End of Responsibility

The termination of an occupying power's obligations in occupied territory is subject to differing interpretations under international law.


Formal View: termination of an occupying power’s obligations under established principles of international law (as defined principally by the Fourth Geneva Convention) to provide for the civic well being of occupied territory, including various aspects of economics, health, infrastructure and labor conditions.

Viability View: According to some, at least implicitly, termination of an occupying or former occupying power's obligation to ensure the economic and political “viability” of occupied or formerly occupied territory as part of its transition to statehood.1

Formal View of End of Responsibility

The formal view looks to established principles of international law to determine when an occupying power’s responsibilities over occupied people and territory end. The Fourth Geneva Convention2 is the principal international law source. It provides:

“In the case of occupied territory, the application of the present Convention shall cease one year after the close of military operations; however, the Occupying Power shall be bound, during the duration of the occupation, to the extent that such Power exercises the functions of government in such territory, [by various provisions of the Convention.]”3

In short, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power’s responsibility ends at the latter of:

one year after the close of military operations, or when the occupying power ceases to "exercise[] the functions of government in [the] territory".

Viability View of End of Responsibility

According to some, at least implicitly, in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the end of Israel’s responsibility will occur only when the Palestinian territories have achieved economic and political viability. See sources cited in the concept Responsibility.

Under the viability view, Israel’s responsibility will continue until the socioeconomic performance of Palestinian areas from which Israel disengages meets an as-yet unspecified level. See Concept of a Viable Palestinian State.

End of Responsibility and the Gaza Disengagement Plan

An express aim of the Disengagement Plan is to end Israel’s responsibility for the Gaza Strip: “The completion of the plan will serve to dispel the claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”4

However, Israel’s assertion in the Disengagement Plan that the disengagement will end Israel's responsibility is not determinative. Rather, determining whether the Disengagement Plan results in an end of responsibility will depend on whether the formal view or the viability view prevails:

  • Should the formal view prevail, Israel's responsibility will be treated as ending when the state of occupation, as formally understood, ends.
  • Under the viability view, end of responsibility will not occur until the formerly occupied territory becomes viable. Thus, an end of responsibility is likely to occur sooner under the formal view than under the viability view.

1 The terms formal view and viability view are Reut’s designations.

2 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (adopted August 12, 1949; entered into force October 21, 1950).

3 Fourth Geneva Convention, art. 6.

4 Government Resolution Regarding the Disengagement Plan, Addendum A, ¶ 1, Six (June 6, 2004).