Mahmoud Abbas threatened last week to go to the U.N. and, according to Palestinian sources, ask the U.N. Security Council to compel a deadline for the withdrawal of Israel from Judea and Samaria. The only problem is the Palestinian threat has no grounds in international law.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced last week that he was about to unveil a diplomatic initiative involving the United Nations (UN). Unnamed officials in Abbas’ entourage claimed that the PA would ask the UN Security Council to set a deadline for a total and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”).
This is not the first time that Abbas “threatens” to go to the UN. In September 2011, he submitted to the UN Secretary General an official membership application from the “State of Palestine” (the Security Council announced two months later that it was unable “to make a unanimous recommendation” on the application). In November 2012, the UN General Assembly upgraded the status of the PLO from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state.” That vote, however, did not establish a “Palestinian state.”
UN General Assembly resolutions are not binding (as opposed to Security Council resolutions). They are mere recommendations. The General Assembly does not, and cannot, establish states. Contrary to a widespread misconception, the UN did not establish the State of Israel. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly only approved the recommendation of UNSCOP (the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) to divide the British Mandate between a Jewish state and an Arab state. This approval was a non-binding opinion, which became moot the moment it was rejected by the Arab states, in any case. What established the State of Israel were seven decades of Jewish immigration and hard labor and a war for independence which the Jews fought by themselves without any help from the UN (though with the military help of a Soviet satellite –Czechoslovakia). Likewise, the General Assembly resolution from 29 November 2012 did not establish a “State of Palestine.”
What Abbas is trying to do, therefore, is to involve the Security Council by creating an artifice that would supposedly metamorphose the West Bank into the legal equivalent of Kuwait in 1991 or of South Korea in 1950 – when the Security Council allowed the use of force to liberate those two violated and conquered sovereign states. Abbas’ initiative, however, is legally groundless.
Israel is not occupying a formerly sovereign state, and therefore its status is not comparable to that of Iraq in Kuwait or that of North Korea in South Korea. When Israel conquered Judea and Samaria in a war of self-defense in June 1967, it did not cross an international border but a temporary armistice line defined as such by the 1949 Rhodes Agreements. Israel did not conquer a sovereign country but a territory that had been illegally conquered and annexed by Transjordan for 18 years (from 1949 to 1967) and that had been approved by the League of Nations for the self-determination of the Jewish people. The League of Nations did not grant national rights to some “Palestinian people,” because no one had ever heard of such a people back then.
Indeed, UNSCOP dismissed the Arab claim that the League of Nations Mandate was illegal. Its report said that the Arabs “have not been in possession of it [Palestine Mandate territory] as a sovereign nation,” and that there were “no grounds for questioning the validity of the Mandate for the reason advanced by the Arab states.” If it was illegal for the League of Nations to recognize the Jews’ national and historic rights over their original country, then all the nation-states that emerged from the dismembering of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires are illegal, as well.
It is precisely because Israel did not conquer a sovereign country in June 1967 but recovered, in a war of self-defense, a territory that that been assigned to the Jewish people by the League of Nations and that had been illegally controlled by Transjordan for 18 years, that UN Security Council Resolution 242 (of November 1967) did not demand an unconditional and total Israeli withdrawal from the territories conquered in 1967. Had it been so, Resolution 242 would have been adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (which allows the use of force to impose the respect of international law, and which was applied against North Korea in 1950 and against Iraq in 1991). Rather, Resolution 242 was adopted under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which calls upon belligerents to settle their disputes peacefully.
Resolution 242 determines the guidelines for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” (and not “from the territories”) it conquered in 1967, in exchange for peace and defensible borders. Not only does 242 not require an Israeli withdrawal from the former and temporary armistice lines delineated by the Rhodes Agreements, but it also sets as a condition for an agreed-upon Israeli withdrawal full peace agreements and defensible borders. It is undisputable that the 1949 temporary armistice lines cannot constitute defensible borders. As for Abbas, he wants an Israeli withdrawal but without peace.
Mahmoud Abbas can rewrite history in Palestinian schoolbooks and even believe in his own propaganda, but he cannot rewrite international law.