Are Settlements Illegal?

It has become quite common for the media to add words such as “Israeli settlements are illegal according to international law” to every article that touches on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. But is the reality that simple?

Moshe Dan looks at this question in an op-ed in Ynet. He points out that the Geneva Convention discussed the taking of land from a  sovereign state. However, the area in dispute was never part of any internationally recognized sovereign state. Furthermore, Jewish presence in the area was specifically authorized by the British Mandate.

The core legal issue, according to Michael Newton, Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University and a leading expert in the field, is which nation-state had full sovereignty in this territory when Israel took military and political control.

Logically, since Jordan renounced its claim to Judea and Samaria in 1988, and signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, recognizing its current border, the only other possible valid legal claim, defined in the Mandate, is that of Israel; Palestinians have no claim because the area was never a Palestinian state.

Whether Israeli settlements are “unacceptable” and “unhelpful” is debatable. ICRC and kangaroo court rulings against Israel, like those of the International Court of Justice, however, have no basis in proper judicial procedures. They serve only to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and abrogate the meaning of just law.

The legal status of Jewish settlements is by no means a simple matter. By repeating over and over again the subjective opinion that settlements are illegal, the media reinforces the incorrect public belief that there is a consensus on the matter.