28th September 2023
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The 29th of September marks the centenary of when the League of Nations ‘Mandate Agreement’ for Palestine entered into force in international law. This legal instrument purported to put the commitment to establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine made by Arthur Balfour in the eponymous Declaration of 1917—then merely a non-legally-effective statement—on a sound international legal footing. It paved the way for how the UK administered the Mandate. The Agreement purported to bypass the legal obligation in Article 22 of the League Covenant to provisionally recognize statehood of and for the inhabitants of the Mandate—people who were overwhelmingly Arab Palestinians—at the time the Mandate commenced. And it purported to permit the UK to maintain its administration, for what turned out to be a quarter of a century, so as to enable Jewish migration to, and Jewish institutions of self-government to be established in, what could then be proclaimed the state of Israel, as happened, covering part of the territory of the Mandate, in 1948. In international law, then, the key date for the supposed legal basis for all that happened in that period is 1923, not 1917.
On the eve of the centennial anniversary of that date, this lecture will present a new argument, challenging the received wisdom about the legal effectiveness of the Mandate Agreement. For the first time it will be explained that the body adopting the Agreement—the League Council—did not have the legal power to modify the obligations in the League Covenant, and, as such, the requirement to implement provisional statehood in Article 22 remained the operative legal obligation binding on the UK. Consequently, by failing to enable Palestinian statehood a century ago, the UK breached international law, and this can form the basis for a claim for reparations by the Palestinian people today.
The lecture is based on Dr Wilde’s article published in the Journal of the History of International Law, ‘Tears of the Olive Trees: Mandatory Palestine, the UK, and accountability for colonialism in international law’.
Ralph Wilde is a member of the Faculty of Laws at UCL, University of London. He is an expert in international law. His current writing focuses on extraterritorial human rights, migration and refugee protection, and international law and the Palestinian people. His previous work on the concept of trusteeship over people and territorial administration by international organizations includes his book International Territorial Administration: How Trusteeship and the Civilizing Mission Never Went Away(OUP), awarded the Certificate of Merit of the American Society of International Law. He previously served on the Executive bodies of the American and European Societies of International Law, and the International Law Association, and is the past recipient of the UK Philip Leverhulme Prize and the Peace Fellowship of the Åland Peace Institute. He also provides legal advice and representation to states, international organizations, and NGOs, and is currently acting as Senior Counsel and Advocate representing the 22 states of the League of Arab States in the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem Advisory Opinion case before the UN International Court of Justice.