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Will UN recognition hurt Palestinian rights?

Santiago Dotor

The Palestinian team responsible for preparing the initiative for United Nations recognition in September has been given an independent legal opinion that warns of risks to Palestinian rights in the proposal. The initiative to transfer the Palestinians' representation from the PLO to a state would terminate the legal status held by the PLO in the UN since 1975 as sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the document states—meaning there would no longer be an institution that can represent the rights of the Palestinian people in the UN and related international institutions.

The seven-page opinion, obtained by Ma'an News Agency, was submitted to the Palestinian team by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University and a member of the team that won the 2004 non-binding judgement by the International Court of Justice that the route of Israel's wall was illegal.

The Palestinian team, headed by Saeb Erekat, has been preparing an initiative to replace the PLO at the UN, substituting it with the State of Palestine as representative of the Palestinian people. However, an actual state cannot be immediately created, as Israel's occupation continues. So the Palestinian team is weighing whether full membership should be requested from the Security Council, or if the General Assembly should be asked to grant recognition of a state as an "observer." The brief is intended to "flag the matters requiring attention" so that Palestinians are not "accidentally disenfranchised." The paper warns that substituting the PLO with a State of Palestine raises "the question of the 'capacity' of the State of Palestine effectively to take on the role and responsibilities of the PLO in the UN." The Palestinian Authority, which was established by the PLO as a temporary administrative entity, "has limited legislative and executive competence, limited territorial jurisdiction, and limited personal jurisdiction over Palestinians not present in the areas for which it has been accorded responsibility," the brief states. It adds that the PA "is a subsidiary body, competent only to exercise those powers conferred on it by the Palestinian National Council. By definition, it does not have the capacity to assume greater powers."

Particularly crucial are the potential implications for Palestinian refugees and others in the diaspora: "They constitute more than half of the people of Palestine, and if they are 'disenfranchised' and lose their representation in the UN, it will not only prejudice their entitlement to equal representation...but also their ability to vocalise their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the State, and to exercise the right of return."

"Without question, no Palestinian will accept losing such core rights for such a limited diplomatic initiative in September," Karma Nabulsi, a former PLO representative and now a professor at Oxford University, told Ma'an News. "First, we will not have liberated territory upon which to establish a State. But in losing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative at the UN, our people immediately lose our claims as refugees to be part of our official representation, recognized by the world." (Ma'an News Agency, Aug. 24)

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