Is the US Embassy move legal?

The only way to achieve true stability in any territorial dispute is when all parties come to agreement, regardless of the law.

May 15, 2018 14:50
2 minute read.

HonestReporting video column 1 (Courtesy HonestReporting)

HonestReporting video column 1 (Courtesy HonestReporting)


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On Monday the United States opened its Embassy in Jerusalem.

Some global leaders and talking heads have said this violates international law.

If true, this would make Israel the only country in the the world that is not allowed to decide its own capital and the United States the only nation not allowed to decide where to place its own embassies.

Some critics point to a General Assembly Resolution resolution last December condemning the Embassy move and calling changes in Jerusalem “null and void.”

But this is not law.

Only resolutions passed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter have the force of international law. Coming from the Security Council, such resolutions are very rare, and address immediate military threats to global or regional security. For example a 1990 resolution (#678) authorized a global military response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

General assembly resolutions, passed under Chapter 4, are essentially no more than international suggestions.

Some claim that under international law Jerusalem is “international territory” or “corpus separatum” in Latin, because this is what UN Resolution 181 called for in 1947. However, not only is this not international law (being a Chapter 4 resolution), it was rejected by the Arab world which responded by launching a war of annihilation against the one-day-old Jewish state.

Some make similar arguments about UN Resolution 242, passed by the Security Council after the 6-Day War of 1967. But this was a non-binding Chapter 6 resolution, and so it never formally became international law. History overlooks the fact that the PLO formally rejected Resolution 242, and other Arab states rejected it either in word or in action by not respecting Israel’s borders and launching the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Today, the Arab states that rejected Resolutions 181 and 242 now paradoxically claim that they constitute international law.

I told my clients (when I was in private practice) and now tell my students, “there is a difference between law and reality.” The only way to achieve true stability in any territorial dispute is when all parties come to agreement, regardless of the law.

Nonetheless, there are 123 countries other than Israel with territorial disputes, some involving occupations and capitals. All choose their own capitals. Israel must be treated according to the same legal standards as every other country on earth.

The author is an attorney and the Senior Editor for, a media monitoring NGO based in Jerusalem, Israel. Twitter: @danielspeaksup

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