Israel’s Illegal Annexation

by Huwaida Arraf

Much of the U.S. media coverage of Israel’s plans to de jure annex[1] large parts of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, and the rumblings of disapproval from members of the U.S. Congress, have focused on what such a move may mean for Israel and the prospects of future peace in the region. Largely missing from the conversation—besides any kind of concern about the fate of the indigenous Palestinian population—is the fact that annexation is illegal under international law.[2]

Annexation is prohibited by Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Annexation also constitutes a crime of aggression under Article 8 bis (2)(a) of the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

“The inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force” is a foundational principle of international law, growing out of the UN Charter and explicitly emphasized in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war.  Israel remains in violation of these and other UN resolutions. 

It is likely that Israel will annex its West Bank settlements.  Israel’s settlements—Jewish-only colonies established on occupied Palestinian land—are explicitly prohibited under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitute war crimes under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute, both of which forbid “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”  Israel’s settlements further constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, triggering an obligation on all states to sanction and prosecute the perpetrators. Regrettably, Israel has never been held accountable.

The lack of international response to Israel’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian laws means that those laws have been selectively enforced in a manner wholly dependent on political power and manipulation, rather than on law and justice.   What is the point of an international legal order if there is no adherence?  What is the point of having laws if there are no repercussions for violating those laws?

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the international community not only condemned the move, but put actions behind its words and implemented various sanctions against Russia.  Israel, on the other hand, has never been subjected to repercussions for its illegal actions.  Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem in 1980 and the occupied Syrian Golan in 1981.  Despite United Nations Security Council Resolutions condemning Israel’s actions, nothing more was done.  There were no UN actions to enforce the resolution of the Security Council, no sanctions, no diplomatic rifts, nothing. Israel therefore received an important message, and it is a message it continues to receive—that it will not be made to pay a price for violating international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Demanding that Israel adhere to international humanitarian law is not singling out Israel.  Instead, it is demanding the end of special treatment for Israel, and the end of Israel’s singular immunity from international laws and norms. The lack of enforcement by the international community has left the peoples of the world with no legal recourse but to enact grassroots measures such as BDS: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  Israel’s crime of aggression in annexing Palestinian land, which Israel expects to enact with impunity, means the time has come for governments to impose sanctions against Israel and to join the peoples of the world in acting to bring an end to Israel’s crimes.




[1] Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, it has been engaged in the de facto annexation of territory, largely by creating “facts on the ground,” including its Apartheid Wall, and over 200 settlements and outposts and the infrastructure that supports them. Thus, in fact, the land has already been annexed.  What Israel proposes to do now is to legislate into law the extension of its sovereignty over these occupied lands—de jure annexation.

[2] While this brief article focuses on the international laws that govern the conduct of hostilities and occupation, this author believes that a different framework must be applied to Israel’s conduct—that of settler colonialism.  Israel’s military and civilian occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza has gone well beyond what was contemplated by and what is permissible under the law of occupation, and amounts to colonialism and apartheid—both prohibited under international law, the latter constituting a crime against humanity.