Sovereignty of the West Bank

It is sometimes said that Israeli military occupation of the West Bank (as opposed to civilian settlements in the territory) is illegal.  There is no basis for this claim.

There is at the moment (2013) no internationally recognized sovereignty over the West Bank (or Gaza).  Before the State of Israel was established in 1948, all of what is now Israel and the West Bank (and Jerusalem, and Gaza) was the League of Nations Mandated Territory of Palestine, with Britain holding the mandate.1  When the British announced they would leave Palestine, the United Nations, successor to the League of Nations, proposed a partition of the territory between the Jews and the Arabs.  The Jews were offered a portion smaller than the present State of Israel, and accepted the proposal.  The Arabs rejected the proposal, preferring to fight for the land.  The British left, the Arabs invaded the former Mandate and fought for the land, and they lost.  The cease-fire line (the so-called Green Line) was never an international boundary – it was just where the armies happened to be when the armistice took effect in 1949.  Israel was in military control of a part of the old Mandate, and Arabs had military control of other parts (the West Bank administered by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt).  The territory held by the Jews within the cease-fire line was recognized by the United Nations as the State of Israel in 1949.  No sovereignty was recognized in the West Bank or Gaza.

In 1950 Jordan annexed the West Bank, but this was not internationally recognized either.  In the 1967 war Israel conquered but did not annex it – it continued to be a non-sovereign territory, the rump remainder of the old Mandate, but now under Israeli instead of Jordanian administration.  In 1988 Jordan renounced its purported annexation of the West Bank and ceded its claim, such as it was, to the Palestine Liberation Organization.  No sovereignty over the West Bank has ever been claimed by Israel, and since the termination of the Mandate in 1948 no sovereignty in that territory has ever been internationally recognized.  The final disposition of the territory has not been settled – that is what the two-state solution is intended to do.

September 2013

  1. It was actually what was left of the British Mandate for Palestine after the establishment of Jordan (then Transjordan) in most of the territory in 1946.