Palestine’s UN Initiatives: Questions and Answers on the Representation of the Rights of the Palestinian People
AL-HAQ PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: 15 September 2011
As an organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq analysed the legal and political implications of the upcoming Palestinian UN initiatives on the protection of the rights of the Palestinian people under international law. By adhering to a strict application of international law and contemporary legal practice, Al-Haq’s legal briefs on the UN initiatives seek to bring some clarity to the questions and concerns raised in the public debate and highlight, where appropriate, potential threats to the full exercise of all the Palestinian people’s rights.
Al-Haq’s initial legal brief (Al-Haq’s Questions and Answers on the Palestinian Initiatives at the United Nations) examined Palestine’s statehood, the options available to the State of Palestine at the UN and the potential benefits and risks of the UN initiatives. It concluded that the initiatives do not bear any legal implications for Palestine’s statehood status. The existence of a State is not a legal, but a purely factual and political matter, and Palestine has been treated as a State over the years by the majority of States and international organisations. Therefore, by seeking UN admission, Palestinians do not claim a right to statehood, but rather the rights flowing from an existing statehood status.
The upgrade of the Palestinian representation in the UN system is an important adjustment that would provide Palestine with further political leverage and legal avenues. It would strengthen Palestine’s international legal personality and enhance its influence over the international community’s willingness to put an end to Israel’s occupation of the OPT and continuous violations of international law. Nevertheless, the September initiatives do not as such consist in an exercise of any right, they are merely a means to forward existing rights claims.
Recent public debate on Palestine’s UN initiatives has raised concerns about potential changes in the mechanism of representation of the Palestinian people at the international level, and their possible effects on future rights claims, including the rights of return, to reparations and self-determination. The overarching concern has been that the UN initiatives could jeopardise the effective and collective representation of all the Palestinian people – the Diaspora, refugees, Palestinians citizens of Israel and the Palestinians in the OPT – both inside and outside of the UN system.
Al-Haq’s legal analysis of the current structures of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the State of Palestine, respectively, concludes that these two entities have considerably different representational roles and capacities, flowing from their different international legal personalities. The State has the benefit of accessing more effective legal mechanisms, including the international criminal justice system, and engaging with other States – including Israel, on an equal footing to claim its sovereign rights. However, the State of Palestine might face limitations vis-à-vis other States in bringing individual claims through different international mechanisms on behalf of those who are not its nationals or dependents, namely, Palestinian refugees whose homes are in Israel and Palestinians citizens of Israel. On the other hand, the PLO’s representational capacities allow it to represent claims on behalf of all the Palestinian people, the majority of which are refugees, despite its limited leverage compared to that of the State.
As such, it is of prime importance to safeguard the unique internationally recognised representational role and capacities of the PLO in parallel to those of the State of Palestine. With the upgrade in the Palestinian representation at the UN, the UN initiatives should ensure the full integration of the people’s interests represented by the PLO into the participation of the State of Palestine through its seat at the UN. The PLO should also continue to function outside of the UN system in parallel to the State, maintaining its current role and capacities because it is not subject to the limitations placed by international law and practice on relations between States.
Al-Haq acknowledges the importance of upgrading the Palestinian representation in the UN, provided that these steps are taken in a cautious and responsible manner, by undertaking firm measures to ensure the utmost protection of the rights of all the Palestinian people, therefore preserving the role and functions of the PLO. It is equally the responsibility of the international community towards the Palestinian people, in particular the Palestinian refugees, to ensure that their representation is maintained and facilitated both inside and outside the UN system.
Importantly, the future undertaking of internal reforms of the Palestinian representative bodies must guarantee the legal protection of all the Palestinian people, and ensure their political participation in accordance with their civil and political human rights. Al-Haq reiterates its firm belief that strict adherence to international law is the essential framework for the protection of the rights of the Palestinian people, and the only basis for a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict.