International Law Jerusalem
Victor Kattan, John Quigley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0241


Jerusalem has been the focus of much study by international lawyers and political scientists. That body of literature dates only from the late 1940s, when a proposal to recommend the partition of Palestine came under consideration at the United Nations. During the period of British control (1917–1948), Jerusalem was made the administrative capital of Palestine where the mandatory authorities were based. Prior to the First World War, the sanjak of Jerusalem, which included Bethlehem, Hebron, Jaffa, Gaza, and Beersheba, formed part of an administrative area within the Turkish Empire. It had representatives in the Turkish parliament, who participated in legislative work for the Empire. As a result of this history, the literature on Jerusalem’s status dates only from the mid-twentieth century. That said, the literature has been voluminous. Contention has raged over Jerusalem’s status. Scholars have presented sharply different analyses. Some focus on the religious interest in Jerusalem as a basis for resolving its legal status. Others focus on more traditional factors of international law. The issue is one that is to some extent unique in the literature on sovereignty and status of territory, because rarely is focus placed on a single city. The name “Jerusalem” is used in this bibliography, since that name is commonly found in English-language sources. It is derived from the Hebrew name for the city. The Arabic name is al-Quds.

General Overviews of the Legal Issues in Jerusalem

The sovereignty issue relating to Jerusalem arose once the idea of the partition of Palestine was broached in 1947. The Partition Resolution called for international administration of the city for an initial period of ten years, leading to a referendum on Jerusalem’s status. Such international administration was not effectuated. Despite the call for internationalization, Israel claimed sovereignty in 1949 over the western sector it held after hostilities left it in control of that sector, but Jordan in control of the eastern sector. Jordan claimed provisional sovereignty over the eastern sector, a claim it abandoned in 1988. After Israel took the eastern sector in 1967, it applied its legislation and administration there, a move that some scholars claimed was an assertion of sovereignty. In 1980, Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset, adopted what was called a basic law on Jerusalem, declaring sovereignty over the entirety of the city. Documentation is found in Abdul Hadi 1996. Overall analysis is found in Abd al-Al 2019, Dawudi 2012, and Lapidoth 1997. Israel’s claim of sovereignty is found to be valid by Berkowitz 2018. Jordan’s claim was found to be invalid by Blum 1974. Sovereignty as being suspended is asserted by bin Talal 1979 and Draper 1981. Quigley 2013 supports Palestinian sovereignty.

  • Abd al-Al, Muhammad Shawqi. Sovereignty over Jerusalem: A Legal Study of International Developments and Positions. Abū Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Markaz al-Imārāt lil-Dirāsāt wa-al-Buḥūth al-Istirātījīyah, 2019.

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    A study of sovereignty in Jerusalem from the standpoint of international law with explanation of actions and positions adopted by international bodies and other states of the world. In Arabic.

  • Abdul Hadi, Mahdi, ed. Documents on Jerusalem. Jerusalem: PASSIA Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, 1996.

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    This is a book of documents relating to Jerusalem. One section, titled “Religious Perspectives,” gives documents reflecting Islamic, Christian, and Jewish perspectives. A section titled “Political Perspectives” gives documents denominated as Palestinian, Israeli, Arab state, United States, European, and United Nations. Quite comprehensive: a total of 344 documents.

  • Berkowitz, Shmuel. The Status of Jerusalem in International and Israeli Law. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2018.

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    Finds Israel to hold valid sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem. Notes 2015 decision of US Supreme Court that deferred to US President Barack Obama’s position that sovereignty over all parts of Jerusalem was unclear without determination by a future peace treaty. Analyzes US President Donald Trump’s 2017 position that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Digital only.

  • bin Talal, Hassan. HRH Crown Prince. A Study on Jerusalem. London: Longman, 1979.

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    A short book on the status of Jerusalem. Asserts that sovereignty is suspended until a comprehensive settlement is agreed upon.

  • Blum, Yehuda Z. The Juridical Status of Jerusalem. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1974.

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    This pamphlet-length study argues that the entry by Arab troops into Palestine in 1948 was unlawful, and that Jordan’s absorption of the West Bank, including a portion of Jerusalem, in 1950 was similarly unlawful. Notes Israel’s commitment, once it took control of the holy sites in 1967, to respect the control of ecclesiastical authorities over them.

  • Dawudi, Mohammad. The Future of Jerusalem: Sovereignty in International Law. al-Bīrah, Palestine: al-Wasaṭīyah, 2012.

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    A brief overview of Jerusalem’s status with a focus on the issue of sovereignty and a view to its future. In Arabic.

  • Draper, G. I. A. D. “The Status of Jerusalem as a Question of International Law.” In The Legal Aspects of the Palestine Problem with Special Regard to the Question of Jerusalem. Edited by Hans Köchler, 154–163. Vienna: Braumueller, 1981.

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    Sets out the case on the Israeli side for Israeli sovereignty, and the case on the Arab side for Arab sovereignty. Asks how the International Court of Justice might resolve the matter if it were asked for an advisory opinion and suggests that the Court would find that neither side holds sovereignty.

  • Lapidoth, Ruth. Jerusalem: Legal Aspects. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 1997.

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    A brief overview of Jerusalem’s international status by Israel’s leading legal analyst on the topic. In Hebrew.

  • Lapidoth, Ruth, and Moshe Hirsch, eds. The Jerusalem Question and Its Resolution: Selected Documents. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1994.

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    A useful collection of documents and court decisions relating to the status of Jerusalem. Particular focus on Israeli legislation and regulations.

  • Quigley, John. “The Status of Jerusalem after the Admission of Palestine to the United Nations.” In Membership of Palestine in the United Nations: Legal and Political Implications. Edited by Mutaz Qafisheh, 290–307. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

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    Asserts that Palestine became a sovereign state in 1924 with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lausanne, that Jerusalem was part of that state, and that to date no change in that status has been internationally accepted.

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