With the wind at her back following her recent primary victory, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is taking the lead in challenging Israel’s possible extension of sovereignty over certain areas within the West Bank. She authored a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning that any move by Israel to extend its sovereignty into such areas would jeopardize continued U.S. military aid to the Jewish state. Senator Bernie Sanders signed AOC’s letter along with 11 other Democrat House members, including AOC’s fellow “Squad” members Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. Anti-Semitic organizations that back the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel are also in AOC’s corner.
“Should the Israeli government continue down this path,” AOC’s letter warns, “we will work to ensure non-recognition of annexed territories as well as pursue legislation that conditions the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way. We will include human rights conditions and the withholding of funds for the offshore procurement of Israeli weapons equal to or exceeding the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not taken a public position one way or the other on whether she would back legislation advancing AOC’s threat to cut off U.S. military aid to Israel. In any case, if legislation containing AOC’s reckless restrictions were to somehow reach President Trump’s desk, he would surely veto it. However, if Joe Biden is elected this November to replace President Trump and the Democrats end up controlling both the House and Senate, the legislation may well gain momentum and have a much better chance of passage. Biden will then likely sign it.
AOC asserts in her letter that “Israeli annexation of the West Bank is a clear violation of international law.” She added, “Annexation is prohibited by and is a prohibited act of aggression under Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a party.”
The United Nations and most of its member states, including Western European countries, agree with AOC’s assertion. But just declaring that an action violates “international law” does not make it so, no matter how many times the assertion is repeated. Even the word “annexation,” when used to describe what Israel may decide to do after further internal discussions, is misplaced. The outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has used the more accurate phrase “applying sovereignty” to territory where the Jewish people have historical legal claims of their own that are superior to the Palestinians. The West Bank (or Judea and Samaria as Israelis prefer to refer to this territory) does not belong legally to the Palestinians and never has.
International treaties preceding the formation of the UN are still recognized by the UN Charter. This included the 1920 San Remo Conference, which assigned the Mandate for Palestine to the British following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This Mandate included what is now known as the West Bank within a future homeland envisioned for the Jewish people. This means, as the outgoing Israeli UN Ambassador Danon observed, “the cause for a Jewish state became part of international law,” which carried over to the United Nations. The Palestinian leadership and their enablers reject these historical underpinnings of Israel’s claims, not to mention the Jewish people’s ancient roots in the holy land of Israel.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to look past all this history, the so-called “Arab Higher Committee” undermined the Palestinians’ legal position. It rejected, on their behalf, the allocation of partitioned land to a new “Arab state” under the UN General Assembly’s November 1947 Resolution 181. The Palestinian leadership chose instead to join the armies of their neighboring Arab states in an aggressive war to destroy the newly independent Jewish State of Israel that had been established in compliance with Resolution 181. That war ended in an armistice, with Jordan illegally seizing the West Bank during the 1948-49 war, which it occupied illegally for 19 years.
Between 1948 and 1967, there was no attempt to establish an independent sovereign Palestinian state within the seized Jordanian-controlled territory. In fact, the 1964 National Covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization stated the opposite: “This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area.” The PLO declared that the “avowed aim of the organization was to blot out the State of Israel.”
During the 1967 Six Day War, Jordan launched an aggressive attack on Israel. Israel defended itself, which it had the legal right to do under international law, including pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter. To help ensure its future defense against further acts of aggression, Israel took over control of Jordan’s illegally seized lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Article 2(4) of the UN Charter states that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” (emphasis added) Jordan violated Article 2(4) with its illegal seizure and occupation of the West Bank and its attack, 19 years later, upon pre-June 1967 Israel. The collection of Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza did not constitute a legally recognizable “state” in 1967. Persons of Palestinian origin were granted Jordanian citizenship after 1948, which remained the case until at least 1988. When Israel became the only UN member state in control of any lands in the West Bank after its victory against Jordanian aggression in 1967, Israel had not taken one iota of land belonging legally to any other independent sovereign state.
UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was adopted on November 22, 1967, remains in effect today. Resolution 242 contemplated negotiations amongst the parties to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the assistance of a UN Special Representative, based on the principle of “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.”
While Resolution 242 called for the withdrawal of “Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” it pointedly did not demand complete withdrawal from all such territories. Israel has demonstrated on repeated occasions its willingness to negotiate a genuine “peace for land” exchange with the Palestinians. However, Palestinian leaders have rejected successive offers of land for peace, including one in 2008 under which Israel would have withdrawn from virtually all of the West Bank and partitioned Jerusalem on a demographic basis.
Palestinian terrorism against Israel existed prior to the beginning of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Since 1967, the Palestinians have continued their acts of terrorism against Israelis living within the lines of pre-June 1967 Israel, aided and abetted by the Iranian regime. The number of cross-border operations reached almost 1,500 in 1968, before there were any extensive Israeli settlements, barriers or checkpoints. After Israel unilaterally withdrew its military personnel and Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 and gave the Palestinians a chance to create a self-governing paradigm entity of their own, Hamas ended up taking control. The terrorists used Gaza as their launching pad for rocket attacks and other terrorist assaults against civilians living inside Israel. Palestinian terrorists also snuck into Israeli cities from the West Bank, conducting suicide bombings, vehicular attacks, shootings and knifings.
Thus, Israel is fully justified in believing that its “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” as promised by Resolution 242, would be impossible to realize if it were to revert to the pre-June 1967 lines. The Palestinians’ continued refusal to engage in direct negotiations over the final disposition of border issues leaves Israel no choice but to consider applying formal sovereignty over areas within the West Bank it considers necessary for its defense and to protect Jewish residents living in those areas.
Subsequent UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions purported to impose upon Israel a so-called internationally recognized “border” with an independent Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 lines (unless the Palestinians voluntarily agree to make any adjustments). The resolutions also purported to declare East Jerusalem (including Jewish holy sites in the Old City) as the capital of the Palestinian state. The West Bank is not one of the UN-administered trusteeship territories. Nothing in the UN Charter, established international law, or the foundational Security Council Resolution 242 provide any legal authority for such arbitrary drawing of borders by unaccountable UN bodies.
“With history and international law on its side, and given the Palestinians continued unwillingness to negotiate with and recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” outgoing Israeli UN Ambassador Danon declared, “Israel’s government will begin the internal discussion of how to apply sovereignty to our most ancient lands in Judea and Samaria. Those who decry it as ‘annexation’ are doing nothing more than appeasing the Palestinian narrative and making peace ever more elusive. This puts them, to use their words, on the wrong side of history.”
The false “annexation” narrative is being weaponized by Israel’s enemies in the United States and abroad. But Ambassador Danon has indicated that Israel will not yield to outside threats regarding its sovereignty decisions. We can only hope that the traditional bipartisan support for Israel in Congress will not significantly erode, even as friends of Israel such as long-time Congressman Eliot Engel lose to anti-Israel progressives and AOC exerts greater influence as a result.
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