Mar. 14, 2016
While it has become commonplace to refer to Israel’s control of areas it seized during the Six-Day War as an “occupation,” and one of questionable legality, Avi Bell and Eugene Kontorovich argue that, according to a widely accepted principle of international law, Israel’s claims to the territory are wholly legitimate. This principle, known as uti possidetis juris (“as you possess under law”), has been crucial in establishing the borders of recently created states in Africa and Eastern Europe. They write:
Remarkably, despite the intensity of the debates, little attention has been paid to the relevance of the doctrine of uti possidetis juris to resolving legal aspects of the dispute [concerning Israel’s borders]. . . .
Summarizing the operation of the rule, Steven Ratner explains [that it] “provides that states emerging from decolonization shall presumptively inherit the colonial administrative borders that they held at the time of independence.” Recent decades have shown that uti possidetis juris applies to all cases where the borders of new states have to be determined, and not just in its original context of decolonization. . . .
Israel’s independence would thus appear to fall squarely within the bounds of circumstances that trigger the rule of uti possidetis juris. Applying the rule would appear to dictate that Israel’s borders are those of the [British] Palestine Mandate that preceded it, except where otherwise agreed upon by Israel and its relevant neighbor. . . . Given the location of [these borders], applying the doctrine of uti possidetis juris to Israel would mean that Israel has territorial sovereignty over all the disputed areas of Jerusalem [as well as] the West Bank and Gaza, except to the degree that Israel has voluntarily yielded sovereignty since its independence.