Laying the foundation for Palestinian statehood
By Ruth Tenne
Until now the Palestinian leadership has avoided taking any significant steps to build on the resounding endorsement Palestine received from the UN whose members voted by an overwhelming majority in November 2012 to accord it the status of non-member observer state.
However, following the collapse of the latest round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was prompted by Israel’s reneging on an agreement to release Palestinian prisoners, the PA applied – and was accepted – to join 15 international conventions. These are:
1. The Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol.
2. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
3. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
4. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict.
5. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
6. The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
7. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
8. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
9. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
10. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
11. The United Nations Convention against Corruption.
12. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
13. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
14. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
15. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
According to the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Abed Rabbo, the decision to join the conventions is the first step towards joining all UN agencies.
Undoubtedly, being a state party to UN conventions and treaties would solidify the international stand of the state of Palestine by putting it on the world map. But this has to be preceded by enshrining the democratic principles of the UN conventions in a modern constitution or bill of rights to serve as the basis of a globally recognized modern Palestinian state. This would help Palestine pursue claims against Israel in international courts.
However, the main task in this respect is to bring Hamas under the umbrella of the PLO and make it a party to the signed conventions under an elected unity government. But the PLO will need to re-establish its legitimacy by holding long overdue parliamentary election in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the PLO’s internal regulations, the elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council are automatically members of the Palestine National Council, which in turn elects the PLO’s executive committee. Once elections take place inside the occupied state of Palestine, elections for the remaining delegates would take place in other locations where Palestinians live.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed and ratified by Israel in 1992, and Israel also signed the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1951. Yet, Israel continues to breach with impunity the rights affirmed by both conventions.
The conventions to which the state of Palestine has acceded embody the principles of modern democratic states as enshrined by international law and the UN Charter.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights could be seen as most pertinent to laying the ground for Palestinian statehood. Article 1 of the convention states clearly that “all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Clause 3 of that article refers to the right of non-self-governed territories by stating that “the States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the Unite Nations”.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed and ratified by Israel in 1992, and Israel also signed the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1951. Yet, Israel continues to breach with impunity the rights affirmed by both conventions. In view of the inaction of world leaders, it is incumbent on Palestinian leaders to prosecute Israel in the International Criminal Court. Pressure on President Abbas to take this crucial step is mounting both inside and outside Palestine (see my article, “The way ahead: taking Israel to the ICC”). Such a step requires Abbas to sign and ratify the Rome Statute on which the ICC is based, thereby enabling Palestine to access the ICC and prosecute Israel for war crimes.
However, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, which may prevent any legal investigation of crimes committed by it (see the part on Territorial Jurisdiction here). Furthermore, ratifying the Rome Statute and making it legally binding requires the assent of the Palestinian legislature in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Otherwise, Abbas’s signature of the Rome Statute may not have binding legal power.
Despite this, the signing of international treaties and conventions by President Abbas is likely to enhance the recognition of the Palestinian state as an observer and enforcer of human rights and lead to greater transparency and accountability of governance. Signing those treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, would be a significant step towards becoming a sovereign state that pursues independence through its own actions rather than being entirely dependent on actions by civil society groups.
Civil society groups such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement have their place. However, without reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas under the PLO umbrella, and without seeking justice through international courts, a sovereign Palestinian state free of Israel’s occupation would remain a remote prospect.
This article was written just before the announcement of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza on 23 April. This, I believe, is a monumental historic event which will advance the long-held Palestinian yearning for self-determination and increase the prospect of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state becoming a reality.