The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), a coalition of 12 Palestinian human rights organizations operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, believes in the importance of settling international conflicts peacefully and believes that negotiations are a legitimate means to achieve this end, provided that they adhere to international legal standards. These standards include:
- Guaranteeing that international law, as prescribed by the United Nations (UN) Charter, UN resolutions, customary international humanitarian and human rights law, and decisions and opinions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is a guiding reference for the rights and obligations of the negotiating parties;
- Ensuring that the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and all other inalienable rights, including their right to establish an independent state on their land, as recognized in UN resolutions, are the basis of the negotiations process;
- Reaffirming the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes and property as an essential and fundamental step to realizing the Palestinian right to self-determination;
- Affirming the right of Palestinians to permanent sovereignty over their resources and wealth, as they constitute the basic elements of their legitimate right to economic self-determination;
- Resorting to the rules and provisions of customary international law and international humanitarian law (IHL) as the basis for maintaining the rights of the Palestinian people;
- Affirming the right of the Palestinian people to hold the Occupying Power accountable for all acts and practices that violate international law, and respecting the right of the Palestinian people to pursue criminal and civil accountability for all damage caused to them by the Occupying Power, their territory and their wealth, and all harm caused by the Occupying Power’s decision to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority without a legitimate or legal basis;
- Confirming the right of Palestinians to retrieve the cultural and historical monuments and resources that have been stolen or confiscated by the Occupying Power;
- Refusing to recognize and formalize any benefits, revenues or privileges gained by the Occupying Power in violation of international law.
Since the early stages of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations during the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, and the signing of the Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles and the Oslo Accords in 1993, Palestinian human rights organizations have cautioned the relevant parties of the dangers involved in ignoring principles of international law and human rights standards in the negotiations process. Palestinian human rights organizations have also continuously brought to the attention of the international community the risk involved in failing to legally characterize Israel as an Occupying Power that must administer the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) within the rules and provisions of IHL.
The absence of international law as a basis in Palestinian-Israeli agreements, and the complete disregard for the international dimension of the Palestinian cause, evidenced by the decision to limit the peace process to bilateral negotiations, have led to continued and increasing violations of Palestinian rights. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has increased from approximately 120,000 to about 500,000. The Palestinian people have effectively lost Jerusalem, which has become completely isolated from its Palestinian surroundings. In addition, the Gaza Strip has been completely cut off from the West Bank and both the Ibrahimi Mosque and Hebron itself have been divided. At least 12% of the total area of the West Bank has been seized for the purpose of the construction of the annexation wall. Moreover, the Palestinian people have lost the water resource provided by the western aquifer. The Occupying Power also takes a share of the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues without fulfilling its obligations towards the protected Palestinian population. The West Bank has been fragmented into three zones that are separated and isolated by military checkpoints and settlement bypass roads.
It has become evident to the Palestinian leadership that negotiations are useless as long as the Occupying Power continues to violate human rights and perpetuate its policies aimed at creating a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, expanding settlements and denying the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Consequently, the Palestinian leadership adopted a policy of refraining from participating in peace negotiations as long as Israel continues to expand settlements and Palestinian prisoners continue to be detained in Israeli jails.
While it stresses its commitment and adherence to peaceful means to resolve and settle international conflicts, PHROC is surprised by the Palestinian leadership’s decision to return to bilateral negotiations without actual and explicit guarantees to halt settlement activities, and no clear guarantee with regards to the Occupying Power’s obligation to dismantle existing settlements. Furthermore, there is no emphasis in the current peace effort on the importance of ensuring that Israel respects and adheres to international law and human rights standards as a reference and basis for negotiations. PHROC calls upon the Palestinian leadership to learn from the failures of previous negotiation processes with Israel and to avoid repetition of mistakes that have facilitated the current situation in the OPT. Accordingly, PHROC believes that the Palestinian leadership must respect and adhere to the following principles:
- Israel must not be allowed to utilize the fact that negotiations have re-commenced as a fig leaf for its continued violations of international law. To this end, Israel must not be allowed to use the negotiations to create new facts on the ground through settlement expansion, which constitutes a war crime under international law;
- The Palestinian leadership should insist on the dismantlement of all settlements and must refuse land swaps, because the existence of settlements undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood. Additionally, the acceptance of land swaps and the potential acceptance of the continuing existence of settlements will undermine basic principles of international law and impair past successes achieved by Palestinian and international civil society organizations at this level;
- The legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership must be re-established, since most of the leading institutions of the State of Palestine and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have exceeded their legal terms and are no longer elected representatives of the Palestinian people, and thus their representative legitimacy is questionable and must be renewed. This should be achieved through a democratic electoral process that focuses on the renewal of the PLO’s representation, in which all of the Palestinian people participate, including those living in refugee camps and the Diaspora. It will be necessary to identify creative solutions to overcome any obstacles in this regard;
- The Palestinian reconciliation process must be re-initiated in order to achieve unity. PHROC believes in the need for open dialogue that is held on Palestinian land, thereby allowing Palestinians to hold the party that is found responsible for obstructing reconciliation accountable;
- Any agreement reached in this negotiation process must be put to public referendum in order to ensure that all Palestinians are involved in the decision-making process that will affect their right to self-determination and their other inalienable rights;
- PHROC rejects the suspension of the process of accession to international conventions, institutions and agencies. These entities constitute an internationally legitimate source of power for Palestinians in their legal battle with the Israeli occupation. The refusal or postponement of the process of accession to international conventions and treaties deprives Palestinians of tools that allow them to reinforce their position against Israeli practices and violations of international law. Linking the “absolute” Palestinian right to accede to international organizations, agencies and instruments with the process of political bargaining is a dangerous precedent that should be avoided.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC)