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The Utility of an International Legal Approach to the Jerusalem Question
Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law (2003)
  • Davinia Aziz, National University of singapore

International law has not acquitted itself well when invoked to assist in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Imprecisely-articulated claims and interests framed in terms of charges and counter-charges of terrorism, respective rights to self-determination, sovereignty and illegal uses of force fail to capture the complexity of reality. Juxtaposing international law's stencil-like approach to this very complex reality illuminates the law's limitations. The law is inhibited by a restricted recognition of sources of legitimacy, rooted in the ethnocentric secularism of the American and Western European powers controlling its development. This article argues that despite its apparent shortcomings, international law is of some utility in relation to the Jerusalem problem. In this context, the word "utility" is used in the sense of both functional and conceptual utility. Functional utility informs the understanding that international law is not an Austinian system of "order backed by threats", but a mechanism that seeks to induce state compliance with international norms. "Compliance" does not denote blind obeisance by Israelis and Palestinians to a pre-existing set of black-letter rules labelled "international law". Certain international norms do apply to this conflict, with the primary ones discussed in this article. However, it is argued that international law is a tool for interest accommodation, as opposed to conflict resolution. Resolution connotes a final answer to the Jerusalem problem. This is impossible, since claims to the city are based not merely on legal arguments, but are closely associated with religious assertions that cannot be conclusively adjudicated in a pluralistic world. Accommodation, on the other hand, connotes the simultaneous recognition of disparate claims, with the aim of constructing a framework for peaceful co-existence.

  • Jerusalem,
  • territory,
  • territorial sovereignty,
  • international law,
  • religion,
  • Mandate Palestine,
  • territorial administration,
  • East Timor,
  • Kosovo
Publication Date
Citation Information
Davinia Aziz. "The Utility of an International Legal Approach to the Jerusalem Question" Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law Vol. 7 (2003)
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