In the beginning of the twentieth century there was no established right to self-determination in international law. However, the principle had started to emerge and after the First World War, the right to self-determination was applied to certain peoples and territories.
The Jewish people
In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour stated that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home of the Jews” without prejudicing “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This was the so-called Balfour declaration, which later was incorporated in the preamble to the League of Nations’ Charter for the Palestine Mandate. The League of Nations was the predecessor of the United Nations. The United Nations Charter states that it does not change anything in any existing instrument, i e the Mandates. The Mandate over Palestine, including the Balfour Declaration is thus valid international law, recognizing the Jewish People’s right to self determination.
The Palestinian people
Also the right of the Palestinian People to self-determination was recognized through the Mandate, as well as through the Covenant of the League of Nations, which states that to the “colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have seized to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves (…) should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation”. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations is seen as an early expression of the right to self-determination in international law. The UN General Assembly has later, in a number of resolutions, confirmed that the right to self-determination applies to the Palestinian people.
The UN partition plan and the creation of the State of Israel
The right to self-determination of both peoples living in Palestine, namely the Palestinians and the Jews, was reiterated by the United Nations' General Assembly (GA) in its Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, which included the plan to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into one Jewish and one Palestinian state. The resolution was not legally binding, but merely recommended what the GA considered to be a legitimate mode of self-determination for Palestine as a whole . Nevertheless, it did express that a majority of states were of the opinion that one Jewish and one Palestinian state should be created.
Israel declared its independence in May 1948. Soon thereafter, war broke out between Israel and a number of Arab states. Jordan seized control and annexed the West Bank, which included parts of Jerusalem. Egypt seized control of the Gaza Strip.
After the 1948 war, Israel was established on a more extensive territory than recommended in the partition plan. By entering into the Armistice Agreement with Egypt in 1949, Israel demonstrated a sufficient level of stable and effective government of the territory to be recognised as a state by other states and the UN. Israel was effectively and lawfully established as a state on the armistice territory, by secession from the Mandate of Palestine. A state for the Palestinians living in the Mandate of Palestine was never created; this still constitutes one of the core issues of the conflict. The Palestinians still call for the implementation of their right to self-determination.Read more about self-determination