The Status of Sovereignty in East Jerusalem and the West Bank

By Alan Levine

The Six Day War of 1967 between Israel and its Arab neighbors left Israel in control of the West Bank of Jordan and East Jerusalem.' Both areas had been under the control of the Kingdom of Jordan since the Palestine hostilities of 1948-1949. The debate on the status of sovereignty in these areas, frequently marked by emotion and misconception, has been conducted in the political arena both within the United Nations and without. This Note will first present a brief discussion of the recent history of the area in order to place the legal argument in a proper perspective. Second, the Note will trace the path of sovereignty in these areas, in the context of international law, from the termination of Turkish rule in 1923 to the present. Since Israel remains in control of the two territories, the Note will finally focus on the present status of Israel in the two territories and the attendant legal consequences.

On July 23, 1923, following four hundred years of Turkish rule in Palestine, Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey renounced its rights to all territories outside its frontiers including Palestine. Article 16 of the Treaty stated that the future of those territories was to be settled by the parties concerned. The Council of the League of Nations, (hereinafter the Council), had already granted the Palestine Mandate to Great Britain,G and one year later Great Britain assumed its responsibilities with the object of implementing the Balfour Declaration.

When the Council was dissolved in 1946, the final Assembly noted that although its functions with respect to the mandate territories would terminate, those nations administering territories under mandates would continue to do so for the well-being of the people concerned. Following a period of increasing tension in Palestine, Great Britain, unable on its own to alter the status of the territory, proposed a special session of the General Assembly to consider the Palestine question. Thereafter, a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was appointed and it reported to the General As. sembly in the autumn of 1947.

The result of that assembly was the Palestine Resolution which provided for the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Arab, within the Mandate territory of Palestine. The Jews accepted this partition despite reservations about the internationalization of Jerusalem. Following the Resolution's approval by the General Assembly," the State of Israel was established in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948. However, the Arab states and the Palestinian Arabs rejected the partition plan, and on May 15, 1948, the day the British Mandate expired, the Arab states invaded Palestine. At the end of three months' fighting in 1948, Israel was in control of the new suburbs of West Jerusalem, while Jordan occupied the city of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

An Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan was signed in April, 1949, which had the effect of freezing the rights and claims of the parties at the point of the cessation of hostilities. The Agreement was dictated by military considerations and was not intended to prejudice the position of either party in any peaceful settlement. No such peaceful settlement has ever been realized. Rather, the border between Israel and Jordan was the scene of periodic terrorist attacks and border incursions, incidents which increased with great frequency in the two years preceding the Six Day War. Tension in the area peaked with the mobilization on Israel's border in May, 1967, of the armed forces of Jordan and other Arab states, along with an agreement between Jordan and Egypt which provided for joint military operations in the event of a war with Israel. Finally, on June 5, 1967, the Six Day War began.