How Trump’s Middle East plan would violate international law

Experts say the US proposal opens door to violations of international law and resembles apartheid policies.

A representation of a map with the colors of the Palestinian flag reading "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine" is placed on a fence as a Jewish settlement is seen during a protest against t
A representation of a map with the colors of the Palestinian flag reading 'Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine' is placed on a fence as a Jewish settlement is seen during a protest against the US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, in the village of Bilin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan for Israel-Palestine, announced on Tuesday, could open the door to multiple violations of international law, according to experts.

The plan could lead to the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank into Israel, including the vast majority of Israeli settlements, and was denounced by Palestinians, who were not involved in its making.

If implemented, experts say the Middle East plan would violate international law prohibitions against annexation and the crime of apartheid. It would further violate the principle of self-determination, a core principle of international law.


The principle of self-determination protects people’s right to freely choose their statehood without any interference. 

According to Yuval Shany, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Trump’s plan would not lead to a viable Palestinian state. “It therefore fails to give effect to the Palestinian right to self-determination under international law,” he said.

“The main concern is that it allows for the unilateral annexation by Israel of territory which the international community considers to be part of areas on which Palestinian self-determination should be realised,” he added.


Analysts have emphasised that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, particularly Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, has already been declared illegal by the United Nations. Security Council Resolution 2334 states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation of international law” and has no “legal validity”. 

“Israel’s settlements as a whole, the theft of Palestinian land and resources and the violence that is inherent to the imposition of military rule over a disenfranchised people indefinitely, are all against international law,” Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem, told Al Jazeera.

“Trump’s plan is to legitimise, internationally, the continuation of all of this, as well as the formal annexation of the West Bank, all of which has already been annexed de facto.” 


The annexation of territory is prohibited under international law. The UN Charter and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 explicitly forbid any country from expanding its territory by military force.

Eliav Lieblich, an assistant professor at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera that the repeated use of the term Israeli “sovereignty” in the Trump plan in relation to areas of the West Bank indicates plans to annex parts of the territory.

“In the past, Israel used similar language to describe its application of jurisdiction to the Golan Heights and this was universally understood as annexation,” he said. 

“If Palestinians reject the plan, which they will, Israel will likely move to annex the territories unilaterally,” he added.

To Kevin Jon Heller, a professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam, the planned annexation of the Jordan Valley and all  settlements  in the West Bank would, if implemented, undoubtedly violate international law.

“What this amounts to is a land grab, plain and simple. And an unlawful one,” he said.

Bantustan system

Analysts say the implementation of the plan would intensify the extent to which Palestine resembles an apartheid state. The crime of apartheid, defined as an “inhumane act committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination of one racial group over another”, is criminalised under the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Asem Khalil, a professor at Birzeit University, told Al Jazeera that Trump’s proposal resembles the notorious bantustan system of apartheid South Africa and “furthers colonialism”. Bantustans were territories set aside for black South Africans during apartheid-era South Africa.

Palestinians in the West Bank live in what Gilutz described as a “completely fragmented space” consisting of enclaves that are disconnected from each other.

Palestinians also face restrictions on movement and political rights. Gilutz regards these features as reminiscent of South African apartheid. 

Mutaz Qafisheh, a professor of international law at the Hebron University, says: “The plan offers a prescription for apartheid, racial discrimination and colonial domination.”

Source: Al Jazeera