More than 100 public international law scholars have signed an open letter addressed to top Israeli government officials condemning Israel’s plan to illegally annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.
“We, the undersigned, scholars of public international law, are writing to express our grave concern regarding the intention of the State of Israel, as expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to move towards the unilateral annexation of areas in the West Bank on or after 1 July 2020,” said the open letter published in Opinio Juris, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and addressed to Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
“Such an action would constitute a flagrant violation of bedrock rules of international law, and would also pose a serious threat to international stability in a volatile region.”
The law scholars stressed that the norm prohibiting unilateral annexation of territory acquired by force has come to be universally recognized as a basic rule of international law.
“All international courts (including the International Court of Justice) and all international institutions (including the UN General Assembly and Security Council) who have considered this matter, as well as the overwhelming majority of international jurists, affirm this rule unequivocally,” they said. “This prohibition applies equally to territories belonging to other states, as well as to non-self-governing territories in which peoples are entitled to determine their political fate in accordance with the right to self-determination. Furthermore, this prohibition applies to all territories occupied by force, even if it is claimed that force was initially used in an act of self-defense.”
The letter added: “The West Bank was taken by force in 1967. It has been consistently recognized by the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the International Court of Justice as an occupied territory, in which the Palestinian people is entitled to fulfill its right to self-determination. This remains so even if bilateral negotiations could determine the details of security arrangements and final borders. Furthermore, the Israeli government as well as the Israeli Supreme Court have for decades applied the law of belligerent occupation to the West Bank. This is demonstrated in dozens of decisions by the Supreme Court of Israel, as well as in Israel’s positions before international treaty bodies, where it argues that the West Bank is not under Israeli jurisdiction for the purpose of application of human rights treaties.”
It follows that, said the law scholars, “unilateral annexation of any part of this territory would violate the fundamental norm prohibiting annexation as well as the right to self-determination. As such, it would be null and void, entail consequences of international wrongfulness, and – under certain circumstances – lead to individual international criminal liability. In this context, it matters not whether such actions would be effected through ‘extension of sovereignty,’ ‘extension of law, jurisdiction, and administration,’ or explicit annexation. De facto annexation entails the same legal consequences as de jure annexation. Additionally, in no case can such an act lawfully bring about or justify discriminatory results, inter alia in relation to citizenship or property rights.”
The public international law scholars urged Israel “to reconsider this path, which is clearly unlawful and will most likely have adverse consequences, including non-recognition and other consequences of an internationally wrongful act. This is in addition to the harm to the legitimacy and foreign relations of the State of Israel, and to a high likelihood of violent escalation.”