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France Is Hypocritical on Israel, the U.S., and ‘International Law’

France shunned the inauguration ceremony of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem on

May 14. So did most other European Union countries, with the remarkable exception of Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The Czechs, the Hungarians and the Romanians went so far as to block, on May 11, a newly drafted EU statement reiterating the Union’s condemnation of the American embassy transfer.

The French and mainstream European stand runs against plain logic. Both France and the EU claim that the 1949-1967 ceasefire lines between Israel and Jordan in the Jerusalem area (the "green line") are an international border. If this were indeed the case, those sectors in Jerusalem held by Israel during this period of time ("West Jerusalem") would be internationally recognized Israeli territory. Accordingly, Israel would have every right to turn them into its capital, and the United States, or any other country, to locate its embassy there.

Likewise, France and the EU countries recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s de facto capital, since they routinely visit the Israeli government or the Israeli parliament there. Under international law, a de facto recognition is as valid as a de jure recognition.

Why then should France and the mainstream EU oppose the transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (or at least to "West Jerusalem," where the new premises are located) and boycott the inauguration ceremony?

They opine that such a transfer is still a violation of  "international law," inasmuch as it departs from an aggregative corpus of United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. In particular, Paris and Brussels point to Security Council Resolution 470, passed on August 20, 1980, which condemned the enactment by Israel’s parliament of a constitutionally binding law enshrining Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and called on the governments that had already established embassies in that city to withdraw them. Resolution 470 was largely based on the previous Security Council’s Resolution 252 of May 21, 1968, which in turn was based on the General Assembly’s Resolution 303 (IV) of December 9, 1949.

Are France and the mainstream EU correct? Are these resolutions in particular, and other United Nations resolutions in general, coextensive with international law?

Hardly.

First, it should be emphasized that the United Nations is not a confederacy of sorts or a super-government, whose decisions would be binding on the member States. The UN is a free association of sovereign countries which ultimately remain free to abide by them or to ignore them. The assertion that the United Nations Charter is a "constituent treaty" and overrides national laws and prerogatives is unfounded.

Article 103 of the Charter, which is casually mentioned in this respect, says that in the case where a member State’s obligations under the Charter would contradict other obligations under a State-to-State treaty, the former would prevail over the latter. Accordingly, the UN has no capacity to decide the exact location of Israel’s capital, nor to condemn those countries that happen to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.