The Catholic University of America


The Legal Status of Jerusalem


As the historical and cultural epicenter for three of the world’s great religions, the fighting over who has preeminent claim to Jerusalem is almost as old as the city itself.
The subject was revisited on Feb. 25 by Professor Yuval Shany, Hersch Lauterpacht chair in public international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and visiting professor at Columbia University in New York City.
His address, sponsored by the Columbus School of Law’s Middle East Religious Dialogue Program, offered some historical justification for Judaism’s claim to much of the storied city.
From Israel’s point of view, said Shany, the question was settled for all practical purposes by the British Mandate of Palestine in 1922, which was a legal instrument for the administration of Palestine formally approved by the League of Nations, the precursor to today’s United Nations.
The mandate formalized British rule in Palestine from 1917-1948. The boundaries of two new states were laid down within the territory of the mandate, Palestine and Transjordan.
The mandate favored the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, with the proviso “that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The disagreement and fighting in the years since over control of Jerusalem is based in part on the vagueness of the language of the 1922 mandate.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. The United Nations conferred legitimacy on a sovereignty claim, and there is no system for judicial review,” said Shany, summing up the position of the state of Israel.