conquest. He further considers that "mere silence" could not constitute agreement by the United Nations to the acquisition of sovereignty by Israel or Jordan as a result of their de facto control of Jerusalem. Cassese concludes that "at least a tacit manifestation of consent through conclusive acts would have been necessary", whereas such relevant acts as did take place confirmed that no such consent to the transfer of sovereignty was given.[114]

Arguments based on the cause of the war

It has been argued that Israel took control of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. Former Israeli diplomat Dore Gold writes that:

The language of "occupation" has allowed Palestinian spokesmen to obfuscate this history. By repeatedly pointing to "occupation", they manage to reverse the causality of the conflict, especially in front of Western audiences. Thus, the current territorial dispute is allegedly the result of an Israeli decision "to occupy", rather than a result of a war imposed on Israel by a coalition of Arab states in 1967.

He quotes Former State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel, who later headed the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and wrote in 1970 regarding Israel's case:

Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.

However, international law scholar John Quigley has written, "... a state that uses force in self-defense may not retain territory it takes while repelling an attack. If Israel had acted in self-defense, that would not justify its retention of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Under the UN Charter there can lawfully be no territorial gains from war, even by a state acting in self-defense. The response of other states to Israel's occupation shows a virtually unanimous opinion that even if Israel's action was defensive, its retention of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was not."[115]

Arguments based on property rights and private ownership

On January 30, 2009, the Associated Press reported that Israeli political group Yesh Din plans to use a classified Israeli Government database to prove that many West Bank Israeli settlements were built on land privately owned by Palestinian citizens without compensation.[116]

Unauthorized or illegal outposts

In two cases decided shortly after independence (the Shimshon and Stampfer cases) the Israeli Supreme Court held that the fundamental rules of international law accepted as binding by all "civilized" nations were incorporated in the domestic legal system of Israel. The Nuremberg Military Tribunal had already determined that the articles annexed to the Hague IV Convention of 1907 were customary law, recognized by all civilized nations.[19]

The Court determined in the 1979 Elon Moreh case that only the military commander of an area may requisition land according to article 52 of the Hague regulations. Military necessity had been an afterthought in the planning portions of the Elon Moreh settlement. That situation did not fulfill the precise strictures laid down in the articles of the Hague Convention, so the Court ruled the requisition order had been invalid and illegal.[117]

In subsequent cases, the Court has ruled that Article 43 of the Hague IV Convention is a mandatory planning consideration for approval of building projects on state lands in the West Bank.[118]

Pressured by America, the Sharon administration commissioned the Sasson Report, which found that the Israeli government had funded the creation of Jewish settler outposts in the West Bank that were unauthorized and in violation of stated government policy. According to the report, the Housing and Construction Ministry, the World Zionist Organization, the Education Ministry and the Defense Ministry cooperated to "systematically establish illegal settlement points", paying millions of dollars to create the infrastructure for scores of settlements.[119][120]

The summary of the Sasson Report[121] explains that local law requires the fulfillment of a number of basic conditions before establishing a settlement in the Judea, and Samaria. It lists four pre-conditions that must be fulfilled in each case. The second pre-condition regarding title to the land cites the precedent established in the Elon Moreh case. The third pre-condition is that a settlement can only be established according to a lawfully designed building scheme, which has the power to produce a building permit. The fourth pre-condition is that the bounds of jurisdiction of the settlement must be determined in advance by order of the Commander of the area. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the fulfillment of the applicable Hague IV Convention criteria is a mandatory and integral part of satisfying those three pre-conditions of the local law. Sasson summed up the situation by explaining:

An unauthorized outpost is a settlement which does not fulfill at least one of the above mentioned conditions. And I must emphasize: an unauthorized outpost is not a "semi legal" outpost. Unauthorized is illegal.

The report found "blatant violations of the law" by officials and state institutions. Many of the more than 100 outposts investigated added at state expense paved roads, permanent housing, power lines and other infrastructure. According to the report, some of the outposts were established on private lands owned by Palestinians with the help of Housing Ministry architects, the Housing Ministry funded many of the trailers used to start the outposts, and Defence Ministry officials allocated such private land to the quasi-official Jewish Agency.[122]

As part of the 2003 "Road map" for peace, Israel committed itself to remove about two dozen such settlements, an obligation it has yet to fulfill.[123]

In response to settler violence directed towards Israeli security forces, Israel declared it would no longer fund unauthorized outposts from November 2008. Settlers claim the violence was sparked by the beating of a settler child; border police spokesman Moshe Pinchi said he had no knowledge of the alleged beating and accused the settlers of "cynically" sending minors to attack the police.[124] However there is evidence that support continues unabated for illegal outposts. At one unauthorized settlement, Eli there has been recent work on a new road that cuts through Palestinian territory.[125]

According to a report of the Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry, waste water management is "virtually nonexistent" in unauthourized Jewish settler outposts and some other settlements, thus raw sewage is contaminating the ground water in parts of the West Bank. According to the report, the main cause of the contaminated water is that raw waste water flows from Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and other villages, without proper treatment. The report blames Israeli settlements for pumping contaminated water into the sewers, not Palestinian villages. 70% of the Jewish communities east of the Green Line are connected to treatment facilities, so "illegal outposts" are the main source of the untreated water, according to the Israeli report.[126]

In May 2009, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that over two dozen illegal outposts in the West Bank had been "declared as such by the Talia Sasson Commission", and would be dismantled.[127]

On August 17, 2009, four ministers on Netanyahu cabinet (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Eli Yishai (Shas), Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon (Likud), Minister of Information Yuli Edelstein (Likud), and Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Hershkowitz (The Jewish Home)) embarked on a tour of West Bank outposts. During the tour, Yishai stated that the outposts are not illegal:[128][129]

These are legal settlements built by the governments of Israel. The people of Israel should know this settlement is legal. If someone thinks otherwise and plans to evacuate them, it will have to be approved by the government. You cannot just evacuate people from their homes without due process.

See also

  • International law and the Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Levy Report


  1. Roberts, Adam. "Prolonged Military Occupation: The Israeli-Occupied Territories Since 1967". American Society of International Law. pp. 85–86. Digital object identifier:10.2307/2203016. "The international community has taken a critical view of both deportations and settlements as being contrary to international law. General Assembly resolutions have condemned the deportations since 1969, and have done so by overwhelming majorities in recent years. Likewise, they have consistently deplored the establishment of settlements, and have done so by overwhelming majorities throughout the period (since the end of 1976) of the rapid expansion in their numbers. The Security Council has also been critical of deportations and settlements; and other bodies have viewed them as an obstacle to peace, and illegal under international law." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pertile, Marco (2005). "'Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory': A Missed Opportunity for International Humanitarian Law?". In Conforti, Benedetto; Bravo, Luigi. The Italian Yearbook of International Law. 14. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 141. ISBN 978-90-04-15027-0. "the establishment of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been considered illegal by the international community and by the majority of legal scholars." 
  3. Barak-Erez, Daphne (2006). "Israel: The security barrier—between international law, constitutional law, and domestic judicial review". Oxford University Press. p. 548. Digital object identifier:10.1093/icon/mol021. "The real controversy hovering over all the litigation on the security barrier concerns the fate of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Since 1967, Israel has allowed and even encouraged its citizens to live in the new settlements established in the territories, motivated by religious and national sentiments attached to the history of the Jewish nation in the land of Israel. This policy has also been justified in terms of security interests, taking into consideration the dangerous geographic circumstances of Israel before 1967 (where Israeli areas on the Mediterranean coast were potentially threatened by Jordanian control of the West Bank ridge). The international community, for its part, has viewed this policy as patently illegal, based on the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibit moving populations to or from territories under occupation." 
  4. Drew, Catriona (1997). "Self-determination and population transfer". In Bowen, Stephen. Human rights, self-determination and political change in the occupied Palestinian territories. International studies in human rights. 52. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 151–152. ISBN 978-90-411-0502-8. "It can thus clearly be concluded that the transfer of Israeli settlers into the occupied territories violates not only the laws of belligerent occupation but the Palestinian right of self-determination under international law. The question remains, however, whether this is of any practical value. In other words, given the view of the international community that the Israeli settlements are illegal under the law if belligerent occupation …" 
  5. International Labour Organization (2005). "The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories". p. 14. "The international community considers Israeli settlements within the occupied territories illegal and in breach of, inter alia, United Nations Security Council resolution 465 of 1 March 1980 calling on Israel "to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem"." 
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