Analysis: Can Israel annex the Jordan Valley under international law?

The question of what international law would say if Israel annexed the Jordan Valley can be considered quite hypothetical.

December 31, 2013 00:45
2 minute read.
jordan valley

Jordan Valley.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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The question of what international law would say if Israel annexed the Jordan Valley can be considered quite hypothetical.

The chances are that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not permit this to happen on his watch, certainly not as long as he is at least trying to work with the US on the Iran and Palestinian issues.

Still, with Sunday’s Ministerial Committee approval of annexing the Jordan Valley, however symbolic and nonbinding the vote was as compared to a Knesset vote, the issue is much less theoretical than it had been.

It is easier to view the issue from the perspective of past annexations, such as the 1981 Golan Heights Law which extended Israeli law to the area (though it did not formally use the word “annex”).

Formally, most legal commentators agree that international law does not recognize Israel’s annexations of the Golan and consider it “occupied.”

The two main reasons are the general principle that territory after a conflict can be newly acquired only through a peace treaty, and UN Security Council Resolution 497, which said that Israel’s actions to change the Golan’s status were “null and void with no effect.”

However, there are commentators who counter that until recent history, no one disputed acquiring territory through winning a war, and that even more recently, some recognize a right to acquire territory in war where the other side was the aggressor.

While whether Israel or Egypt was the initial aggressor in the 1967 War is hotly debated, there is even more nuance to the debate regarding Syria and Jordan, since initially Israel attacked only Egypt.

These commentators buttress Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights with reference to the San Remo Declaration of 1920 as including the area within the British Mandate and interpreting UN Resolution 242’s reference to “secure and recognized boundaries” to give Israel the right to somewhat alter the Green Line (which would not have included the Golan in Israel) to ensure its security.

Essentially, all of the above arguments, both for and against, can be made regarding the Jordan Valley, with two wrinkles.

Those supporting annexation might try to argue that at worst, Jordan, like Syria, attacked Israel first in 1967, but at best, the Jordan Valley was part of the Israeli-Palestinian disputed areas in which, unlike the Golan which had been under Syrian sovereignty, there really was no prior sovereign Palestinian country in control of the territory, to which it would now have to be returned.

Unlike the Golan, the Jordan Valley can be said to be part of the Oslo process (in which it was categorized as Area C, remaining under Israeli control at least until later negotiation stages) and its successor talks.

This means that those against annexation may be able to argue that Israel is prohibited by Oslo from acquiring or annexing it outside of negotiations (whereas to date there are no even interim agreements with Syria).

Ultimately, the ministerial vote may merely have been a stunt to strengthen Netanyahu’s insistence on keeping Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley even if Israel grants sovereignty to the Palestinians, but should Israel follow through on annexation, international legal opposition and nonrecognition would be nearly unanimous.

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