The status of the City of Jerusalem under international law: the critical legal issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict

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Author: Georgiy Suvorov

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2023-1-120-153

Keywords: sovereignty; territorial dispute; Jerusalem; International Court of Justice; right to self-determination; Arab-Israeli conflict


The issue of sovereignty over the City of Jerusalem remains one of the most acute controversies within the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although this topic has attracted considerable attention from Russian political scientists, historians, and experts in regional studies, it has received relatively little coverage in Russian legal doctrine. This article begins by summarizing all the basic approaches to the problem found in foreign scholarship. It makes a comparative analysis of the official stances of key stakeholders in the issue of title to Jerusalem, namely, Palestine, Israel, and United Nations organs, notably the Security Council. It reviews possible practical solutions to the problem, with due regard for the necessity of ensuring the interests of the ethno-political communities concerned, recognizing equality of rights and implementation of the right of peoples to self-determination. The case brought by Palestine before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018 about relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem and a potential ICJ advisory opinion on Israel’s policy and actions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are also assessed on the basis of the ICJ’s jurisprudence and the current political climate. In elucidating the issue of sovereignty over the disputed area, the author traces the history of the Holy City from the time of the last undisputed sovereign, the Ottoman Empire. For assessing the conduct of the parties asserting control over the area, the principle of inter-temporal law is applied. Having constructed the chain of relevant events, it is concluded that sovereignty over Jerusalem is still “in abeyance”, or suspended, for no party has yet filled the existing vacuum of sovereignty by lawful means. The territorial status of the Holy City remains to be determined through lengthy negotiations. In this regard, out of the several existing options, the approach of an Israeli-Palestinian condominium is deemed most preferable, for it leaves less room for further conflict. However, this solution, in the opinion of the author, should be coupled with some sort of provisional supervision by a supranational institution.

About the author: Georgiy Suvorov – Associate at “Sokolov, Maslov & Partners” Law Firm, Winner of the International Law in the 21st Century Award, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Suvorov G. (2023) Mezhdunarodno-pravovoy status goroda Ierusalima: osnovnaya yuridicheskaya problema arabo-izrail’skogo konflikta [The status of the City of Jerusalem under international law: the critical legal issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 120–153. (In Russian).


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