‘Annexation’ – some historical and legal background

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For my View from the Chair this month, I would like to share part of an opinion piece that my husband, Ben, had published in the Cape Argus as I feel his overview is essential reading for us all.

There has been an intense discussion about whether Israel will or will not ‘annex’ part of the area known as Judea and Samaria. Without taking sides about the merits or demerits of such an action, it is important to know the historical and legal facts.

International law is not made by the United Nations General Assembly — these resolutions are non-binding without the agreement of the states concerned in the dispute. To be invalid, they need to breach a treaty between the nations that is recognised as binding. As there is no Palestinian nation, nor has there ever been, there are no such treaties.

The British Mandate exercised authority over an enlarged Palestine that included the East Bank, which subsequently was hived off to form the Emirate of Trans-Jordan in 1921. This was the choice of the Arab delegations at the Paris Peace talks in 1919, when the French assumed responsibility for Syria and the British for Palestine and Iraq. The rights of the Jews to the land in the area to the West of the Jordan was first recognised by the British in 1917, by means of the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent ratification by the leading powers of the League of Nations, at the San Remo Conference in 1920. Israel’s legitimacy in International law is premised on the international backing for the decisions made at San Remo. San Remo went a step further, as it recognised the rights of the Jewish people to “reconstitute” their National Home, thereby implicitly recognising a pre-existing historical right and not creating a new right.

In the light of the above narrative, Israel would not be in breach of any international law, were it to annex parts of Judea and Samaria, as these territories were included in the areas granted at San Remo to the ‘reconstitution’ of Jewish rights to their historic homeland. Simply put, one cannot annex territory which is considered yours by right.

Annexation is a pejorative term immediately invoking concepts of illegality. In Israel’s case these territories were conquered in a defensive war where the Arab armies expressly set out to annihilate the Jewish state and the relevance of International law is therefore questionable. A more accurate description if ‘annexation’ were to occur is that Israel would be extending its laws and jurisdiction to the people of those parts of Judea and Samaria that are contiguous to Israel.

Already Israel is facing a barrage of condemnation and calls for sanctions to be imposed and the Jewish community and Israel need to be prepared for a rather torrid time during the next few months ahead.

By Esta Levitas, Chairman, SAZF Cape Council

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