Thursday, November 19, 2009
(fm the BC thread "The devil you know")
Regarding the wording of UN resolution 242 the story is even more complicated than you might think. The problem is that legally there was no border between Israel and any other entity within former Mandatory Palestine. There were borders between Palestine (as established by the British in the 1920's) and other recognized international actors. Those were the French Mandates and their successor states of Syria and Lebanon to the North and Egypt to the South. There are minor disputes along the Syrian border, the Shaba'a Farms (that Hezbollah has tried to reassign to Lebanon to manufacture a casus belli and some question about the Galilee coastline but the fact that there is a true border that has standing in the law is not disputed. All other demarcations between assigned Jewish territories and other portions of the British Mandate were provisional and had no standing in International law. In 1948 Gaza was occupied by the Egyptian army and a Cease Fire was signed. The Jordanian army entered the West Bank and East Jerusalem and another Cease Fire was signed. Count Bernadotte also supervised agreements covering the North that closely followed the recognized borders. Those documents between the new State of Israel and Egypt or the KIngdom of Trans-jordan (as it was then known) did not create legal borders. That is why the territories are properly referred to as "Disputed" and not as "Occupied" by Israel. Egypt had no legal claim over Gaza as there is a proper border between the Strip and Sinai, which the Egyptians have always enforced. The Jordanians however themselves have a state within a portion of former British Palestine. The borders between two states within the Mandate can only be established by treaty. That happened when Israel signed a treaty with Jordan that fixed the Western border of Jordan at the river. That did not determine the status of territories between the river and Israel. There is not and never has been anything in International law that prevents Israel from annexing any or all of a stateless territory, as long as they deal properly with the inhabitants thereof. Israel would owe little to inhabitants of a territory that it determined not to include within it's borders.
We are not disputing the important facts here. The original Mandates were assigned by dividing up the Ottoman territory ruled from Damascus between the French and British. Messrs Sykes and Picot divided up the districts within the Damascus Vilyat. The boundaries within the Ottoman Empire were not surveyed or promulgated with all the formality of a demarcation between two tax districts in Germany. For the sake of argument I agree that the initial line as approved by the League of Nations would have been in the water of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) and it was shortly after moved East of the lake shore by an agreement between France and the UK. That agreement was in effect a binding treaty between two sovereigns and could establish a border in international law. Therefor the legal border between Mandatory Palestine and Syria was where Israel claims and that remains the border between their successor states, unless those states change it by a subsequent treaty.
Now the Arabs may claim that the actions of the Colonial powers were unjust. They may cry that reason, logic and the unswerving determination of billions cry out to undo the legacy of the League of Nations sponsored mandates and the successor Israeli settler state. None of that should matter or have any bearing in law. The standing and rights of the Arabs who contest Israel's borders or presence are based in the same League of Nations, and earlier European initiated treaty, sponsored legal system that they would repudiate in this case. We could offer to return the French Mandated districts to the status quo ante 1880. That would entail giving entire region of the Levant back to the Turks, expelling most of the Shia from Lebanon West of the Bekaa valley, and dividing the remainder between the Druze and Christians and returning the descendants of the Sunni who migrated South. Somehow I do not think that is the deal they are looking for.
By the way one interesting point about the borders and occupation question happens in the case of Gaza. While for the Israelis the Gaza strip is a Disputed territory with no legal border between it and the State of Israel for the Egyptians it was an Occupied territory because they had to cross an international border to get there..