TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - “The EU position is consistent with its long-standing policy that annexation of territory is illegal. It also affirms its position that occupations are meant to be temporary, and the occupying power gains no authority to claim sovereignty over any of the land, “Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, told Tasnim in an interview.
He added, “We are witnessing a widening rift in strategic policy between the United States and the European Union. This rift has always existed to a smaller degree over policy towards the Israeli occupation of Palestine, with the Europeans more vocal towards the necessity of following international law in ending the occupation, and the USA more protective of Israel’s violations on international law”.
Michael Lynk is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, Western University, in London, Ontario. He joined the Faculty in 1999, and has taught courses in labour, human rights, disability, constitutional and administrative law. He served as Associate Dean of the Faculty between 2008-11.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: US President Donald Trump on March 25 recognized Israel’s “sovereignty” over Golan, a Syrian territory that has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. What is your take on the move?
Lynk: Annexation and territorial conquest in the modern world is strictly prohibited under international law. Today, they are regarded as a political calamity from an earlier age, when war was an acceptable cornerstone of state policy, and national borders were regarded as mutable frontiers rather than fixed and inalienable boundaries. This absolute prohibition applies whether the territory in question was acquired in a war of aggression or a defensive war – the point is to remove all incentives for any country to imagine expanding its borders through force.
Thus, the American recognition of Israel’s 1981 declaration of annexation over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is a significant step backwards for international law and diplomacy. The United Nations Security Council voted in December 1981, in Resolution 497, to condemn Israel’s annexation declaration and to reaffirm the modern principle that: “the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible.”
International law applies, with equal force and effect, to every state, and to everyone. This rule requires submission by all to the rule of law, whether great or small. As Justice Robert Jackson argued, with understated eloquence, in Nuremberg in 1945: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”
Does the American endorsement of Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights foretell Benjamin Netanyahu’s more recent promise to annex parts of the West Bank if he was re-elected to power in the Israeli elections earlier this month? This now appears to be a real likelihood. And it would be just as illegal.
In 1941, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, an early guide to the modern world order. In it, the Charter proclaimed that: “they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.” President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Israeli claim to the Golan walks us back to a darker world, and belies the solemn promise of international law that was forged with so much suffering over the past 80 years.
Tasnim: European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said the 28-member bloc does not recognize Israeli Golan as part of Israeli territory. She added, “In parallel, the five EU Member States who currently sit in the UN Security Council – which are the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland – expressed this common position”. How much do you think such a unilateral decision could jeopardize global security?
Lynk: The EU position is consistent with its long-standing policy that annexation of territory is illegal. It also affirms its position that occupations are meant to be temporary, and the occupying power gains no authority to claim sovereignty over any of the land.
We are witnessing a widening rift in strategic policy between the United States and the European Union. This rift has always existed to a smaller degree over policy towards the Israeli occupation of Palestine, with the Europeans more vocal towards the necessity of following international law in ending the occupation, and the USA more protective of Israel’s violations on international law.
This current rift may have positive consequences for the search for peace in the Middle East, but only if the European Union becomes more willing than it has been in the past to assert the importance of the international principles for a final settlement, including: self-determination; equality and justice for all peoples; the rights of the Palestinian refugees; and the centrality of human rights and the rule of law.
Tasnim: How should the international community, particularly the UN, react to this?
Lynk: Accountability is the one large missing piece of the puzzle for the international community. International law has been clearly stated on many occasions by the Security Council and the General Assembly. Yet, for too long, the Israeli occupation has been shaped much more by power than by justice.
Almost 39 years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 476 in June 1980. The resolution condemned the Israeli settlements and the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem as illegal. The Security Council then affirmed its: “…determination in the event of non-compliance by Israel with this resolution, to examine practical ways and means in accordance with relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations to secure the full implementation of this resolution.”
Israel remains in serial defiance of the direction of the international community. And the United Nations, notwithstanding a rich menu of powers at its disposal to bring recalcitrant states and organizations in line with modern norms of behavior, has not acted upon its own promise. International law, as well as the best interests of Palestinians and Israelis alike, have suffered as a result.