One of the most misused, misapplied, and misunderstood definitions in

the dictionary of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the term "occupied

territories." The vast majority of people simply do not know the facts

or misinterpret them, thus completely distorting the real picture of the

land distribution between the Arabs and the Jews. The truth of the

matter is that, according to international law, the Jews have the

complete and unquestionable right to settle the territories of Judea,

Samaria and Gaza (collectively known as Yesha). Not a single

enforceable international document exists that forbids them from

settling the lands of Yesha.

On the contrary, the only existing enforceable document actually

encourages Jewish settlement. This document was created on April 24,

1920 at the San Remo Conference when the Principal Allied Powers agreed

to assign the Mandate for the territory of Palestine to Great Britain.

By doing so the League of Nations "recognized the historical connection

of the Jewish people with Palestine" and established "grounds for

reconstituting their national home in that country." Article 6 of the

Mandate "encouraged ? close settlement by Jews on the land," including

the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha).

There is nothing whatsoever in the Mandate that separates Yesha from

the rest of the mandated territory. That means that the right of the

Jews to settle the land spreads to the whole of Palestine. As a side

note it is worth mentioning that the 76% of the territory of Mandated

Palestine known today as Jordan, were not permanently exempt from

settlement by the Jews either. Article 25 only allowed to "postpone or

withhold application of [this] provision."

With the disbanding of the League of Nations, the rights of the Jews to

settle the territories of Palestine, including Yesha, were not diminished.

When in 1946 the United Nations was created in place of the League of

Nations, its Charter included Article 80 specifically to allow the

continuation of existing Mandates (including the British Mandate).

Article 80 stated that "nothing ... shall be construed in or of itself

to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever ? of any peoples or the

terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the

United Nations may respectively be parties."

Then in November 1947 came time for Resolution 181, which recommended

the Partition of Palestine. Like all UN Resolutions pertaining to the

Jewish-Arab conflict it was not enforceable. It was simply a

recommendation, and the Arab countries rejected it. As the Syrian

representative in the General Assembly stated:

"In the first place the recommendations of the General Asembly are not

imperative on those to whom they are addressed? . The General Assembly

only gives advice and the parties to whom advice is addressed accept it

when it is rightful and just and when it does not impair their

fundamental rights" (1).

If the resolution had been implemented maybe it would be possible to

argue that it replaced the San Remo Conference resolution, which had

legitimized the rights of the Jews to settle in any place in Palestine.

However, it was not only rejected by the Arabs, but in violation of the

UN Charter they launched a military aggression against the newly reborn

Jewish state thus invalidating the resolution. By the time of the

cease-fire at the end of the War of Independence, there was still no

other enforceable document pertaining to the rights of the Jews to

settle Eretz Yisrael - they remained intact.

Now we approach the most misunderstood aspect of the scope and

application of international documents. In order to resolve the puzzle

of the "occupied" territories, one must clearly distinguish between the

different types of resolutions passed by the United Nations.

Misconceptions about the issue led to the question of a double standard

that was constantly raised by the Arabs after the Persian Gulf War. The

Arabs were unable to understand why from Iraq the UN demanded compliance with the decisions of the international body, while Israel was not

forced to comply with UN resolutions.

On April 3, 1998 Swedish Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallen, well known

for championing the Arabs' position, in an interview with the London

al-Quds al-'Arabi, gave an explanation of this "paradox." She was

asked, "What about the double standards that the United States and

Europe adopt when it comes to Arab issues?" She answered,

"I understand this view, which is common in many Arab countries.

Nevertheless, the UN resolutions passed on Iraq are different, because

they are binding for all nations according to Article 7 of the UN

Charter. Meanwhile, the resolutions passed against Israel are not

subject to Article 7 of the Charter."

To better understand the way UN resolutions work, it is worth reading

an open letter by Uri Lubrani, coordinator of Israeli activities in

Lebanon, addressed to Lebanon's Foreign Minister Faris Buwayz and

published on February 27, 1998 in the Paris newspaper al Watan

al-'Arabi. Although the letter was written regarding Resolution 425, it

talks about all resolutions pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Uri Lubrani wrote the following,

"?There are two types of resolutions in the Security Council. The first

type are resolutions passed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN

charter that relates to the settlement of disputes through peaceful

means. Such resolutions are considered recommendations. They are not

binding, and they do not require immediate implementation? . The second

type of resolutions are based on Chapter Seven of the UN charter?

This chapter grants the UN Security Council resolutions an

implementative authority and commits the international community to use

force if necessary to implement these resolutions. ?None of the UN

Security Council resolutions pertaining to the Arab Israeli conflict,

including Resolution 425, were passed on the basis of Chapter Seven.

They were passed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN charter, which is

the basis also of UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338."

Since no mandatory UN Resolution exists pertaining to the Arab-Israeli

conflict, we are left with the San Remo Conference decision that governs

land ownership in Palestine. That means that not a single enforceable

internationally valid document exists that prevents or prohibits the

Jews from settling anywhere in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and all the rest of

Eretz Yisrael. Or, to put it differently, from the standpoint of


This conclusion was confirmed not long ago by an unexpected (for

Israel) source. It is hard to argue with the fact that James Baker,

former US Secretary of State, was not the best friend of the Jewish

state. However, he categorically rejected the mislabeling of the lands

of Yesha. This happened at the Middle East Insight Symposium in

Washington on May 4, 1998. Hoda Tawfik, from the newspaper Al Ahram

asked him, "What do you think is right? That these are occupied Arab

territories and not disputed territories?" Baker replied, "They're

clearly disputed territories. That's what Resolutions 242 and 338 are

all about. They are clearly disputed territories."

All of this means that when the Jews build settlements in Yesha, they

are not building them on "occupied" territories. If one wants, one may

call them "disputed" territories, as Baker did. However, this will

still not change the fact that from the standpoint of international law

it is the very land where the Jews were encouraged to settle.

And as a final note, it should not be surprising that the San Remo

Conference plays such an important role in this particular case. The

majority of the other players in the conflict: Egypt, Syria, Iraq,

Lebanon, Jordan, etc. gained sovereignty over their territories based on

the decisions of exactly the same conference. The Jews finally deserve

to settle freely on their territories as well. It is time to stop

labeling them "occupied".

1. Abba Eban. Voice of Israel. Horizon Press, New York, 1957.

Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the

Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.