The United Nations: Legal Guarantors of Jewish Rights in Israel

February 6, 2017

6 min read


The Talmud teaches: Rabbi Eliezer said: “Why are 70 offerings brought on Sukkot? For the (merit of the) 70 nations of the world.” (Sukkah 55b)

In the ancient world, the Israelites demonstrated their universal values during the festival of Sukkot by bringing offerings to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem on behalf of the other nations.

That same value has been demonstrated even in our own day, as a helping hand continues to come forth from Jerusalem and Israel. Israel has shown time and again that when disaster strikes anywhere in the world, it is consistently among the first responders, while during calmer moments, Israel repeatedly shares its various inventions with other countries desiring its help. Israel has been described as a most steadfast, reliable ally of the United States. And as Syria faces one of its darkest times, a Syrian refugee has dedicated a website –Thank You Am Israel– in tribute to Israel’s beneficence.

In short, from the earliest of times, Israel has been a good neighbor.

A world leader in water recycling, Israel devised a revolutionary, water-conserving drip irrigation system. Israel is the leading developer of the exoskeleton and is developing stem-cell therapies to treat blood cancers,MRI-guided focused ultrasound to destroy tumors, and countless other life-saving medical devices. Even now, combining 3D printers with biotechnology, Israel is trying to devise ways of creating human lungs and other organs, the life-saving implications of which would be incalculable. Israel has also created programs such as Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) to export its knowledge and innovations.

These are praiseworthy actions motivated by wonderful values. And while inspiring, these are not the reasons that the Jewish people are entitled to the Jewish homeland of Israel.


In 1920, in the aftermath of World War I, the Principal Allied Powers, who were invested with the international authority to supervise the breakup of the former Ottoman Empire, met in San Remo, Italy, to discuss the new countries to be formed in the region from the many peoples that had been part of the Ottoman Empire.

There in San Remo, Italy, in April of 1920, this international forum passed the San Remo Resolution and declared their goal to “reconstitute the ancient Jewish state within its historic border.” Acknowledging the ancient and historic connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, these representatives recognized that Israel was not some new creation, but an appropriate resettling of Jews in the ancient Jewish homeland where Jews had lived continuously since ancient times.

As international lawyer Howard Grief, author of The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law, explains, “The San Remo Resolution converted the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, from a mere statement of British policy expressing sympathy with the goal of the Zionist movement to create a Jewish state, into a binding act of international law that required specific fulfillment by Britain of this object in active cooperation with the Jewish people.”

The San Remo Conference produced a series of mandates, whereby a developed country would tutor and guide a not-yet-developed country down the path to statehood. Ultimately, not only Israel, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan were all established out of what had been provinces of the Ottoman Empire. These were not pre-existing independent Arab countries, but were carved out of the Ottoman provinces and then recognized by others as independent states.

For the Jewish homeland, they allocated all the land that is between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, as well as the land that currently comprises the country of Jordan, along with the Golan Heights, and Gaza. They allocated these regions of the former Ottoman Empire for the Jewish homeland in recognition of the fact that these were the areas where the Jewish people lived, where the history of the Jewish nation took place, and where the prophets of Israel delivered their message.  This was recognized as the native land of the Jewish people.

The word “mandate” means trust. As stated in Article 6 of the Mandate, the British were tasked with assuring the “close settlement of the Jews on the land.” The desire to restore the Jewish people to their native land was ratified by a unanimous vote of The League of Nations, which then entrusted Great Britain with facilitating Jewish immigration, thereby correcting the historical injustice of forced exile.

The British, charged with this responsibility to serve as steward and trustee to bring forth a Jewish National Homeland, affirmed the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, stating unequivocally that the Jewish nation was in this land “as of right and not on sufferance,” that it “should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.”

This mandate document gave Jews the legal right to settle anywhere in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This right has never been superseded by any other legal document.

As international human rights lawyer, and author of Sovereignty Over the Old City of Jerusalem, Dr. Jacques Paul Gauthier explains, “The Jewish State and the Jewish people have done nothing to relinquish or surrender the rights that were given in respect to that territory.”

The United Nations assumed the obligations of The League of Nations, according to Article 80 of the UN charter. They are obligated to protect Jewish rights to all of the land that was specifically designated at San Remo for the Jewish homeland.

In 1947, the UN violated its obligation to protect Jewish rights in the Land of Israel by proposing the partition plan by which it attempted to limit Jewish rights to the land. The Partition Plan reserved for the Jewish State only 17% of the original Mandate, in illegal abrogation of Jewish rights.

In proposing this partition of land that had been designated specifically for the Jewish homeland, the United Nations contradicted its own obligation as guarantors of Jewish rights to that land. In addition, according to the legal principle known as the “doctrine of estoppel,” which prevents a party from contradicting what has already been said or done, the UN cannot abrogate its previous obligations with new resolutions. As Howard Grief points out, this doctrine prevents a party from “denying what it previously admitted or recognized in a treaty or other international agreement.”

Furthermore, for any such recommendation of the UN General Assembly to become legally binding, the parties involved would need to agree to the terms of the resolution. The Arabs who were involved in this conflict never agreed to the resolution for partition, and indeed, specifically rejected it. Resolution 181 never had legal validity to bind the Jewish people and Israel.

As Professor Judge Schwebel, former President of the International Court of Justice, cited Judge Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, a former member judge of the International Court of Justice, “…the General Assembly has no legal power to legislate or bind its members by way of recommendation.”

Ironically, this November 29, 1947, vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations on Resolution 181, which tried to partition the land allocated exclusively for the Jewish homeland, has often erroneously been viewed as the legal basis for the modern State of Israel. In fact, this was just another attempt to wrest away from the Jewish people additional portions of the Jewish homeland. It was yet one more attempt to subdivide the Land of Israel to appease those who have repeatedly rejected the right to sovereignty and self-determination for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.

The San Remo Conference, along with various treaties following World War I, succeeded in establishing independent countries sought by Arab nationalists: the country of Iraq gained full independence in 1932, the country of Lebanon was established in 1943, and the country of Syria attained its independence in 1946. Nonetheless, when the modern State of Israel similarly exercised its sovereign right and formally declared statehood in 1948, the Arab armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq immediately attacked the nascent state. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, announced: “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history…”

Then, in 1949, when the Armistice Demarcation Lines – which are commonly called “The Green Line” – were drawn, this line, which many today attempt to reinvent and claim as borders – the so called “‘67 borders” – was rejected vehemently by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt as delineating any type of border.

Echoing the Armistice agreements that Egypt and Jordan made with Israel, Syria’s agreement adamantly stated, “It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.”

These agreements were emphatic in ensuring that the Armistice line would not be considered a formal boundary.

From the time of San Remo, Jewish rights to the Land of Israel have been enshrined in international law. These rights were guaranteed by the international community through the unanimous vote at the League of Nations, and this obligation was inherited by the United Nations.

The United Nations is not allowed to allocate to any other nation the land that was set aside exclusively for the Jewish homeland, nor is the United Nations allowed to contradict its previous obligations with new resolutions.

Calling Jerusalem, as well as the other areas that comprise the very cradle of Jewish civilization, “illegally occupied” by Israel, as the United Nations recently did in its UNSC Resolution 2334, is, therefore, in violation of its own obligations under international law.

The Jewish people have the sovereign right to the Land of Israel. The international arbiters who gathered in San Remo recognized those rights and secured them in international law. Delineated in San Remo in 1920 and subsequently ratified by a unanimous vote of the League of Nations, the Jewish right to live anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea remains enshrined in international law to this day, as the 1947 Partition Plan that is so often cited as the legal basis for Israel’s borders never held any legal authority.

As legal guarantors of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel, the United Nations should be the first to speak out when Jewish rights to their homeland are threatened, not the very ones calling Jews occupiers.

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