How is a 100-year-old document still legally binding today?

, April 2, 2017

As an international lawyer I am being asked constantly, how come a hundred-year-old document written by the British Foreign Secretary and sent to the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine promising a Jewish National Home: How could this be a binding legally authoritative instrument which has ultimately become so important both in the Middle East peace process, but also in the history of the State of Israel?

 My answer is this – that according to international law and practice any unilateral declaration issued properly by a foreign minister an authorized representative of a state, is binding on that state, and as soon as such a declaration is accepted by other states and is included into an international treaty, it is binding on all those states  party to the international treaty.

 This was the situation with the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was in itself not a legal document, it was a letter, but this letter was an official declaration, by the state of Britain and as such, it was binding on the state of Britain.

 It afterwards was incorporated word for word, in a part of the peace conferences that came about as a result of the end of the First World War, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, it was incorporated into these declarations and treaties. Afterwards it was incorporated into the League of Nations mandate that was granted by the League to Britain and as such it became an international treaty and it became  a legally binding document.

And this was followed by, once the League of Nations was dissolved, the United Nations when it was established in 1945, which determined in Article 80 of the UN Charter a clause which is commonly known as the “Palestine clause” that assured that all rights and obligations towards states and peoples, given before the creation of the United Nations, will remain in force.

 So all these things point to a very clear fact that the Balfour Declaration is a binding document, that the promise of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, in the Land of Israel, is a binding document and has been acknowledged and accepted as part of international law and remains so to this very day.

About Amb. Alan Baker

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.