Refugee scholar in new legal opinion on UN bid

Maan News Agency | Sept 7, 2011

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The release of alegal opinion by one of the world’s top authorities on international refugee law has highlighted possible legal dangers in the September initiative at the United Nations.

Guy Goodwin-Gill’s opinion sparked a public debate amongst Palestinians at home and in the Diaspora, amid concerns the initiative could infringe upon the basic rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and return.

Now Goodwin-Gill, of Oxford University, has clarified and developed his recommendations in a new finding on solutions to the challenges facing Palestinian representation issues at the UN.

The document highlights the principles that he believes need to be taken into account to protect the rights of the Palestinian people at the UN, and highlights the relationship between self-determination and the democratic imperative, connecting the will of the people with elections for all Palestinians.

Excerpts from the new legal opinion, which can be viewed in full here:

Having long since recognized the right to self-determination of all Palestinians, the international community evidently has a legal and political interest in who effectively represents them in the UN. This does not mean that it has a right to impose any particular system of government or representation on the State of Palestine as it moves towards UN membership. Rather, it has a valid interest in looking for evidence of connection between representation and an exercise of the popular will. …

For the people of Palestine, these issues come together in a telling way, for those displaced since 1948 and their descendants constitute more than half of the people of Palestine. The General Assembly has repeatedly stressed that, ‘the Palestinian people is the principal party to the question of Palestine…’; and on no occasion has it drawn any distinctions on the basis of place of residence. It is thus the people of Palestine, as a whole, who possess the right to return and the right to self-determination. …

The move to enhance the Palestinian presence in the United Nations through ‘statehood’ nevertheless carries the risk of fragmentation — where the State represents the people within the UN and the PLO represents the people outside the UN. Such a division of representation would run counter to the status quo and to the original intent of the international community in recognizing the PLO. The challenge is to maintain unity in these unique circumstances. Would that be achieved by having the PLO as the representative of the State in the UN? It might well do, if the appropriate form of words could be found. The bottom line, however, remains the will of the people, and any substantive change in the present institutional arrangements for representation calls for approval through an expression of the popular will …

The goal of elections and democratic reform has long been on the PLO agenda. Is this not the time — the very best of times — to take that almost unprecedented step for a people on the threshold of UN membership, namely, to seek and to heed the will of the people?


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