British double standard on recognizing Palestine lets Israel off the hook

on 19 Comments

In recent months, seven South American nations have recognized Palestine “as a free, independent and sovereign state.”

Last week, following similar statements by representatives of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, the Foreign Ministry of Guyana declared that its decision to recognize Palestine was based on “Guyana’s long-standing and unwavering solidarity with, and commitment to, the just and legitimate aspirations of the people of Palestine for the exercise of their right to self-determination and to achieve a homeland of their own, independent, free, prosperous and at peace.” Paraguay and Peru are expected to recognize a Palestinian state in coming weeks.

During his first official visit to Palestine a few days ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to an independent Palestinian state. “We have supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital since the last century, and we still support it,” Medvedev said, speaking in the West Bank town of Jericho.

In response to these recent developments, Ha’aretz reports that “a British Foreign Office minister said Thursday that only direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations can achieve peace, adding that the U.K would not recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.” Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt, while in Jordan today, said that London could not “recognize a state that does not have a capital, and doesn’t have borders.”

The irony here is striking considering Israel has no internationally recognized capital and no internationally recognized borders.

When Israel unilaterally declared independence in mid-1948, a temporary capital was set up in Tel Aviv. The April 3, 1949 armistice agreement signed between Israel and Jordan on established geographical demarcation lines which divided Jerusalem into sectors each under Israel and Jordan control with a no-man’s-land between them. On December 9, 1949, the United Nations General Assembly upheld this demarcation status. Nevertheless, in defiance of the international community, Israel soon announced that Jerusalem was its official capital. Neither the United States nor Britain, along with the majority of the rest of the world, accepted this transfer and, to this day, do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In 1980, 13 years after Israel claimed to “annex” the whole of occupied Jerusalem into Israeli territory, the Israeli government passed the so-called “Jerusalem Law” which held that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and that “Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.”

Following this pronouncement, a number of governments, including France and Germany, issued statements condemning the measure and, in response, the government of the Netherlandsmoved its Consulate General from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution (UNSC Res. 478), for which the U.K. voted in favor, stating that “the enactment of the ‘basic law’ by Israel constitutes a violation of international law.” The resolution also denied acceptance of Israel’s decision and called upon all UN member states “hat have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such mission from the Holy City.” 

To this day, the United Kingdom does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,maintains that Israel has no sovereignty over Jerusalem, and retains its Embassy in Tel Aviv. In fact, there are currently no international embassies in Jerusalem (though, interestingly, both Bolivia and Paraguay have their embassies in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion).

Furthermore, Israel, in its eternal effort to expand its territory through illegal annexation, colonization, military conquest, and land theft, has no recognized borders. In 1937, over a decade before becoming Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion stated that a Jewish state could first be established in part of Palestine in order to set the stage for further expansion. “We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today,” he said, “but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.” The next year, he declared, “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state – we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.” 

Even now, more than 70 years later, Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, refuses to talk about establishing internationally recognized borders for the state of Israel.

Similarly, responding to his country’s recent recognition of Palestine, Gabriel Zaliasnik, president of Chile’s Jewish community, claimed he was “satisfied” with the wording of the proclamation because it did not refer to borders. “Israelis and Palestinians will eventually define all the core issues like borders,” he said. “For the Jewish people, Jerusalem and borders of the state of Israel can not be provided to third parties.”

The British government even withheld formal, de jure recognition of the state of Israel for nearly two years after its creation. On April 27, 1950, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord William Henderson, legally recognized Israel in spite of the undetermined status of Jerusalem and the temporary nature of Israel’s borders, which are mentioned specifically in the statement of recognition.

Nevertheless, all these years later, despite having neither a capital nor borders, the British government still recognizes Israel as a sovereign, free, and independent state. In a blatant case of double standards, it now refuses to do so with regard to Palestine.

It appears that the shameful and duplicitous legacy of the Balfour Declaration has yet to let go its grip on the British Foreign Office.

This post originally appeared on Nima Shirazi’s blog

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog,, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

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19 Responses

  1. Potsherd2
    January 21, 2011, 10:06 am

    The only way for either Palestine or Israel to have borders is through action of the international community. If Palestine doesn’t have borders, it’s because Britain refuses to recognize them, not the other way around.

    • annie
      January 21, 2011, 10:22 am

      i agree potsherd, how can statehood and borders come thru only direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations if one party refuses to negotiate?

      • Hostage
        January 22, 2011, 3:24 pm

        There is no evidence in the state practice of Great Britain or the other members of the international community of States to support the nonsensical claim that the State of Palestine can’t be recognized until its borders are established, or that they can only be determined through bilateral negotiations. Many times, if not in the majority of cases, the boundaries of the worlds existing States are still being “disputed” by one or more States. The EU has already stated that it will not recognize any unilateral alterations to the boundaries of 4 June 1967 and that the Palestinians have an unqualified right to self-determination, including the option of a state, which is NOT SUBJECT TO ANY VETO. link to

        I’d love to know why every other state runs to a court to settle the “disputed” legal status of its territory, while Israel’s lawyers run the other way and present their legal arguments in the Op-Eds?

        The Concert of Europe created the state of Albania in 1912, before it had any fixed borders or agreed upon form of government. Years later the International Court of Justice noted that fact in the contentious “North Sea Continental Shelf” case (1968) when Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands could not reach “a negotiated settlement” to their territorial disputes. The Court held that:

        “There is no rule that the land frontiers of a State must be fully delimited and defined, and often in various places and for long periods they are not, as is shown by the case of the entry of Albania into the League of Nations (Monastery of Saint Naoum, Advisor): Opinion, 1924, P.C.I.J., Series B, No. 9, at p. 10).” See pdf file page 60 of 109) link to

        The Court could just as easily have cited the entry into the United Nations of both Israel and Jordan. Note: Jordan was a new legal entity that came into existence through a political “union” between the Central Districts of Arab Palestine and Transjordan. The UK Government used the announcement of its decision to extend recognition to Jordan as an opportunity of declaring that “they regard the provisions of the Anglo-Jordan Treaty of Alliance of 1948 as applicable to all the territory included in the union.” At the same time the Minister of State noted that the final frontier “between this territory and Israel” .. “has not yet been finally determined.” See Jordan and Israel (GOVERNMENT DECISION) HC Deb 27 April 1950 vol 474, cc1137-41 link to

        When Tranjordan tried to join the United Nations in 1946, the President of the Security Council noted that it was part of a joint League of Nations Mandate that had not yet been legally terminated. During the discussion in the Security Council it was alleged that the absence of diplomatic relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or other states was in itself a sufficient ground for denying the application for membership submitted by Transjordan based upon the hypothesis that Transjordan was not an independent State. It was also suggested that the membership should be postponed until the status of the Palestine “as a whole” could be determined by the United Nations. See page 23 of 26 of Conditions of Admission of a State to Membership in the United Nations (Article 4 of the Charter) link to and Minutes of the 57th Session of the Security Council, S/PV.57 pages 100-101 (pdf file pages 3-4 of 52)
        link to
        The Court held that the only criteria were those contained in article 4 and that non-recognition by other states is irrelevant.

        Boundary disputes have ordinarily been settled long after the fact by international courts of arbitration or by one of the international courts of justice (i.e. the PCIJ or ICJ). The likelihood that a “final” settlement will resolve all territorial claims between Israel and Palestine is very remote if the previous experience of Great Britain, Latin America, Asia, Africa, or the EU are any indication. Great Britain and Turkey negotiated two final peace treaties after WWI, the Treaty of Sèvres and the Treaty of Lausanne. They still could not agree on the boundaries of the territories to be separated from the Ottoman Empire. The clause whereby Turkey renounced its claims to the territories treated their disposition as a thing to be determined by other parties (res inter alios acta). The 1998-1999 Eritrea-Yemen boundary arbitration case involved a dispute over the interpretation of that particular clause and the failure of Principal Allied powers to fully delineate the boundaries after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. See for example link to The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt did not result in a negotiated settlement of their boundary dispute. So, the matter was decided through international arbitration in 1988. link to

        The final border of Turkey was not determined by its peace treaties. Article 2 of the Treaty of Lausanne simply stipulated that, if Turkey and Great Britain could not negotiate the matter within nine months, the matter would be referred to the Council of the League of Nations. Even the interpretation of that clause was disputed. So, the matter was submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice for an Advisory Opinion (Series B, No 12, “Article 3, Paragraph 2, Treaty of Lausanne (frontier between Turkey and Iraq). link to

        The League of Nations Mandate instruments were simply resolutions of the Council of the League of Nations. When the Mandate for Palestine entered into effect, it noted that the Allied Powers had entrusted to a Mandatory selected by them full powers of administration “of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire, within such boundaries as may be fixed by them;” link to

        Without exception, all of the other post-WWI final peace treaties left the question of the final boundaries of the newly created states in Ottoman Asia unsettled. For example, Article 434 of the Treaty of Versailles stipulated that Germany was required to recognize the [future] dispositions made concerning the territories of the former Ottoman Empire, “and to recognize the new States within their frontiers as there laid down.” link to

        The other Central powers and the treaty articles that required them to recognize the future boundaries of the new states were:
        *Bulgaria, Article 60 of the Treaty of Neuilly link to
        *Hungary, Article 74 (2) of The Treaty of Trianon link to
        *Austria, Article 90 of The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye link to

        I’m afraid this is just more of the same old same old. It suits some powerful interests to treat the Palestinians as Untermenschen. So, they have to undergo a complex and ritualistic procedure while Israel gets a another pass.

      • NimaShirazi
        January 22, 2011, 9:00 pm

        Very impressive, Hostage! Thanks for this.

      • annie
        January 23, 2011, 12:32 am

        yes, very impressive.

      • Hostage
        January 24, 2011, 2:47 am

        No, what is really impressive is the way that Israel has juggled conflicting and nonsensical arguments about borders and the long-discredited competing doctrines of “recognition” to attack and subjugate the indigenous population of Palestine.

        The international community of states established the Nuremberg principles many decades ago in order to counter that sort of aggression. The Nations were united in their determination that certain acts could be prosecuted under international law when they are committed “against any civilian population” – even the stateless Jews. The prohibited acts included “wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity”. link to

        But, Israel has reintroduced the dangerous doctrine which held sway in Nazi Germany. Israel suggests that, since the territory and frontiers of the State of Palestine and its right of existence were contested by one its neighbor States, the State of Palestine does not exist and cannot be recognized as such. The Third Reich felt that it was sufficient to merely cast doubt upon the existence of one of your neighboring States, for that State to cease to exist. Its territory could then be seized and absorbed, and its population could be evicted, displaced, or deported. Thomas Grant summarized the problem:

        “Of greater doctrinal concern is the proposition which seems to flow from constitutivism that an unrecognized community has neither rights nor duties under international law. Denied recognition, does a community enjoy a freedom from the strictures which govern the conduct of states? And do recognized states enjoy a freedom to abuse the unrecognized community in a manner which international law would bar against a state? The declaratist proposition that the state exists independent of recognition avoids these problems.”

        The Montevideo Convention embodies the declaratist doctrine. Many, if not most its Latin American signatories have recognized the State of Palestine within the 4 June 1967 borders. It should be of greater concern for Israel and its supporters that the numerical majority of other existing states have disposed of the question by legally recognizing the State of Palestine. Even the constitutive doctrine holds that “A State is, and becomes an International Person through recognition only and exclusively.” The minority are under no obligation to establish relations, but they are obliged to treat that legal entity as another sovereign State.

  2. Richard Witty
    January 21, 2011, 10:12 am

    First things first.

    What is England’s position on the settlement draft?

    • NimaShirazi
      January 21, 2011, 10:43 am


      The British position seems pretty straightforward. In a statement to the UN Security Council regarding the settlement resolution, British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant said, “The United Kingdom has always been clear that settlements are illegal as well as being an obstacle to peace. Pushing ahead with settlement activity is a deeply unhelpful move. With actions such as these, it is no surprise that this council has been asked to consider a resolution condemning settlement activity.”

      In the recent past, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has also been quoted as being “deeply concerned” and “very disappointed” by the ongoing, illegal settlement activity in Palestine.

      • Richard Witty
        January 21, 2011, 1:23 pm

        That vote will weave through the UN and be voted on.

        If you are correct, then Great Britain will again condemn settlement expansion, and its possible that the US will as well. (I believe that with the wording reported to be concise and not inflammatory, that the US either vote in support or abstain.)

        What is concluded from that statement is a knotty problem. There are many here that believe that all settlers should leave, by force if necessary, and by firesale if it occurs. (Some state that all Israelis of European dissent – 1/4 are intermarried with Sephardi – should leave).

        Fayyad is more generous. He suggests accurately, that in either state, minorities will exist and should be afforded equal rights and due process, and therefore the settlers would be allowed to reside as Palestinian citizens, and probably owe some compensation to perfect title to the land.

        But, also that the settlements would no longer be segregated.

        That sounds like a reasonable proposal.

    • pjdude
      January 24, 2011, 6:55 am

      england doesn’t have a position the united kingdom does. for england( or scotland, wales, and northern ireland) to have an opinion would undermine the union of the 4( well 3 and like a quarter) states

  3. Citizen
    January 21, 2011, 10:31 am

    Nothing like an English or US cop telling a Palestinian victim of Israeli theft that the Palestinian must go chat with the thief to try to get his property back while the thief is eating it. In the end, this stuff is basic. If Obama chooses to veto the current UN resolution regarding the illegal settlements, for example, he’s neither a US leader, friend of Israel, or supporter of the rule of law paid for with the millions of WW2 dead.

  4. Don
    January 21, 2011, 11:07 am

    Nima, there are additional ironies. Many comments I have read (in Haaretz, for example) about the South American countries you mention above, have been quite disparaging. They are anti-semitic, typical of Catholics, etc etc. (most of those countries have majority Catholic populations. )

    How quickly we forget, so to speak.

    4 of those countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay) were among the countries that voted in favor of the UN granting Israel nation status (or whatever it is called). And their votes were critical, if I recall correctly, to the passage of the UN resolution regarding Israel’s nation status.

    Just thought I’d mention it.

  5. Jim Haygood
    January 21, 2011, 12:46 pm

    When one looks at a map of Israel, it’s replete with ambiguities.

    There’s a dashed line around Gaza (‘1950 armistice line’); a dashed line around the West Bank (‘1949 armistice line’); a dashed line between the West Bank and Jordan (‘1994 treaty line’); a dashed line along with border with Syria (‘Golan Heights – Israeli occupied’); and a dashed line along with border with Lebanon.

    link to

    Clearly this is a region of endemic uncertainty and dispute about borders. There’s also a litany of UN resolutions going back decades, complied with mostly in the breach.

    To heap all the burden of this long-simmering mess (which dates back to the early 20th century) onto the shoulders of the Palestinians is utterly disingenuous.

    Suggesting negotiations between an occupied party and its occupiers is equally absurd. Did Britain press for occupied France to cut a deal with the Nazis, giving up some French territory in order to regain autonomy? Hell, no! Both the Brits and de Gaulle told Germany, your occupation is absolutely illegitimate, and we will fight it tooth and nail until we reclaim what is ours.

    Relentless pressure on the outgunned Palestinians to negotiate with an occupier who’s got them under military siege is tantamount to a demand for conditional surrender. Those calling for negotiations are de facto siding with Israel, with the explicit objective of handing Israel most of the land area of historic Palestine under the purely expedient principle of ‘possession is nine tenths of the law,’ thus legally consolidating Israel’s land grabs in perpetuity.

    Although similarly beaten down by European settlers who were more economically and militarily powerful than they, South Africa’s native people never relinquished their claim to any of their territory. And today, a black majority government rules it.

    Palestinians should never accept an unfair deal which evicts them from their own territory, and thus should never forfeit the Right of Return — the core right of an indigenous people; the litmus test of fairness, which Israel and its accomplices most desperately want to nullify for all time. Nor should Palestinians ever trust the mercenary US and UK governments, both of which have been subverted by the Israel lobby and act exclusively on its behalf.

    • talknic
      January 21, 2011, 10:25 pm

      Hi Jim.

      The maps at are…. ummm….. how can I put this politely….. sh*te!

      I’ve followed the boundaries in detail accepted by the Jewish People’s Council on behalf of the world’s Jewish population.

      The Google Earth Overlay accompanied by the text of UNGA Res 181 (still enshrined in the Declaration for the Establishment of the State of Israel)

  6. Henry Norr
    January 21, 2011, 1:02 pm

    Nima Shirazi mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 478, adopted in response to the “Jerusalem Law” Israel enacted in 1980. It passed by 14 in favor, none opposed, and the U.S. abstaining. As Obama and rest of the world dither in the face of Israel’s ever accelerating campaign to Judaize the entire city, I think it’s worth reading this remarkable document in full:

    Resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August 1980

    The Security Council,

    Recalling its resolution 476 (1980),

    Reaffirming again that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible,

    Deeply concerned over the enactment of a “basic law” in the Israeli Knesset proclaiming a change in the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, with its implications for peace and security,

    Noting that Israel has not complied with resolution 476 (1980),

    Reaffirming its determination to examine practical ways and means, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, to secure the full implementation of its resolution 476 (1980), in the event of non-compliance by Israel,

    1. Censures in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the “basic law” on Jerusalem and the refusal to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions;

    2. Affirms that the enactment of the “basic law” by Israel constitutes a violation of international law and does not affect the continued application of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem;

    3. Determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent “basic law” on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith;

    4. Affirms also that this action constitutes a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;

    5. Decides not to recognize the “basic law” and such other actions by Israel that, as a result of this law, seek to alter the character and status of Jerusalem and calls upon:

    (a) All Member States to accept this decision;

    (b) Those States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City;

    6. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the implementation of the present resolution before 15 November 1980;

    7. Decides to remain seized of this serious situation.

    Adopted at the 2245th meeting by 14 votes to none, with 1 abstention (United States of America).

  7. talknic
    January 21, 2011, 8:14 pm

    “The irony here is striking considering Israel has no internationally recognized capital and no internationally recognized borders.”

    Not so. Israel confirmed it’s borders May 15th 1948 to the international community and again on May 22nd 1948 and Jun 15th 1948 TO THE UNSC link to

    May 15, 1948 Letter From the Agent of the Provisional Government of Israel to the President of the United States,
    “MY DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have the honor to notify you that the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947, and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of Israel, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of Israel to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o’clock on the evening of 14 May 1948, Washington time.” Also available as PDF from the Truman Library

    May 22, 1948 The reply of the Provisional Government of Israel (S/766) to the questions addressed to the “Jewish authorities in Palestine” was transmitted by the acting representative of Israel at the United Nations on May 22.

    Question (a): Over which areas of Palestine do you actually exercise control at present over the entire area of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947?
    “In addition, the Provisional Government exercises control over the city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The above areas, outside the territory of the State of Israel, are under the control of the military authorities of the State of Israel, who are strictly adhering to international regulations in this regard. The Southern Negev is uninhabited desert over which no effective authority has ever existed.”

    June 15, 1949 Israel-s position on its frontiers VOLUMES 1-2: 1947-1974
    “As for the frontier between the State of Israel and the area west of the Jordan which is not included in Israel…”

    Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907 Art. 42 SECTION III
    “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. “

    It is inadmissible to ‘acquire’ territory by war. Any war. link to

    Annexation without a referendum of the citizens of a territory being annexed is illegal. link to

  8. talknic
    January 21, 2011, 8:27 pm

    It is indeed a good olde British double standard.

    A) Israel was recognized BEFORE it had a capitol and today it’s claimed capitol is not even in Israel.

    B) Israel was recognized BEFORE it had a democratically elected Government. (Israel has never had a democratically elected Government according to the Declaration for the Establishment of the State of Israel. I.e., according to the constitution. There ain’t one.)

    C) Israel was recognized without renouncing violence, it’s forces were/are still OUTSIDE of Israel, slaughtering and razing.

    D) Israel was recognized while it was still in control of territories OUTSIDE of the extent of it’s declared and confirmed sovereignty

    E) Israel is still recognized even though it has not rectified ANY of the above and in fact has increased it’s illegal claims.

    (“raise that double standard high high high high” Robyn Archer)

  9. traintosiberia
    January 21, 2011, 10:32 pm

    My understanding that a lot of pressure was applied by US on African country ( Liberia, Cote De Ivory) , European ( Greece and Cyprus,) and Asian ( Philippine) and Latin America ( Nicargua,Cuba,Honduras) to support the creation of Israel using threat and bribery. Some of these have been documneted in the biography of Truman by David McCullough.
    As usual a cnard was spread among US Congress and executive branches that if US did not Soviet would do first robbing US of something! This was in line with similar psychological pressure on UK to publish Balfur declaration in 1917 otherwise Germany would do same ,robbing British of Russian Jewish support who may not exert pressure on Bolshevic to stay in war!

  10. shawket
    January 22, 2011, 7:36 am

    When you support a politically ideology as morally bankrupt as Zionism, you are bound to engage in hypocrisy here and there.

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