Palestine Question: Missed Approach, Missed Peace

photo for one of the UNHRC session.  (© www.cuba support .com) photo for one of the UNHRC session. (© www.cuba support .com)

Different UN agencies have now adopted a human rights-based approach to their development cooperation, known as “The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies”, and the resulting experience, literature and debate prompted by this move has served to greatly enrich the concept both in theory and practice. Nonetheless, there is still no single agreed rights-based approach dealing with all aspects of peoples, groups and individual concerns; there is no workable approach which caters for different situations and issues worldwide. There is, however, a general consensus as to the basic constituent elements of such an approach, which in turn would enable concerned actors to design unique rights based systems and processes which fit particular situations, issues or causes. This commentary does not aim to explore the term, but instead seeks to present in general terms BADIL’s human rights based approach which in turn aims to uproot the conflict between Israel and Palestinian and to lay the foundations for a sustainable, just peace.

Human rights, humanitarian assistance approach and Just Peace:

A human rights-based approach (HRBA) encompasses the norms, principles, standards and goals of the international human rights and best practices of states, with its organs and processes seeking to ensure human dignity and justice. It is characterized by mechanisms, methods, tools and activities which are designed to complement the notion of humanity’s struggle for freedom, equality, justice and development for all. Irrespective of the debate regarding the level of overlap between human rights, peacemaking and peace building, it is agreed that both peace and human rights deal with very similar issues. By its narrow or strict definition (stability, safety, and security), peace cannot be recognized when fundamental human rights and freedoms are violated. The interwoven concepts of human rights, human development and democracy are afforded much greater respect during peacetime, and would be put into practice when peacemaking and peace building measures were undertaken.

No one denies the necessity of - and the need for - peace in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. However, the prolonged conflict between Arab states and Palestinians on one hand, and Israel and its powerful colonial allies on the other, indicates that there exists fundamental disagreement on what should be the components of this desired peace, regardless of other disagreements such as how these should be put into practice. It seems that both this “fundemental disagreement” and the ever spiraling deterioration of the situation have been inter alia the main reasons behind the adoption of an humanitarian assistance approach in dealing with the plight of Palestinians. Although humanitarian assistance is required for alleviating the human cost and suffering, in particular in emergency situations, it cannot resolve the root causes of the conflict. Hence, it is true to conclude that the humanitarian approach is not, in itself, an appropriate response. Instead, a broader human rights focused approach is preferable, and will address humanitarian issues by default.

Root Causes, Obligations and Political Will

It is important to note that the failure to adopt and/or implement HRBA in the course of seeking a durable solution for the Palestinian – Israeli conflict is not, and should not, be attributed to the complexity of the conflict and relevant issues, or to an unidentified will. The ongoing conflict stems from two major interdependent factors: first, the failure of duty bearers to meet their respective obligations, and second, and the political interests of states taking precedence over human rights during the discourse of proposed solutions. As a result, root causes of the prolonged conflict have been neglected and the many proposed solutions have been designed to deal with the balance of power in the region, not with the injustices and inequalities inflicted upon the local populace. Consequently, many of the suggested solutions were rejected by states or were not accepted/supported by people or rights’ holders, and therefore could not be put into practice by governments. This has served not only to perpetuate the conflict, but also to increase the complexity of the relevant core issues.

Palestine Question and Proposed Solutions

Official efforts - in particular those taken by UN bodies and agencies - to find a solution to the Palestine question have been politically driven and have placed greater emphasis on the national interests of states, the balance of power between them and the give-and-take of an open-ended bargaining process. There is no doubt that durable solutions to the conflict will be the result of a political negotiation process, but this does not constitute an excuse to avoid addressing the root causes (colonialism, institutionalized discrimination and occupation) and/or to sideline the fundamental rights and freedoms (rights to self determination, return and independence and development) of the Palestinian people; the manifestly weak party in terms of balance of power.

Ultimately, the right of return of forcibly displaced Palestinians is central to sustainable peace because it is a matter of direct, material and ethical concern to millions of Palestinians and other Arab people who need to see that the root causes of the protracted conflict, i.e. Zionist Israel’s racist policies and practices of colonialism and ethnic cleansing which began the Palestinian Nakba, will no longer be tolerated but instead be removed and corrected in the context of peacemaking. The lead role of Palestinian refugees in the establishment of the PLO in 1964 with the objective to achieve return, freedom and self-determination is an indicator of the human and political importance of this matter. This also explains why Palestinian refugees will not agree to rescind these fundamental individual and collective rights in exchange for some form of limited Palestinian sovereignty in all of, or parts of, the OPT. Irrespective of the political contours of any future solution, whether one state or two, Palestinians overwhelmingly view return, restitution and compensation of the refugees and IDPs as the litmus test of whether a solution is just and hence acceptable.[1]

There is no acceptable (ethical or legal) justification to the non-participation of rights holders in the peace process. Although mechanisms for the implementation of rights would necessarily be subject to negotiation, rights by themselves are not. Accordingly, negotiations undertaken by parties (including international organizations and concerned states) should aim to establish, safeguard and implement the rights of all parties to the conflict, most especially civilian victims of the conflict. Priority should be given to the rights and participation of the victims of violations of human rights and humanitarian law, such as the right to remedy and reparation in the case of more than seven million Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons.

Rights Based Approach for Palestine Question:

The HRBA can lead to a sustainable and just peace for Palestine, and should be based upon international law and the key principles of justice and equity for all. Therefore it necessarily should include:

1- Recognition of rights, in particular the Palestinian people’s right to self determination, the right of refugees and IDPs to reparation (voluntary return, property restitution and/or compensations), the right of development (to freely dispose and enjoy of the natural wealth and resources and cultural heritage) and the right to peace.

2- Addressing the root causes of the conflict; namely colonialism, institutionalized discrimination and occupation. These are the driving factors underpinning a range of human rights violations, such as the denial of displaced people’s right to return, illegal land confiscation, settler implantation and settlements/colonies expansion, homes demolitions, ongoing forcible displacement, restrictions on freedoms of movement etc.

3- Ensuring rights for all parties and victims without discrimination and without causing injustice or mass displacement/elimination of the other during the course of enabling rights holders to exercise their legitimate and legal rights.

4- Setting the foundations of peaceful and cooperative relations between people, groups, individuals and states. This will be an intrinsic component of a just peace and is essential for reconciliation, which in turn will be achieved through implementing transitional justice (both judicial and nonjudicial) mechanisms and tools, including criminal prosecution, reparations, institutional reform, and truth commissions.


It is possible that powerful states would be able to enforce a solution, which could be described as pragmatic, realistic and possible, but such a solution would not be just and sustainable if it was not built upon a platform of respect and protection for universal human rights. Balance of power, or a politically driven approach may result in a “peaceful agreement” for a specific set of conditions or a particular moment, but such a peace would be only temporary. Groups and individuals will always seek their rights to ensure that their humanity and dignity is recognized and protected. Therefore, HRBA is the only viable framework in which to construct a long-hoped for durable solution for this protracted conflict.




[1]Source: Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2008-2009, BADIL.