Palestine, UNESCO and Legal Realities
By: David Singer
The cynical Arab use of UNESCO to pass resolutions concerning two Jewish sacred and biblical sites â€“ the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachelâ€™s Tomb in Bethlehem – is part of an ongoing Arab obsession to deny any Jewish claims to sovereignty in any part of the West Bank.
Their latest attempt to hijack UNESCO also flouts UN Security Council Resolution 242 passed on 22 November 1967. That resolution recognized that there would be a termination of all states of belligerency and that the armistice lines existing at the conclusion of hostilities between the nascent Jewish State of Israel and six invading Arab armies in 1948 would be replaced by secure and recognized boundaries between Israel and its neighbours, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.
Israel and Egypt achieved this in 1979 – as did Jordan and Israel in 1994 – when they concluded peace treaties and established full diplomatic relations.
However there was one little glitch contained in both treaties. The permanent boundaries so established were without prejudice to the determination of the final status of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
This still remains the legal position in 2010. However the Arabs have made it abundantly clear for the last 43 years that they are determined to have sovereignty in the West Bank resolved completely in their favour to the total exclusion of Jewish claims to sovereignty in these areas.
Their pursuit of this objective was made abundantly clear with the recent decision of UNESCOâ€™s Executive Board resolving that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachelâ€™s Tomb
â€œare an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territoriesâ€
This resolution represents one more insidious attempt by the Arabs to determine the final status of the West Bank as exclusively Arab territory and to deny the Jews the legal rights vested in them to settle there for the declared purpose of reconstituting their national home in accordance with Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and Article 80 of the United Nations Charter.
In arriving at its decision on 21 October – UNESCOâ€™s Executive Board had in its possession an explanatory note presented on 19 March by 7 of its 58 member States – Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia – supporting their request to have the Board place the issue of the two sacred Jewish sites on the Boardâ€™s agenda for consideration.
That explanatory note falsely purported to represent the legal position existing in the West Bank in the following terms:
â€Israelâ€™s military occupation of Palestinian territory is inherently temporary and does not give the occupying power (Israel) sovereignty or title over the occupied territory. The seminal principle in international law is reflected in Article 43 of the Hague Regulations which requires the occupying power to re-establish and maintain public order and civil life for the benefit of the occupied population, and to respect existing laws and institutions in the occupied territory.â€
Apart from describing the West Bank as â€œPalestinian territoryâ€ whilst its legal status still remains undetermined â€“ the Arab position on the applicability and interpretation of Article 43 was totally misconceived and indeed deceptive and misleading.
Article 43 states:
â€œThe authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.â€
Article 43 could not possibly have any applicability to the West Bank or the interpretation attributed to it by its Arab proponents in UNESCO for the following reasons:
1. There was no legitimate power in the West Bank in 1967. Jordanâ€™s attempt to annex the West Bank in 1950 had only been recognized by Great Britain and Pakistan and this position remained unchanged until its loss to Israel in 1967. Jordan may have been an occupying power. It certainly was not a legitimate power.
2. The West Bank was not a â€œcountryâ€ or recognized as part of a country in 1967. Its legal status then was â€“ and still is â€“ part of the 6% of land contained in the Mandate for Palestine still remaining unallocated pursuant to the provisions of the Mandate and the UN Charter.
3. Article 43 does not mention â€“ nor can it be reasonably interpreted as including â€“ any obligation to â€œre-establish and maintain civil life for the benefit of the occupied populationâ€
Any cursory examination of the Arabs legal claim by UNESCOâ€™s secretariat should have resulted in an instant rebuttal of their position. That UNESCO unquestioningly swallowed such claim indicates the gullibility and lack of scrutiny of those who administer its proceedings.
Representatives from the Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic States, the African Union and the Organization of American States comprise 35 of the current 58 Board members. The passage of any anti-Israel resolution at the Board is virtually guaranteed.
This latest attempt to twist and misinterpret international law has become part of the relentless Arab effort to delegitimize Israel and deny any Jewish rights to live in the West Bank – its biblical, ancestral and legally recognized patrimony – in accordance with the unanimous decision of the League of Nations made in 1920.
Arab efforts designed to create the impression that Jewish towns and villages established in the West Bank since 1967 pursuant to such vested rights are illegal in international law is but another example of the lengths the Arabs are prepared to go in their desire to misrepresent the legal position in the West Bank and claim Arab sovereignty to the exclusion of Jewish claims.
Relying supposedly on international law to support such claims – the Arabs have no qualms in rejecting the binding legal validity of the Mandate for Palestine, the United Nations Charter and Resolution 242 as the determining pieces of international law to settle the final status of the West Bank.
The latest attempt to pull the wool over UNESCOâ€™s eyes remains an important reminder to closely examine any purported legal claims made by the Arabs â€“ which cannot ever be taken or accepted at face value.