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Hans Kelsen on Occupation of Non-sovereign territory

The Geneva Convention is generally thought to apply to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank – that portion of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine previously occupied by the Jordan. This is important because the legal argument against settlements is that they violate Art. 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a provision which did not reflect prior international law.

Art. 2 of the Convention provides:

In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace-time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.

Because the West Bank was not part of the sovereign “territory of a High Contracting Party” (or of any country) in 1967, and Israel has argued that “occupation” within the meaning of the Convention can only exist in such territory. Of course, most international lawyers disagree, though in the years after 1967, some very prominent ones agreed.

What is more interesting is what people thought the provision meant before 1967, that is, before they knew the identity of the alleged violator. There is very little written on this, and few have looked at pre-1967 sources. However, one quite serious (pro-Israel) blogger has unearthed this intriguing discussion from Hans Kelsen in 1952, which clearly does not assume that the occupation of non-sovereign territory has the same consequences as the occupation of sovereign territory:

The principle that enemy territory occupied by a belligerent in course of war remains the territory of


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