Palestine’s Case against US’ Jerusalem Embassy


A few days ago, Palestine lodged a complaint to the International Court of Justice against the US. The ICJ released a statement explaining that Palestine is challenging Washington’s decision to move the United States’ embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the grounds that it violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). Given the special status the United Nations endowed on Jerusalem, and the numerous resolutions the Security Council has passed opposing and invalidating Israel’s claim to the city, the Palestinians have a case.

The Vienna Convention and UN Resolutions

In November 1947, before the modern State of Israel was created, the United Nations declared Jerusalem corpus separatum. This gave the city a special status under international control due to its religious importance to both the Palestinian Arabs and the incoming Jewish Israelis. Despite this, after Israel’s formation the city had been separated into West and East Jerusalem, with the West becoming territory of Israel. In 1967, Israel annexed the remaining Palestinian territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. Israel declared that Jerusalem was its rightful capital, blatantly ignoring acknowledged International Law. The UN passed resolutions that deemed Israel’s laws regarding their ownership of the city invalid, and demanded that they cease any further action to alter the status of Jerusalem; for example Resolution 476 (1980) states:

“3. Reconfirms that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;

4. Reiterates that all such measures which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, that Palestine is basing its application on, details how two states are to appropriately establish and operate diplomatic missions between themselves. Palestine’s application focusses on the first paragraph of Article 3, as follows:

“1. The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in:

(a) Representing the sending State in the receiving State;

(b) Protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law;

(c) Negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;

(d) Ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State;

(e) Promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.”

Jerusalem’s status as corpus separatum and the UN resolutions do not recognise the city as part of any state, and therefore cannot be the location of the US’ “diplomatic mission” (the embassy) to the “receiving state” (Israel). Palestine argues that the presence of the embassy in Jerusalem is a breach of the Vienna Convention and of International Law. If subsection (a) of the above paragraph of Article 3 is applied, they are correct.

US-Israeli response?

Unfortunately, even if the ICJ decides in favour of the Palestinians, the US and Israel will likely ignore it. Both have a history of ignoring the ICJ and UN, and the US has also vetoed resolutions relating to Israel’s occupation. As with the South African Apartheid regime, as long as it’s financially and politically viable to do so, the US will undoubtedly support and fund Israel’s efforts – especially the Trump administration, with his family’s own private interests in financing the development of illegal settlements.

For now, it’s a waiting game to see what the ICJ will do with the Palestinian application. All the while, more Palestinians die protesting for their basic rights.

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