What Does International Law Say about Settlements in Occupied Territory? If Israel Does It, It’s Illegal

Sept. 22 2020

It is the general opinion of most governments, legal experts, Middle East specialists, and the editorial boards of major English-language newspapers that the construction of homes for Jews in the West Bank is, at least in some cases, a violation of international law. Yet it is not at all clear why this should be so. Two recent books on disputed territories in international law, both of which pay special attention to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, address this subject in detail, and in the end side against Israel. But, writes Eugene Kontorovich in his review, their authors fail to appreciate the problem that the law in question has never been applied to any country besides the Jewish state:

Here is how law typically works. There is a question about the meaning of a rule. . . . Typically, lawyers would resolve the application of a rule to a case by looking at precedent—that is, the application of the rule to other analogous cases. Indeed, Friedrich von Hayek has said that the essence of law is that it is a system of general rules, made in advance of the cases to which it would apply, that is then applied prospectively to like cases.

But the question of the meaning [of the relevant clause of the Geneva Convention] is different from most legal questions because in practice, it has neither prior precedent nor future application outside of the Israeli context. Indeed, the esoteric world of belligerent-occupation law has become a de-facto language for talking about the Jewish state. [The operative clause] has become one of the most invoked provisions of the Convention, cited thousands of times by the United Nations. Yet every time it is mentioned, it is in the context of Israel, and Israeli Jews in particular.

[My] criticism of the methodology [of these two books] is not a claim about double standards, or international hypocrisy. A double standard is when there is a preexisting standard, that is then applied differently to like cases. . . . The objection here is not about double standards, but rather the non-application of the actual standard to the case at hand.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: International Law, Settlements, West Bank

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount