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Position Paper: PCHR Warns of Prejudice of Palestinian Refugees’ Right of Return



As the moment approaches when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas goes to the United Nations to request recognition of a Palestinian state and to become a member of the United Nations, pressure is increasing in an attempt to force the Palestinian leadership to give up its effort. The US has threatened to halt financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. For its part, Israel is using all of its diplomatic capabilities to convince and induce Member States of the United Nations to object and foil Palestinian efforts. They stress that the only way to achieve a Palestinian state, which the Israeli government approved of in accordance with the US President Obama’s vision, can only be through direct negotiations and there is no alternative way.


However, the Palestinian leadership, which has engaged in US sponsored negotiations for more than 20 years without achieving any tangible progress towards ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, seems more resolute more than ever before to take its demand to the United Nations. Direct negotiations have reached a deadlock, and in the place of meaningful progress are ever-growing settlements and other obstacles to Palestinian self-determination. The Palestinian conviction that continuing negotiations would eventually leave nothing left to negotiate for is evidenced by the fact that upon completion of the annexation wall Israel will have seized at least 58% of the total area of the West Bank, leaving only non-contiguous Bantustans. This would prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. 


The Palestinian leadership’s decision to approach the United Nations is a political one and we support it. We believe that it is time for the Palestinian leadership, supported by the League of Arab States and Arab, Islamic and friendly States, to push the Palestinian cause to the top of the international community’s priorities instead of it remaining a hostage to the US-Israeli monopoly. 


The Palestinian effort to obtain the international community’s recognition of an independent Palestinian state is legitimate and legal, derived from the inherent and fundamental right of all peoples to self-determination. The right
to self-determination is a fundamental right ensured by the International Bill of Human Rights; common Article 1 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights which states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” 



In addition to the legality and legitimacy of the Palestinian demand, the Palestinian leadership should always insist on the application of international law as a basis for solving the Palestinian cause, including proper application of international humanitarian law, which regulates the conduct of an occupying power towards an occupied territory, and the unequivocal legal prohibition against the annexation of territory taken through the use of force. 


We further realize that the road for the Palestinian leadership in the United Nations is difficult and arduous, especially in light of the expected US veto if the Palestinian leadership goes to the UN Security Council. However, the UN General Assembly remains a wide arena for the Palestinian political struggle and advocacy for the Palestinian position. It is the body that fully reflects the international community’s will, and the legislative body that has issued all human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966; and the four Conventions of international humanitarian law (the Geneva Conventions of 1949).


Risks That Must Be Taken into Account


While we fully support the Palestinian initiative and President Abbas’ effort to obtain the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian state, we are entitled and obliged to warn of a number of issues which may have serious repercussions to the Palestinian cause if the United Nations recognizes the State of Palestine. 


The major risk relates to the legal and political status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the United
 One of the major fruits of the Palestinian struggle over the past 63 years has been the international
recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. As a national liberation
movement, the PLO enjoys a legal and political status in the international organization; it is has observer status in the UN General Assembly. The PLO represents all Palestinian people wherever they are, whether in the occupied Palestinian territory or in the diaspora. It is the political and legal umbrella of the representation of Palestinians and their inalienable rights, including the right of refugees to return to their homes, from which they were expelled in 1948. 


The major question raised here is: After the declaration of a Palestinian state, will the PLO continue to hold its political and legal status as the representative of the Palestinian people, particularly Palestinian refugees, or not? The Palestinian leadership is required to answer this question clearly, unambiguously and legally outside the scope of the political discourse, taking into account that UN Resolution 194 of 1949, which calls for the Palestinian
refugees’ return to their homes, and the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) that preceded the PLO’s establishment. 


The recognition of the State of Palestine may very well diminish the legal and political status of the PLO in the United Nations; that is, annulment of the observer status and its replacement by the State of Palestine’s membership in the UN General Assembly, because it is illogical that Palestinians have two representative bodies in the United Nations. 


The recognition of the State of Palestinian will mean recognition of the Palestinian people as a political and legal entity
within the territory of a state
, which includes the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 (the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip). The Palestinian refugees, especially in diasporas, would not be included in this legal and political definition of the Palestinian people, which means that the State of Palestine or the government that would be established in it would not be able to represent Palestinian refugees. 


The Palestinian leadership should recognize these serious risks relating to the legal and political status of the PLO and it relationship with the issue of refugees in forming its strategy for September. It should take necessary
political and legal steps to eliminate the ramifications of these potential issues, and ensure assertion of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948; that is, to the territory of the State of Israel and not to the territory of the future Palestinian state. The right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is both an individual and collective inalienable right according to international law. 


The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) stresses the need for the Palestinian leadership to take clear and firm legal steps to ensure the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes within its legitimate political efforts to achieve independence and obtain international recognition of the State of Palestine.