Palestine – Jerusalem challenges the United Nations

August 21, 2011 by David Singer
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Jerusalem’s continued existence as an undivided city will remain unaffected by any United Nations (UN)  decision recognising a Palestinian Arab State based on the June 1967 armistice lines…writes David Singer.

This has been made very clear in a  statement issued on 16 August by the Quartet – America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations itself – which declares:

“Jerusalem in particular is one of the core issues that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties, which underscores the urgent need for the parties to resume serious and substantive talks.”

Should the UN member States disregard the Quartet’s warning, the likelihood of Israel agreeing to any subsequent negotiations over Jerusalem – or indeed any future Palestinian Arab state – would almost certainly evaporate.

The Quartet also affirmed: “that unilateral action by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.”

This is a clear warning to the Palestinian Authority that its unilateral quest to seek UN recognition of a State would be in breach of – and could well end any further negotiations under – the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap endorsed and fully supported by the Quartet for the last eight years.

International law is a primary concern of the UN. The mandate for its activities in this field emanates from the Charter of the United Nations which, in its Preamble, sets the goal : “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

There are three competing claims relating to Jerusalem that can only be resolved by direct negotiations – not unilaterally determined by the UN – if justice and respect for international law is to have any real meaning.

The three potential claimants are:

  1. The Palestinian Arabs  – who have never in recorded history exercised sovereign control in or over any parts of Jerusalem.  They had a window of opportunity to do so between 1948-1967 – but did not make any claim during those 19 years.
  2. Jordan – the last Arab occupier in Jerusalem between 1948-1967 – which relinquished all claims in 1988 – but whose 1994 peace treaty with Israel allows for a continuing Jordanian role in the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
  3. The Jewish people – the only people to have ever adopted Jerusalem as their capital  when King David first established it in about 1000 BC –  and who are legally entitled to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in Jerusalem pursuant to article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the UN Charter.

On 30 July 1980 Israel’s Parliament passed a law declaring:

” Complete and united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Israel’s declaration was subsequently declared “null and void” by the UN.


Jerusalem also opens up an additional legal minefield for the UN – since Jerusalem was never  included in Security Council Resolution 242.

This was confirmed in a letter published in  the New York Times on 12 March 1980 – written by the former US Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg at the time Resolution 242 was passed – in which he  stated:

“Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank”

Goldberg also clarified in his letter that President Johnson’s policy at that time did not regard Jerusalem as occupied territory. That position was adopted at a  later date under President Nixon at a time when there had been a change of Ambassadors at the United Nations.

“The facts are that I never described Jerusalem as occupied territory. Ambassador Yost did in his speech on July 1, 1969 under instructions from President Nixon, and his statement represented a departure from policy I, President Johnson and the Department of State pursued with respect to Jerusalem during the period of my tenure…”

Security Council Resolution 242 – calls for

“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;”

Even if the UN wants to dispute Goldberg’s claim and insist that Jerusalem was indeed included in Resolution 242 – then negotiations are still required to determine such secure and recognized boundaries – not unilateral declarations or resolutions by the United Nations.

Whilst America’s policy on Jerusalem and that of the Palestinian Arabs may change from time to time – Israel’s position remains unchanged.

Israel maintains that Jerusalem is – and will remain – the eternal and undivided capital of Israel with free access to it – and all three monotheistic religions will enjoy complete freedom of worship.

President Carter’s decision to issue Sadat with a letter stating that America’s position was that East Jerusalem was occupied territory and thus the Fourth Geneva Convention would apply – almost wrecked the 1978 Camp David Accords – causing Moshe Dayan to tell President Carter:

“How could the Americans and the Egyptians argue that the Western Wall, the Hebrew University, the Hadassah Hospital, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus belonged to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan? Why was the Jewish Quarter of the Old City regarded as “conquered territory” held by us in contravention of international law? Simply because the Jordanian Arab Legion conquered it in 1948, destroyed its synagogues, killed or took captive the Jewish civilians who lived there? What was holy about the military conquest by the Jordanian army in 1948, and profane about our victory in the 1967 war – a war which was also started with Jordan’s attack on Israel? ( Professor Shlomo Slonim – “The Camp David Accords – A Collection of Articles and Lectures“)

Carter recanted and never issued his letter to Sadat. Instead three letters were appended to the Accords stating the respective positions of America, Israel and Egypt.

Dayan’s stirring words to President Carter and Goldberg’s revelations could become very relevant during the September sittings of the United Nations – should any attempt be made -without Israel’s agreement – to unilaterally unravel the unity of Jerusalem which has remained united and undivided since 1967.

The Quartet’s statement is therefore very timely and is to be applauded.

There is no alternative to negotiations over Jerusalem‘s future – no matter how long, difficult and protracted they might be.

Risking the end of any such further negotiations by embarking on a unilateral journey to nowhere may prove once again that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Will the UN rise to the challenge and defend the unity of Jerusalem against the latest attempt to unilaterally divide it again?  That is the pressing decision each of the member States of the UN will be forced to publicly declare should the matter come before the UN in September.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network

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