The right of all peoples to self-determination remains one of the most contested debates of our time. When discussing the right of self-determination, the concept raises a multitude of questions, amongst them what the ‘right’ gives right to, who is obliged to grant those rights and to whom, and how to prove when these rights are being violated. The right to self-determination touches upon an array of different topics that in themselves raise a Pandora’s box of new issues, mainly state sovereignty, non-intervention and statehood, but also human rights, minority rights, democracy, representation, governance, nationalism, and crucially, the status of these notions in international law.
The ‘Performance-based Road Map to a permanent two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, falls short in drawing attention to the issue of self-determination in international law. Throughout the Israeli-Palestinian proposition not once was the principle of ‘self-determination’ mentioned in the ‘Road Map’. Therefore, it is only right to give justice to this fundamental principle through a historic commentary of ‘self-determination’. The argument to how important self-determination in international law and its relevance in the Israeli-Palestinian question made, will become clear why the ‘Road Map’ (in the light of the international law of self-determination) is a complete setback and diplomatic catastrophe.
How self-determination fits into international law is still contested, although the general consensus of courts and covenants is that self-determination does have legal standing as an international legal right. The right has evolved from a norm into customary law by consensus of the international community, and is considered to be opinion juris. The obligation on states to respect self-determination is erga omnes, a legal obligation that arises in favour of all members of the international community.
Self-determination was seen as a democratic principle which called for the consent of the governed in all states. It was invoked as the right of people to choose their political, economic, social and cultural futures. As a principle, it particularly endangered the concept of territorial integrity by bringing down empires and colonies through decolonisation and independence movements, and had leaders fearing for the decay of respect for borders, national allegiance and political stability.
As ‘self-determination’ entered the language of law in 1945, the right of self-determination was introduced in 1960 for the first time. The UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) on the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Territories and Peoples of December 14 1960 proclaims that ‘All people have the right to self-determination….’ Hence, a customary international right of self-determination had emerged, in the height of colonization and the fear of states from protecting their territorial integrity. Through the practice of decolonisation that was brought about both political necessity and historical circumstance, self-determination became increasingly seen as a legal right. The core disputes over the future of territory and people were sought to be resolved through the legal procedures and thus self-determination entered the language of international law.
The international body passed several resolutions securing the Palestinian people their right to return to their homeland and to determine themselves. Yet the vision the ‘Road Map’ foresees is obscure and blemish, packed with romanticized solutions of ‘Palestinian institution building’ and strenuous inconsistency calling for the Palestinian leadership to issue a statement ‘reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security’. Alarming to say the least the key issue(s) have been overlooked as a result of the Quartet’s short-sightedness, the ‘Road Map’ gives nothing to the Palestinian people and albeit prolongs the ever-debated Palestinian question. It would not be possible for the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination unless Israel withdrew from the Palestinian territories it occupied by force and in violation of the UN Charter, and it allowed those expelled in 1948 or displaced in 1967 to return to their homes and properties. Israel’s settlement policy in Arab land it occupied in 1967 constitutes a clear violation of the rules and laws of military occupation pertaining to The Hague Agreement of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, including their two appendices.
Article 2/17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that ‘no one can be forcibly stripped of one’s property’. This, however, has not been respected in the case of the Palestinian people, who are still subject to expulsion, house demolition and expropriation of their property for the establishment of Jewish settlements, especially within the context of Israel’s policy of creeping annexation of the occupied territories. Hence, Israel’s settlement policy all but surely violates human-right principles and infringes on the right of the Palestinian people to achieve self-determination – a right which has been guaranteed for them by international law, the UN Charter and various other international agreements.
In UN Resolution 3089 of December 7, 1973, which asserts equality of rights, the international body expressed its concern over the preventing by Israel of the Palestinian people from exercising its inalienable rights on its own land. More so, in Resolution 3236 of November 22, 1974, it recognized the ‘inalienable rights’ of the Palestinian people, including that of return and self-determination and the right to independence.
With greater reason, Israel’s settlement policy in occupied Palestinian land is a clear violation of the rules of conventional international law. It also constitutes an aggression on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and stands in contradiction to Israel’s commitment to the necessity of respecting and promoting this right among the people in the occupied territories. Such a policy can only be viewed as discriminatory.
The ‘Road Map’ continues to illustrate its unequivocal inconsistency as it briefly touches on the issue of Israeli settlement activity in Occupied Palestinian territories, and focusing all the more so on perquisites of the Quartet’s participation. What is important enough to mention, yet not an agenda on the ‘Road Map’ is the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian lands is tantamount to their de facto annexation to Israel because it hinders the achievement of self-determination by the Palestinian people. Article 1 common to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reaffirms the right of all peoples to self-determination, and lays upon the states’ parties the obligation to promote the realization of that right and to respect it, in conformity with the provisions of the United Nations Charter. Paragraph 122 goes on to say, ‘There is also a risk of further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Territory resulting from the construction of the wall inasmuch as it is contributing to the departure of Palestinian populations from certain areas. That construction, along with measures taken previously, severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination, and is therefore a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right’.
This is due to the fact that settlements change the demographic character of the occupied territories, especially when the original inhabitants of the land are expelled to be supplanted by foreigners. The Palestinians will be turned into a minority – strangers in their own land, as was the case in 1948 and as is happening in East Jerusalem today. Israel aims at giving Jewish settlers demographic superiority which will enable them to participate, alongside the Palestinians, in negotiations regarding the future of the occupied territories. These settlements will, therefore, constitute an encroachment on the Palestinian’s right to exercise self-determination. Israeli leaders leave no doubt as to the real intent of their settlement policy which is to create irreversible facts, making unlikely the achievement of self-determination by the Palestinians. Israel does not think anymore in terms of peace for land but rather wants both the land and the peace.
Self-determination is obviously a dilemma, especially now that individualism and human rights contest the original statist view of international law. The issue is not only whether people qualify for self-determination, but whether they have the political or military might to implement their wish.
As the character of international law changes over time and in history, these changes accommodate for new norms and practices. As such, self-determination is not only compatible with criteria of statehood in international law as we know it, it is necessary for the modern system of states to co-exist in peace.
Recalling Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (12 March 2002), it established “a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.” The Resolution affirms the general principle of two states. Nowhere in the international ‘Road Map’ did it bring attention to the principle of self-determination, and the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. It can be argued that there may have been implicit discussion surrounding this topic but the ‘Road Map’ simply justifies the pro-longing process in solving the Palestinian question.
The 20th of September 2011 will witness one of the most anticipated days in the Middle East peace process and a huge step towards Palestinian sovereignty, a vote for Palestinian statehood will appear before the UN General Assembly. Approval requires a two-thirds majority – or 128 votes. Currently 116 countries are said to recognise Palestine but the Palestinians hope they would gain the support of up to 150. Undoubtedly so, the US is the main obstacle to a General Assembly vote because it has veto power as a permanent Security Council member. In February, the US vetoed a resolution, which was co-sponsored by 130 countries, condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as an obstacle to peace. President Obama has continued to uphold the unconditional support and financial aid the US contributes to Israel, a move which came after much deliberation, over the remarks made on returning to the 1967 borders in Palestine in his Middle East Policy speech.
‘Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.’
What is not different from 1948, 1950 and 1967 is the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, their right to self-determination and a sovereign and independent state governed by them for the Palestinian people.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
Latest posts by CME (see all)
- “Terrorist, plain and simple”? The misleading strategy behind the “terrorist” tag. – October 6, 2015
- Letter Smuggled out of Egyptian Prisons: Esraa El Taweel Speak – July 14, 2015
- We must not forget Abu-Salim – July 7, 2015