ISIS, International Borders and UN Hypocrisy

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he denied that he had invaded another country. His rationale for this dubious claim was that Kuwait had always been a province of Mesopotamia during the period of Ottoman rule. Of course the Ottoman Turkish Empire had collapsed by the end of WWI, and the boundaries of the Modern Middle East were established under international law by the League of Nations Mandate system. In setting up the British Mandate for Iraq, the province of Kuwait was omitted from Iraqi Mandated territory in 1923. By 1932 Iraq had applied for and been accepted by the League of Nations as a member without the province of Kuwait. So when Saddam made his claim for Kuwait, it was the International Mandate system which, in the final analysis, refuted his erroneous blurring of the borders. There was no UN hypocrisy in this case.

When Hafez al Assad intervened in the Lebanese Civil War (1976) by sending Palestinian Liberation Army troops to fight the PLO, he was making a double statement. First, he was saying that Lebanon was an integral territory of Syria and always had been prior to the League of Nations Mandate for Syria. Second, he was sending a similar message to Yasir Arafat that Palestine was a mere section of the province of Syria prior to the League of Nations Mandated period. Although his history regarding the Ottoman period was correct on both accounts, Assad’s understanding of international law and modern borders was dead wrong. Yes, during Ottoman times the province called Syria included not only what is now Lebanon but also all of Israel (from the river to the sea) and all of Jordan. But that had nothing to do with international law and the proper understanding of national sovereignty and borders.

The modern borders of the Middle East are legal under international law because the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and its sovereignty over territory was replaced by the Mandate system of the League of Nations. Either you ascribe to this formulation of international law or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel are nations with specific Mandated borders, or they’re not countries at all. Their borders were established under international authority and cannot be changed by the whims of the UN General Assembly or the Security Council. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was originally partitioned by the British legally into two separate entities (1922) — a Jewish one from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and an Arab one from the river to the borders of Iraq, Syria and Arabia.

These are the indisputable facts of international law. Either you believe in international law or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. If you assert that Israel’s borders are anything other than those established under the Mandated authority of the British, you must either reference that to a precedent of international legal authority (other than the specific Mandate for Palestine) or you are guilty of discrimination against the Jewish state. What precedent of international legal authority could you use? You might choose the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan for Palestine. But as a General Assembly document, it has no binding authority in international law. The UN General Assembly is not a legislative body. If it were, then all of its declarations would be legally binding, but they are not. In fact, none of them are.

Furthermore, the Arabs rejected the General Assembly’s 1947 partition plan. Instead, the countries of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt chose to invade Israel. They were the aggressor nations, and although they could not defeat Israel, they did manage to occupy large amounts of Israeli territory established under the Mandated authority. Jordan’s occupation of Judea and Samaria in 1948 (the West Bank) was illegal under international law. So was the Egyptian occupation of Gaza. Either you believe this, or you believe in the concept that the acquisition of territory by force is legitimate. The territories of Judea and Samaria were originally assigned to be part of a Jewish homeland in the territory known as Palestine. In the same way the territories east of the Jordan River, in eastern Palestine, were assigned to the authority of the Hashemite Arabs (later to be called Jordan). This is international law; you either ascribe to it or you don’t.

You might consider another precedent of international authority based on the UN Security Council. By far the most likely choice would be Security Council Resolution 242. But in the preamble to that document it specifically states that land cannot be gained through war: “…the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security.” In other words, Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank was illegal, and the territory specifically occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War (1967) was Syrian and Egyptian (the Golan and Sinai, respectively). UN Resolution 242 could not have been referring to Israel’s establishing its authority over its Mandated territories of Judea and Samaria. If that was the meaning of the resolution, then it would have enshrined the original Jordanian aggression west of the river (the West Bank) in 1948 as legal.

Although Israel has never issued its sovereignty over the territories of Judea and Samaria, it certainly holds a better claim to those territories than either the Palestinians or the Jordanians. Yet under the guise of international legitimacy, the vast majority of the nations of the UN continue to deny Israel its rightful claims. Even countries like Britain and France (the Mandated nations) make false claims as to the proper jurisdiction of international authority. Their continual assertion that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is Palestinian is a direct affront to justice and fairness. The Palestinians can only achieve statehood through a directly negotiated treaty with Israel. Under proper international law, this is the only way forward. Even the UN Security Council cannot go against international norms of law and justice. International law consists of treaty and custom. Israel will never agree to a settlement treaty of the conflict that isn’t directly negotiated.

If a nation is attacked, it has the right of self-defense. Israel was attacked in 1948, and territory assigned to it under treaty (the League of Nations Mandate) was occupied by an Arab army. The armistice lines established by the UN in 1949 were NEVER borders. If they had been borders, then the original Jordanian aggression and occupation of the West Bank would have been considered under international law to be legal. Now, with the rise of ISIS, all the borders of the Middle East are being challenged by a vicious illegal organization hell-bent on genocide and expansion. But the UN, the governments of the West, and the Islamic nations cannot have it both ways. If the borders of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are sacrosanct, then so too must be the original borders of Mandated Palestine as a homeland for the Jewish People (now called Israel). All these countries trace their sovereignty to that Mandated period.

Finally, if the Palestinians claim sovereignty over the West Bank outside the structure of a negotiated treaty settlement, Israel should do the same. A legitimate Arab state already exists in Mandated Palestine under the name of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The original and legal partition of Palestine happened over ninety years ago. For the nations of the world (the UN General Assembly) to claim that ISIS and its Caliphate are against international law, but at the same time to accuse Israel of occupation of Judea and Samaria, is a travesty of international law. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, it is also a form of anti-Semitic discrimination and hypocrisy not seen since Germany in the 1930’s. Shame on the Arabs, shame on the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), shame on Britain and France, shame on the UN General Assembly.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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