13/9/2011 – BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Bethlehem - Over the past few weeks and months, Palestinian civil society has attempted to raise a number of questions to the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) regarding the proposed September initiative. Of serious concern is the possibility that the representative of the Palestinian people in the United Nations (UN) will be changed from the PLO, representing the Palestinian people in their entirety, to the State of Palestine, representing only Palestinians residing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Given the detrimental impact such a move would have on the ability of the Palestinian people as a whole to claim their rights, civil society has demanded the issuance of public assurances from the leadership that the PLO will retain its position as the representative of the entire Palestinian people in their seat at the UN. As of yet, no clarity has been forthcoming from the leadership of the PLO on this critical issue.
The status and legitimacy of the PLO is derived from the popular sovereignty it claims as a representative of the entire Palestinian people, including the majority not residing in the OPT. Replacement of the PLO would serve to disenfranchise this majority of Palestinians by removing their unifying representative structure. It is on this point that the legitimacy of the September initiative hinges. The lack of a substantial response from the leadership and their unwillingness to clarify how the PLO will maintain its status as the UN representative has lead to the emergence of skepticism regarding the initiative from across Palestinian society.
In June, the Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) coalition issued a statement raising preliminary questions related to the September initiative. This was followed by a memo to PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from BADIL at the end of June and a statement by the Global Right of Return Coalition, both of which focused on the importance of retaining the PLO as the representative in the UN. On August the 8th, the Boycott National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition of Palestinian civil society, issued a statement which emphasized the crucial role of the PLO as a body representing all Palestinians. A few days later, a number of other Palestinian civil society organizations and networks issued a statement raising similar issues related to representation.
At the end of August, a legal opinion by internationally-renowned legal expert, Guy Goodwin-Gill, was obtained by the news website Ma'an, in which the legal consequences of the September initiative were discussed. Soon after, a public legal discussion ensued in which a number of scholars offered their opinions regarding the danger posed to Palestinian rights by Goodwin-Gill's opinion. Although the opinion created important public debate and popular discussion, the essential questions raised by BADIL, and others, remained unanswered and were reiterated again in an article by Dr Abdel Razzaq Takriti. In early September, Goodwin-Gill issued a second legal opinion highlighting the connection between self-determination, the need for democratic representation for all Palestinians and the necessary popular will for a change of any institutional arrangements related to representation.
In the past two weeks, the mounting calls for transparency from Palestinians have accelerated, with Palestinian groups from around the world adding to the above interventions in expressing concern regarding the initiative. Thus far open letters and statements have also been issued from:
- A number of prominent Palestinian intellectuals and activists
- Palestinian human rights organization Addameer
- The US Palestine Community Network (USPCN)
- Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
- The Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign
- A variety of organizations in Nablus issuing a joint statement, including:
- The Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fateh) - Nablus district
- PLO Department of Refugee Affairs - Popular Service Committees
- Balata Camp, Nablus.
- Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights.
- Yafa Cultural Center, Balata Camp, Nablus.
- Yazour Charitable Society
- Nablus Local committee for the rehabilitation of disabled persons - Balata Camp, Nablus.
In all the statements made by these various organizations and coalitions, representing a significant proportion of the Palestinian people, what has been sought is a reaffirmation of the basic principles of the Palestinian struggle and the retention of all Palestinians under one representative umbrella as a vehicle through which the struggle for Palestinian rights can progress.
The concern among Palestinians around the world at the erosion of our public institutions, ability to represent ourselves as a people and to claim our rights must be addressed by a clear, public reassurance that the PLO will retain the seat representing Palestinians people in the UN. This must be backed up by a transparent explanation of the steps the leadership will be taking to ensure the maintenance of the PLO's position.
In the current political circumstances, priority must be given to avoiding fragmentation of the Palestinian people and work must be done towards the democratization and rebuilding of Palestinian national institutions. Such steps, including direct elections to the Palestinian National Council, are the basis for ensuring representation for all Palestinians and the first step towards guaranteeing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty and return to their homes of origin.