Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 8]

Types of agents

Broadly, there are at least three types of agents intertwined with sovereignty and cosmopolitanism. The most noticeable are individuals, communities and states. There are several other agents (or subcategories) though. The Amazon region[1] clearly shows the point: particular sub-groups or minorities within a community (e.g. indigenous people), non-governmental organizations, multi-national private companies and scientists to name a few. Often characterized as an argument over territory between sovereign states, territorial disputes[2] present multiple agents.

Consider, for example, the Israel-Palestine difference. Assuming there were negotiations about the sovereignty over the disputed territories, the arguably obvious two parties in the dispute resolution procedure would be Israel and Palestine. When we review the situation in more detail we may better comprehend one of the reasons why this particular territorial dispute is more complex in terms of agents.

States (de facto or de jure) are not the sole agents in territorial disputes. In law, we may claim the public international legal system acknowledges certain agents the right to, for example, claim sovereignty and be part in dispute resolution procedures. However, if the aim is to settle peacefully and permanently this and any other controversial dispute, this is a fruitless approach because of its limited depth. The depth in the approach is limited because it does not acknowledge the fact that although they may be legally single entities, there are many different interests at play within each claiming agent.

To illustrate the different types of agents, and using the Israel-Palestine case as an example, there are 8,852,180 Israelis and 4,816,503 Palestinians (2,935,368 in the West Bank, 1,881,135 in the Gaza strip, 426, 533 in Jerusalem, and the rest in other areas). There are several political parties in Israel and in Palestine and, consequently, internal divisions are highly likely.[3]

More precisely, in terms of population, it is possible to distinguish in the Israeli-Palestinian difference the following groups:

  • people living in Israel (a de jure and de facto sovereign state);
  • people living in Palestine (a de facto state);
  • diaspora;
  • refugees; and
  • settlers in contested lands.

In terms of people living in Israel, on Israel’s 70th birthday in April 2018, Israel’s population stood at 8,842,000. The Jewish population makes up 6,589,000 (74.5%); 1,849,000 (20.9%) are Arabs; and, those identified as “others” (non-Arab Christians, Baha’i, etc.) make up 4.6% of the population (404,000 people). In addition to these numbers, there are approximately 169,000 people living in Israel who are neither citizens nor permanent residents.  Out of the 14.3 million Jewish people in the world, 43% reside in Israel. Of Israeli Jews, 44% self-identify as secular, 11% simply as religious, and 9% as ultra-Orthodox. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox is slightly higher.[4] In turn, people living in Palestine: 4,816,503 Palestinians (2,935,368 in the West Bank, 1,881,135 in the Gaza strip, 426, 533 in Jerusalem, and the rest in other areas).[5]

Although there may be two potential agents that may take part in dispute resolution procedures, the Israel-Palestine difference clearly shows states (de facto or de jure), communities and individuals with different interests. Furthermore, a deeper evaluation of these agents displays sociologically and legally different sub-categories of them.

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Types of agents and sub-categories.

Author of:

Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Wednesday 21st April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] Paul E. Little, Amazonia: Territorial Struggles on Perennial Frontiers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

[2] For the author’s understanding of territorial dispute see Jorge E. Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020), chapter 4.

[3] For official statistics and information about population and political parties in Israel and Palestine see Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (as 2017) available at ; Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (as 2016) available at ; Israel: Political Parties available at ; Palestine: Political Parties available at all accessed 21/04/2021.

[4] Latest population statistics for Israel available at and People of Israel available at both accessed 21/04/2021.

[5] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics available at accessed 21/04/2021.

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