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Quick Facts: Israeli Annexation of Occupied Land & International Law

The Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU)

  • Under international law, it is illegal for countries to annex occupied territories acquired by military force. According to Chapter 1, Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
  • When Russia occupied and annexed the Crimea in 2014, the UN and international community, including the US, condemned the move as a dangerous violation of international law and imposed sanctions.
  • According to international law, if a country annexes occupied territory the people living there are still considered to be under military occupation and protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states:

“Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

  • In 1980, Israel officially annexed Palestinian East Jerusalem, which it militarily occupied along with the rest of the West Bank, Gaza, and Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 War. The following year, Israel effectively annexed the Golan Heights as well by applying Israeli law to it. Both moves have been repeatedly rejected as illegal by the international community, including UN Security Council Resolutions 478 (Jerusalem) and 497 (Golan).
  • In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334:

“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction, and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”

  • In 2017, President Donald Trump reversed half a century of official US policy by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, moving the US embassy there the following year. In 2019, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Both decisions were condemned by the international community, including many close US allies, and rejected by the UN.
  • The preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was passed in response to the 1967 War and is the cornerstone of international diplomacy regarding the West Bank and other occupied territories, stresses the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
  • In June 2019, following threats by Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians to annex the West Bank, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 warned: “International law is very clear: annexation and territorial conquest are forbidden by the Charter of the United Nations.”
  • In January 2020, Trump released the remaining details of his plan for Palestine/Israel, including recognition of Israeli annexation of about 30% of the Palestinian West Bank, which was rejected by the international community.
  • After the release of the remainder of the Trump plan and the deal cementing Netanyahu’s new coalition government in April 2020, that stipulated Israel can begin annexation of the West Bank starting July 1, the international community, including the European Union and neighboring Jordan, which Israel has a peace treaty with, warned against it, with the EU noting it “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”
  • In June 2020, nearly 50 independent UN human rights experts warned that Israeli annexation of the West Bank:

“is a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions, and contrary to the fundamental rule affirmed many times by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly that the acquisition of territory by war or force is inadmissible… The international community has prohibited annexation precisely because it incites wars, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses and widespread human suffering.

“What would be left of the West Bank would be a Palestinian Bantustan, islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world… Thus, the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.

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