“Occupation” Doesn’t Accurately Describe the Situation of Either Western Sahara or the West Bank

Dec. 21 2020

As part of the deal normalizing relations between Israel and Morocco, the U.S. recognized the latter’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, the status of which has been contested since Spain abandoned it in 1975. The UN and most countries have generally considered the area “disputed,” while maintaining the consensus that the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel. But, argues Eugene Kontorovich, the two territories have similar histories, and, if anything, Jerusalem’s claims to the West Bank are stronger than Morocco’s on Western Sahara. And this is only the beginning of the confusion in the widespread treatment of both disputes:

Traditionally, the law of occupation applies only to sovereign territory of foreign states. This covers most cross-border conflicts but not some post-colonial transitions where there is a gap in sovereign control. . . . When Israel took the West Bank in 1967, it wasn’t the territory of a foreign country. The West Bank had itself been occupied by Jordan in 1948, at the end of British administration. . . . Concerns that the Trump administration’s actions [regarding Judea and Samaria] could be used to justify Russia’s takeover of Crimea are baseless. Crimea was indisputably part of Ukraine, a sovereign country.

Self-determination in international law doesn’t typically mean the right of a people to have its own country. It can be satisfied by some degree of self-governance, and autonomy in internal matters such as language and culture. This is why the U.S. recognition was coupled with an endorsement of an “autonomy plan” for Western Sahara. The Palestinians today have vastly more autonomy than the Saharawi would have in the Moroccan plan.

The Obama administration also supported Moroccan sovereignty coupled with Sahrawi autonomy, as did other countries such as Spain and France—and even the Palestinian Authority. Morocco’s position has bipartisan support in Congress, and thus the U.S. will likely maintain the recognition policy.

There is a huge gap between many countries’ stances on Western Sahara and the West Bank that can’t be explained by legal differences. It will be a bad look for a Biden administration to harp on Israeli “occupation” and “settlers” while maintaining recognition of Morocco’s 1975 takeover.

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Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: International Law, Morocco, U.S. Foreign policy, West Bank

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia