Occupied East Jerusalem – Legal Status

January 09, 2016

JERUSALEM is divided into Occupied East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. Referring to the two sectors as simply “Jerusalem” is inaccurate and conflicts with international law and the policies of the United Nations, the United States or the European Union. 


  • According to the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 that legitimized the creation of the State of Israel, the areas which are now East and West Jerusalem (and their environs, including Bethlehem), were not allocated to either the Arab or Jewish state but were instead to be internationally administered as a separate entity. The borders of the UN Partition Plan remain the only internationally recognized borders of Israel.
  • During the 1948 war, Israel ignored the Partition Plan and invaded and occupied 84% of Jerusalem (16.45 square kilometers of Jerusalem’s 1948 area). Jordanian forces prevented Israel from occupying 11.5% of Jerusalem, including the Old City (2.25 square kilometers of Jerusalem’s 1948 area). The remaining 4.5% of Jerusalem’s 1948 area became “no-man’s land”.
  • In 1967, Israel militarily occupied East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s claim that it never intended to occupy these Palestinian lands, Israel expanded the borders of East Jerusalem only two weeks after the occupation began. The new “municipal” borders expanded East Jerusalem by more than ten times its pre-occupation size and were drawn in such a way as to incorporate undeveloped Palestinian land while leaving Palestinian population centers outside the new borders. The undeveloped land was used to build illegal Israeli colonies in an effort to change East Jerusalem’s demographic make-up.
  • In 1980, in an attempt to annex East Jerusalem, the Israeli government amended the “Basic Law” by which it extended Israeli jurisdiction to the occupied portion of the city.

International Law: “Inadmissibility of Acquisition of Territory by Force”

Customary international law, as reflected in the United Nations charter (Article 2, paragraph 4), rejects the admissibility of acquisition of territory by force and consequently, Israel’s annexation and authority over East Jerusalem is illegal under international law.

UN Position on East Jerusalem

The United Nations recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory (subject to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and consequently rejects Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem:

  • In response to Israel’s occupation of foreign territory, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 242 of 1967 calls for the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
  • In response to Israel’s expansion of Jerusalem’s borders, UNSCR 252 of 1968 states that the Security Council “Considers that all…actions taken by Israel…which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status.”
  • In response to Israel’s attempt to annex Occupied East Jerusalem, UNSCR 476 of 1980 states that the Security Council “Reconfirms that all…actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of…Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

U.S. Position on East Jerusalem

Official U.S. policy does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. The official U.S. position is embodied in the U.S. Letter of Assurances to the Palestinians of October 1991, part of the official record of the Madrid Peace Conference. In part, it reads:

[W]e do not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem or the extension of its municipal boundaries, and we encourage all sides to avoid unilateral acts that would exacerbate local tensions or make negotiations more difficult or preempt their final outcome.

EU Position on East Jerusalem

Official European Union policy regards East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory and rejects Israeli claims of sovereignty over East Jerusalem. In a Declaration by the EU Council of Ministers on October 1, 1996, the EU declared that:

East Jerusalem is subject to the principles set out in UN Security Council Resolution 242, notably the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and is therefore not under Israeli sovereignty. The Union asserts that the Fourth Geneva Convention is fully applicable to East Jerusalem, as it is to other territories under occupation.


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