Palestinian UN Bid and Refugee Rights: Questions and Scenarios

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 10:42 Mikaela Levin for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

Politically it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a Palestinian who is against the idea of having an independent and recognized state. Nevertheless, the picture becomes more complex when concrete and legal considerations are discussed.


Palestinian refugees in 1948. Will the current UN bid exclude them and deny their right of return? 


“The real question here is why one announces the creation of a Palestinian state when most of its people are refugees that depend on foreign aid of UN agencies like UNRWA or of the European Union; when there are daily problems with the checkpoints, the settlements and their ongoing growth. Today there are 600,000 settlers living in the West Bank settlements and the number continues to growing“, noted Amjad Mitri, a legal and advocacy adviser of the Bethlehem-based Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.


The Alternative Information Center (AIC) spoke with Mitri about the Palestinian UN initiative and its possible impact on Palestinian refugees and their internationally recognized right to return.

Creating a state under a foreign military occupation is unsustainable?

“Not necessarily. There are independent states that were occupied by foreign powers. There could still be an independent entity while being occupied. These are two things that, eventually, could go hand in hand. But the question is what would be the benefit of declaring such a state. If we look at the daily life of the Palestinians, so far we can’t see any changes for them. When we look at the advantages and the disadvantages this move can have, on the side of disadvantages we could list a lot of fears, while on the side of advantages we really cannot find any.”

As many Palestinians, Mitri would have wanted more internal debate before going to the UN. Numerous issues are misunderstood and the Palestinian Authority (PA) misinforms about others. The most unfortunate misunderstanding, according to him, is the belief that the state of Palestine would be able to petition the International Criminal Court or similar UN organs if the majority of the General Assembly recognizes it. “In a strict legal level, this is not true”, he warned.

“Palestine could be recognized as a state within the UN, but could be denied entrance to the International Criminal Court because that tribunal could decide that Palestine is not really a state. To give an example, some years ago Palestine tried to become a member of the World Trade Organization and was denied membership because it lacks effective control over its territory…Today, even after recognition, the state of Palestine wouldn’t have effective control over its territory”, concluded the Palestinian lawyer.

With this argument in mind, he assured that if Palestine is recognized as a permanent observer in the UN General Assembly –“the most realist scenario today”-, this new Palestinian state will have, effectively, almost the same rights and obligation as the Palestine Liberation Organization today. “If we compare the Vatican (the only permanent observer state in the General Assembly today) with the PLO, they have basically the same rights”, he highlighted.

But even if there would be nothing to gain from the current UN bid, there could be something to lose. Mitri’s and Badil’s greatest fear is that the new Palestinian state will not have, as the PLO has, an internationally recognized mandate to represent all the Palestinian people, including the refugees scattered throughout the world and their right to return, as established in 1948 by UN Resolution 194.

“Legally speaking, the future Palestinian state could try to claim the right to return of the Palestinian refugees, but the question would be one of returning to which area. When we talk about the refugees from 1948 or from 1948 to 1967 within the area that is today the state of Israel, could the future Palestinian state claim the right to return to a foreign entity or would it be limited to claiming the right to return to its own entity, meaning a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders, in the best case scenario? If the second was the case, then a large majority of the Palestinian refugees would be excluded, since there were displaced from their homes in what today is Israel”, the legal advisor warned.

As Mitri pointed out repeatedly throughout the interview, nothing is certain at this point. “There’s no historical and legal precedent for this”, he explained. There are best case scenarios, worst case scenarios, realist scenarios and improbable scenarios, but in none of them, according to Badil’s research, there is a real victory for the Palestinians.”



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