J Street’s view of the role of Jerusalem in resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, as explained by J Street board member Richard M. Goldwasser in The Times of Israel, is interesting, but requires considerable amplification if it is not to be misunderstood.
For example, Mr. Goldwasser’s statement that the UN Partition Plan of 1947 terminated the British mandate is patently incorrect. The mandate was not terminated until May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence. The 1947 Plan was not implemented, having been accepted by the Jewish leaders but unanimously rejected by the Arab leaders, who confirmed their intransigence in their famous “three noes” resolution at Khartoum in September 1967: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
Goldwasser goes on to state that after the 1948 war the Jordanians occupied the eastern portion of Jerusalem. But he fails to mention the important information that Jordan’s occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank was recognized only by Britain, Iraq and Pakistan, while others, including the Arab League, regarded it as illegal and void. In essence, in the 1967 Six Day War Israel did not occupy territory to which any other party had title. Rather, it recovered territory that legally belonged to it as part of the Jewish National Home that had been created at San Remo in an agreement that remains legally binding.
Completely ignoring the provocation leading to the Six Day War, Goldwasser’s bald statement that on June 7, 1967, Israeli forces marched triumphantly into the Old City of Jerusalem conveys the false impression that Israel decided on a whim, unprovoked, to march into peaceful, undefended Jerusalem. How else can any reader who is unfamiliar with the history interpret this statement by a board member of J Street, a Jewish organization that declares its support for Israel and that is assumed to be knowledgeable about the subject?
But intellectual honesty and moral integrity require that Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank be treated in its proper context. It didn’t just happen. The facts may be summarized as follows.
Prelude to the Six Day War
During 1965 and 1966 the Syrian army constantly shelled Israeli farms and villages in the Galilee from the Golan Heights. Egypt’s Nasser announced:
…we aim for the destruction of the state of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.
On May 15, 1966, Egyptian troops moved into the Sinai and ordered the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) to withdraw. Shamefully, UNEF complied without bringing the matter to the attention of the UN.
On May 18 the Voice of the Arabs radio station made the following proclamation:
As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.
Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad added:
Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united….I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation
On May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping, cutting off Israel’s only supply route with Asia. Nasser proclaimed:
Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.
On the following day, he added:
We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel….Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.
On May 30, after King Hussein signed a defense pact with Egypt, Nasser announced:
The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.
On June 4, Iraq joined the military alliance, and Israel was threatened by approximately 465,000 troops, more than 2,800 tanks, and 800 aircraft. The surprising results of the Six Day War, which began on June 5, 1967, are too well known to be described here; suffice to say it is intellectually dishonest to discuss the resultant Israeli presence in the Golan, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza without taking the above factual context into account.
The above verifiable facts show conclusively that Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, comprising Judea and Samaria, resulted form a defensive war. According to Professor Julius Stone, one of the twentieth century’s leading authorities on international law:
International law forbids acquisition by unlawful force, but not where, as in the case of Israel’s self-defence in 1967, the entry on the territory was lawful. It does not so forbid it, in particular, when the force is used to stop an aggressor, for the effect of such prohibition would be to guarantee to all potential aggressors that, even if their aggression failed, all territory lost in the attempt would be automatically returned to them. Such a rule would be absurd to the point of lunacy. There is no such rule.
Many international legal authorities support Stone’s view. For example Judge Schwebel, a former President of the ICJ, pronounced:
As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem.
Jacques Gauthier, a non-Jewish Canadian lawyer who spent 20 years researching the legal status of Jerusalem, concluded on purely legal grounds, and ignoring religious factors, that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews, by international law.
Sir Elihu Lauterpacht CBE QC., the British specialist in international law, declared, inter alia, that “sovereignty over Jerusalem already vested in Israel when the 1947 partition proposals were rejected and aborted by Arab armed aggression…”
It is obvious from the above that allegations of Israel being an illegal occupier are based on misinformation.
Nothing in this article is intended to make a case either for or against dividing Jerusalem. It is intended merely to set the record straight about how Israel came to be present in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the legal implications of its presence. Israel may very well decide to relinquish control of parts of Jerusalem in exchange for real peace and security guarantees, but if it does so, it would not be because its presence is illegal, but rather because it considers it the right thing to do in the circumstances, despite having no legal obligation to do so.