Remembering Palestine in 2017
Nothing was new in the New Year 2017 for the besieged habitat of Palestine, which continues to run the gamut of habitat rights issues characterizing land conflicts. In 2017, Palestine freshly reminds us of the full range of possible violations of the most-fundamental human rights and peremptory norms of international law and world order. The further development of global norms, standards and policies has not rectified this pattern.
For decades, and throughout the serial Habitat Agendas, the world community has entrusted the UN with “permanent responsibility” for the Palestinian people until resolution of the conflict. Meanwhile, UN bodies and the international community of states bear common-but-differentiated duties to promote and uphold public international law. That includes strict adherence to human rights and humanitarian law to curb Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people, whether in occupied Palestinian territories or inside the Green Line. That obligation is consistent with the international community’s repeated call to Israel to cease the practice of discrimination and, as the occupying Power, not to exploit, to cause loss or depletion of, or to endanger the natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.
The past year 2016 also posed numerous challenges, choices and opportunities in addressing the Question of Palestine in international law and diplomacy. The principal human rights commemoration in the 2016 calendar was the 50th anniversary of the two International Human Rights Covenants (1966). 2016 also marked a quarter century of Israel’s performance under those foundational treaties.
In 2016, these marked 115 years since the 1901 founding of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Throughout that interim, the JNF has maintained a cross-border operation of organized population transfer and colonization not only throughout historic Palestine, but also from tax-exempt bases in some 50 other sovereign states.
Both reflecting back and looking forward in 2017, we commemorate historic anniversaries in the Palestinian calendar.
Perhaps the most-obvious one is the centennial of the Balfour Declaration (1917), which saw a British Foreign Secretary promising a settler movement to give them a country that his government had no right to offer. That decisive link in a chain of events is being variously commemorated, in part through the vocal Palestinian demand for an apology from Britain for its ultra vires action that enabled the loss of their country and stripped them of their individual and collective human rights.
However, precedent to that and just as relevant is this 170th anniversary of the Congress of Lima (1847), which enshrined in a treaty the time-honored and sacrosanct international law principle of uti possidetis, prohibiting the partition and recolonization of the territory of a people entitled to self-determination. The ultra vires Balfour Declaration followed 70 years hence, and its expression in the UN General Assembly recommendation to partition Palestine (A/RES/II/181, 29 November 1947) ironically fell on the centenary of that codified 1847 prohibition in Pan-American law.
Beyond such norms and their flouting contradictions, remembering Palestine in 2017 evokes at least the following commemorations for historians, analysts and campaigners to count down and consider throughout the 2017 calendar:
- 170 years since enshrinement of the principle of nonrecognition and the prohibition against “partition” and “recolonization” by military or other means any territory whose people subject to self-determination process and independence, Treaty of Confederation, Congress of Lima (1847);
- 120 years since the First Zionist Congress and the founding of the World Zionist Organization (Basle, 1897);
- 100 years since the British government`s “Balfour Declaration” (1917);
- 85 years since the League of Nations adopted the Stimson Doctrine, recognizing occupation, colonization and population transfer as violations of international law (1932);
- 75 years since the first explicit codification of population transfer as an international crime (January and October 1942);
- 70 years since the UN General Assembly’s partition resolution 181, and Zionist forces’ implementation of their village massacres and terror campaign in Palestine (November 1947);
- 65 years since UN General Assembly resolutions 615 and 616 determining apartheid to be a threat to international and regional peace and security; and since Israel’s “Law of Citizenship,” “World Zionist Organisation/Jewish Agency (Status) Law” and “Covenant between the Government of Israel and the Zionist Executive” (1952), formalizing institutionalized material discrimination against indigenous Palestinians, in favor of persons with “Jewish nationality” (i.e., persons of presumed Jewish faith), which favor is applied also to eligible citizens of other states;
- 55 years since the UN Security Council determined Israel’s 16–17 March 1962 attack on Syria constituted a “flagrant violation,” and reaffirmed its resolution 111 (19 January 1956), condemning Israel’s military action in breach of the General Armistice Agreement;
- 50 years since the June 1967 War and 50 years of Israel’s ensuing occupation in Palestine`s West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and since the UN Security Council called on Israel to observe international humanitarian principles in its treatment of the inhabitants and to facilitate refugees’ return;
- 45 years since the Security Council demanded Israel stop attacking Lebanon, condemned its continuation and deplored Israel’s refusal to release persons it had abducted in that neighboring country;
- 40 years since High Contracting Parties adopted the 4th Geneva Convention’s Protocols, and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s false claim before the UN General Assembly that colonization of occupied territory and its elements (his term: “settlements”) are “legal”;
- 35 years since the UN General Assembly specified trade, military and/or diplomatic sanctions [AR] as obligatory countermeasures to Israeli colonization (“settlements”); also since Israel’s war on Lebanon and UN Security Council calling [AR] on Israel to stop attacks against Lebanon and withdraw its troops, “condemning” [AR] Israel`s attack into West Beirut; and the 35th anniversary of Israel’s organization and supervision of the Sabra-Shatila massacre (16–18 September 1982);
- 30 years since the 1st Palestinian intifada started (December 1987), and Israel’s introduction of “administrative house demolitions” and “Jerusalem residency revocation” policies (1987);
- 25 years since the Oslo negotiations and Israel’s “mass deportations” of West Bank Palestinians began (December 1992), and since the UN Sub-Commission’s study on “The Human Rights Dimensions of Population Transfer” [إبعاد حقوق الانسان اللتي تنطوي عليها نقل السكان، بما في ذالك التوطين والمستوطنين] (1992–93);
- 20 years since the Hebron Protocol [بروتوكول الخليل(إعادة الانتشار) ] (January 1997);
- 15 years since the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court entered into force (July 2002), and since Israel’s attack on al-Darraj neighborhood, Gaza City (22 July 2002);
- 10 years since the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) cited breaches of Israel’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to “prevent, prohibit, combat and eradicate all practices of apartheid in territories under its jurisdiction” (Article 3);
- 5 years since the UN General Assembly recognized the observer status of the State of Palestine (December 2012), and the second time that CERD again found Israel in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.
One of the recommendations from civil society participants to a September 2015 international meeting organized by UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the UN Division for Palestinian Rights has been to support a diplomatic and civil society campaign to commemorate 2017 as “Year of the Palestinian People,” recalling and reviewing relevant historic dates. A corresponding objective for 2017 rising from that meeting also echoed the repeated recommendation of the Russel Tribunal and others to reconstitute the Centre against Apartheid as a specific function of the General Assembly (on this 55th anniversary of that Centre’s original establishment).
This past serves also as a prologue to this month’s report from ESCWA on Israeli Practices toward the Palestinian people and the question of apartheid. The conclusion presents itself through the long pattern of facts, culminating in 2017.