Palestine, Uti Possidetis Juris and the Borders of Israel

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Abraham Bell
Bar Ilan University – Faculty of Law; University of San Diego School of Law

Eugene Kontorovich
Northwestern University Law School

March 8, 2016

Arizona Law Review, Forthcoming
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 16-04

Abstract:
Israel’s borders and territorial scope are a source of seemingly endless debate. Remarkably, despite the intensity of the debates, little attention has been paid to relevance of the doctrine of uti possidetis juris to resolving legal aspects of the border dispute. Uti possidetis juris is widely acknowledged as the doctrine of customary international law that is central to determining territorial sovereignty in the era of decolonization. The doctrine provides that emerging states presumptively inherit their pre-independence administrative boundaries.

Applied to the case of Israel, uti possidetis juris would dictate that Israel inherit the boundaries of the Mandate of Palestine as they existed in May, 1948. The doctrine would thus support Israeli claims to any or all of the currently hotly disputed areas of Jerusalem (including East Jerusalem), the West Bank, and even potentially the Gaza Strip (though not the Golan Heights).

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