PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Legal opinion muddies U.N. statehood bid

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As the Palestinian Authority is getting ready to ask the United Nations to accept the West Bank and Gaza Strip within the 1967 borders as a member state, a legal opinion by an Oxford University international-law professor has provoked second thoughts about the move among many Palestinians.

In the opinion, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a member of the legal team that argued in the International Court of Justice against Israel’s construction of a wall in the West Bank, warned that a state in the West Bank and Gaza would not be able to represent Palestinians everywhere, nor would it have the legal status the Palestine Liberation Organization has achieved at the U.N. since it was accepted as an observer in 1974.

‘Until such a time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined and many of them continuing to live under occupation or in states of refuge,’ he wrote.

This state, he said, ‘will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood, with serious implications for Palestinians at large, particularly as concerns the popular representation of those not currently present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.’


In conclusion, he wrote: ‘The interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large.’

Responding to this opinion, University of Illinois professor of international law Francis A. Boyle, who describes himself as a legal advisor to the PLO and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Goodwin-Gill’s argument is ‘based upon most erroneous assumptions,’ describing it as a ‘doomsday scenario.’

He said the Executive Committee of the PLO was set up as the provisional government for the proposed state, which means that it would continue to represent the interests of all Palestinians around the world if the proposed state becomes a U.N. member.

‘Hence all your rights will be preserved: for all Palestinians and for the PLO. No one will be disenfranchised. The PLO will not lose its status,’ he wrote. ‘All of your rights have been protected and will be protected by Palestine becoming a member state of the United Nations, including the right of return.’

The Palestinian Authority, determined to proceed with its U.N. plan, has tried to ease concerns raised by Goodwin-Gill’s opinion.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said state recognition would not affect the status of the PLO or the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his spokesman, is to address the Palestinian people in the coming days on the implications of going to the U.N. -- and also apparently to ease their fears as more are questioning the wisdom of this move.


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-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank