Monday, August 8, 2022


The latest military flare-up between Israelis and Palestinians has triggered a familiar pattern of lawfare. Each side blames the other for violating international law and tries to teach the culprit a lesson. Can the century-old conflict be lawfully solved?  

Some history will help. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, as incorporated in the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and the British Mandate for Palestine of 1922, authorized the Jewish people to “reconstitute … the Jewish National Home” in their ancestral homeland, which the League of Nations defined as “Mandatory Palestine.” The land consisted of present-day Israel, including all of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. (I will call the latter two zones the “Territories”). Local Arabs — who later forged a collective identity as “Palestinians — opposed the statehood plan because it encroached on their own declared homeland: “Greater Syria” (i.e. the Eastern Mediterranean region). Ever since, the foes of Jewish nationalism (Zionism) have tried to annihilate their Jewish neighbors, rejecting every opportunity for a “two-state solution.”

A liberal Israeli prime minister once lamented that he lacked “a partner for peace.” Indeed, the Palestinian autocrats in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank deprive both Israelis and Palestinians of a partner for peace. Hamas and Fatah promise their people liberation “from the river to the sea” (i.e. Israel and the Territories) while embezzling their international donor aid and ignoring their human needs. As documented by Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinian school curriculums teach that Islam demands the killing of Jews. Palestinian officials orchestrate the killing of Jews. During the attacks, they use children as human shields. Both Palestinian factions fight each other for supremacy. And both torture dissidents. The barbaric system traps Israelis and peaceful Palestinians in an existential prison.

The best hope to end the suffering is for Israel to act unilaterally. In particular, Israel could follow this seven-step path:

Step 1: Terminate the Oslo Accords. That Israeli-Palestinian peace contract of the 1990s scheduled incremental exchanges of “land for peace.” But as Israel redeployed from the Territories, the Palestinian terrorists escalated their attacks.

Step 2: Extend Israeli sovereignty to the Territories. The above-cited treaty law held sovereignty “in abeyance” for the Zionists of Mandatory Palestine pending their readiness to govern the proto-state. In 1948 the Zionists exercised that sovereign right in most of the mandatory district, thereby founding the State of Israel. They later asserted their sovereign right to east Jerusalem. Israel may at any time consummate sovereignty in the rest of their territorial bequest. Specifically, they could replace their current military administration of the Territories with regular civilian rule. Palestinian sympathizers may denounce the legal enlargement as a prohibited “annexation.” But a state cannot be said to annex its own land. The Palestinian ownership claim to Israel and the Territories is hopelessly weak. In fact, their original Palestine Liberation Organization Charter of 1964 expressly disclaimed any right to east Jerusalem and the Territories.

Step 3: Motivate Palestinians to apply for Israeli citizenship. Welcoming integration-minded Palestinians could be a win-win. All sovereign states may choose the number and type of noncitizens to admit. Israel need not transform the world’s only Jewish majority state into another Arab majority state or accept applicants with records of antisemitism.

Step 4: Require each new citizen to sign a nonnegotiable peace accord. There may be no precedent for such per-person agreements. However, legal systems worldwide permit individuals to sign binding contracts. The grassroots pacts, in this case, would resemble peace treaties and thereby settle the Oslo-defined legal disputes over borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and security.

Step 5: Deport the unnaturalized Palestinians to Syria. Sovereign states may deport persons residing illegally in their midst, especially when the removal is done in self-defense. In 1992 Israel mass-deported 415 Palestinian terrorists to Lebanon. Keeping anti-Israelis in the country would only perpetuate their “martyrdom operations.” The deportees could resettle in Syria’s U.N.-hosted “UNRWA” camps, which provide Palestinians with housing, health care, education and jobs. No Syrian government consent would be needed. Syria and Israel, still legally at war, have never shared mutual recognition.

Step 6: Prepare a military defense. Even the most humane deportation would likely drive radicalized Palestinians to expedite their next war. Israel would need to quell the onslaught. Any Jewish vigilantes should also be stopped.

Step 7: Endorse Palestinian autonomy elsewhere in Greater Syria. In 1920, pre-Israel Arabs swore allegiance to the briefly installed king of Greater Syria. In 1970 they fought to conquer Jordan and rename that majority-Palestinian state “Palestine.” They later formed a “state within a state” in Lebanon.

There is no panacea to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But there is a unilateral approach to end it lawfully. The solo plan would benefit both sides of the ethnic divide. 

• Joel Margolis is the author of the 2021 book “The Israeli-Palestinian Legal War.” 

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