The Emerging Right of West Bank Palestinians to Israeli Citizenship

69 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2020 Last revised: 22 Dec 2020

See all articles by Ariel Zemach

Ariel Zemach

Ono Academic College Faculty of Law

Date Written: April 5, 2020


This article explores a path in international law for recognizing the right of the Palestinian population of the West Bank to Israeli citizenship, based on the annexationist policies of Israel in the West Bank. The scope of the obligation of states to confer citizenship on individuals is determined by international human rights law (“IHRL”). The article shows that a plausible reading of the IHRL treaty obligations of Israel suggests that it has a duty to grant citizenship to individuals born in its territory, who would otherwise be stateless, and that most West Bank Palestinians are currently considered stateless. Therefore, if a given area of the West Bank is considered to have become part of Israel, most Palestinians subsequently born in such territory are plausibly entitled to receive Israeli citizenship as a matter of treaty law. There also seems to be a broad, emerging right under customary international law of the residents of a territory acquired by a state to receive the citizenship of that state, regardless of whether or not they would otherwise be considered stateless. The West Bank is a territory under Israeli occupation, and annexation by an occupier of any part of the occupied territory violates international law. The article argues, however, that the illegal annexation by Israel of an occupied territory would make that territory a part of Israel for the limited purpose of the right to citizenship, as an exception to the principle that illegal annexation is null and void. Hence, the existing and emerging IHRL obligations of Israel to grant citizenship to residents of territory acquired by Israel extend to Palestinians residing in areas of the West Bank illegally annexed by Israel. The article argues further that, for the purpose of applying the norms of IHRL that concern the right to citizenship, the definition of annexation extends beyond formal annexation and encompasses de facto annexation as well. Annexation of occupied territory results from the occupier’s display of sovereignty in that territory, among others, by settling its own population in the occupied territory. In view of the current spread of Israeli settlements across the West Bank, unless Israel removes, within a reasonable time period, many of these settlements, the entire territory of the West Bank may be considered to have been annexed, and the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank would have a strong claim to Israeli citizenship under an emerging norm of international law.

Keywords: Right to Citizenship, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Annexation, De Facto Annexation, International Human Rights Law, Human Rights Law, Occupied Territory, Occupation, Law of Occupation, West Bank, Israeli Settlements, Israeli Occupation

Suggested Citation

Zemach, Ariel, The Emerging Right of West Bank Palestinians to Israeli Citizenship (April 5, 2020). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, p. 271., Available at SSRN: or

Ariel Zemach (Contact Author)

Ono Academic College Faculty of Law ( email )

104 Zahal St.
Kiryat Ono, 55000

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics