CEIRPP meeting – PLO replies to Committee members’ questions/ ICJ – Summary record




Replies by the Acting Permanent Observer of the Palestine

Liberation Organization to questions put by members of

the Committee — given at the 8th meeting of the Committee

on 17 March 1976*

I am profoundly grateful to the Committee — to you, Sir, its Chairman, and to all its members — for the careful consideration given to my initial statement, and for the opportunity afforded me to take the floor again in order to amplify it.  My purpose today is primarily to clarify certain points made in my original statement by responding to questions raised by some members, and particularly by the representative of India.

The Committee will recall the framework within which the suggestions contained in my original statement were made and circumscribed, and the premises on which that statement was predicated.  Permit me, however, to recapitulate them very briefly.

First, the Committee is not engaged in a definition of the rights of the Palestinian people:  those rights have already been defined and recognized by the General Assembly in resolution 3236 (XXIX) and reaffirmed in resolution 3376 (XXX).  The task of the Committee is to formulate a programme of implementation designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise those rights.

Secondly, the principal rights of the Palestine people relevant to the work of the Committee were recognized in paragraphs 1 and 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX).  Paragraph 1 defined the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people paragraph 2 defined the inalienable individual rights of Palestinians. Both sets of rights were described by the General Assembly as "inalienable", and the attainment of both rights was viewed as imperative and indeed as indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine and for the achievement of a just and durable peace in the Middle East.  This means that the attainment of one right cannot be a substitute for the exercise of the other.  Sovereign independence for the Palestinian people in Palestine is no substitute for the return of all Palestinians to their homes and property in any part of Palestine.  In fact, self- determination is incapable of being fully attained by the Palestinian people without the return of all Palestinians.  Physical return to one's homeland is a prerequisite, an indispensable condition, for the exercise of self-determination.

Thirdly, my original statement focused exclusively on the right of return.  It suggested some elements which, in our opinion, must be included in the programme of implementation of the provisions of paragraph 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX).

Fourthly, within this framework we suggested that the programme of implementation consists of two phases.  In the first phase the return of Palestinians to the territories of Palestine occupied in 1967 would take place immediately, along with the fulfilment of certain other conditions which also would have to be met in order to facilitate that return.  At the same time, some preparatory measures would be initiated during the first phase in order to make possible the exercise by all other Palestinians of their right to return during the second phase.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I reiterate now what I stated in my original statement:

"This priority is one of time only.  It is not meant to imply either that the need of these displaced persons is greater than that of the Palestinians displaced in 1948, or that the right of one group is clearer than the right of the other.  This suggestion is dictated purely by practical consideration of timing, and not by any other consideration."

At the Committee's sixth meeting, held on 11 March 1976, the representative of India addressed to me two questions, to which I shall now turn.  According to the transcript of the proceedings of that meeting circulated by the Secretariat, the first question was enunciated as follows:

"Would it be realistic to expect the Palestinian people to return voluntarily while Israel continues to occupy the areas taken by it since 5 June 1967?  In posing this question I have in mind particularly the first phase that the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization mentioned the other day.  Another way of posing this question would be:  should not Israel vacate these areas first before the Palestinian people would return voluntarily to their homes and properties?  There can, of course, be different opinions and different answers to these questions, but I think it would be of interest to this Committee to know the opinion of the Palestine Liberation Organization, because its opinion would be most relevant for the purpose of our work."

Our position was stated unequivocally in my original statement in the following words:

"The Committee, then, could recommend that the Security Council demand that the Palestinians displaced in 1967 should be permitted immediately and without delay to return to the territories occupied since 1967.  Their return should not await any political or territorial arrangements, such as the Security Council might be considering at the same time, including arrangements for withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 or future sovereignty over those territories.  The return should be immediate and not linked to any other dispositions."  (A/AC.183/2, p. 12)

Needless to say, we oppose the continuation of the occupation and we demand immediate withdrawal.  On this matter there can be no doubt in anyone's mind.  But, having witnessed for eight years the frustration of the international will that occupation be immediately terminated, we are unwilling to see the implementation of the international demand for return delayed until after the international demand for Israeli withdrawal has been complied with.  We cannot accept that the exercise of the right of return be made contingent upon Israel's compliance with the demand for withdrawal.

I might also add in this connexion that if return were to await withdrawal there would be no need for international action for return.  Once Israeli forces have withdrawn from any part of Palestine the question of the return of the indigenous rightful inhabitants of that part of the country to their homes would become a question of mechanics and procedure, involving no international political complications of any kind, and it would be a matter for bilateral arrangements between Palestinian authorities and the authorities of each of the host countries.  It is precisely because the occupation continues that the United Nations has an international problem on its hands — the problem of the return of the population displaced from the occupied territories.

But, having said all that, I feel constrained to reiterate that our insistence on the imperativeness of the immediate return of the displaced persons evicted in 1967 to the territories from which they were evicted, without waiting for withdrawal to take place, should not be misconstrued as indicating in any manner that we are less interested in the immediate withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories.

The representative of India posed another question.  He said:

"Secondly, the other day the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization towards the end of his statement referred to the possibility of seeking the advice of the International Court of Justice on certain legal questions.  He envisaged this course of action as a possibility in certain circumstances — circumstances necessitated by Israel's non-co-operative attitude to the recommendations which this Committee might make.  Here again I think we would appreciate at a later stage more precise formulations of such legal questions that might be referred to the International Court of Justice.  I would like the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, at a later stage and at his convenience, to formulate some of these questions for our further consideration."

As the Committee will recall, I indicated in my statement that there were in fact two types of legal questions on which the Committee may propose that an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice be sought, under two different sets of circumstances.

First, should Israel reiterate its refusal to permit the Palestinians displaced in 1948 to return — a return which has already been requested by the General Assembly in paragraph 11 of its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948 and at every regular session since then, and which has been recognized in paragraph 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX) as an "inalienable right" — Israel would probably invoke the principle of national sovereignty in order purportedly to invalidate both the demand and the declaration of the General Assembly.  Under those circumstances an advisory opinion of the International Court could be requested on this specific legal question:  whether the recognition by the General Assembly of the inalienable right of the Palestinians concerned to return and the demand by the General Assembly that they be permitted to return are in fact an infringement on Israel's sovereignty, particularly in the light of the provisions of resolution 181 (II) recommending the Plan of Partition with its built-in safeguards for the right of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the then proposed Jewish State, and resolution 273 (III), which admitted Israel to membership in the United Nations after recalling both resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III).  This, then, is one legal question of possible relevance to the implementation of paragraph 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX) on which the Committee might wish to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice if Israel invokes the principle of sovereignty in order to obstruct the exercise by Palestinians of their inalienable right — a right recognized by the General Assembly and forming an indivisible part of the terms of reference of this Committee.

Secondly, there are other legal questions which might arise even if Israel does not refuse to permit the return of the Palestinians displaced since 1948 to their homes and property.  In connexion with those questions I should like to remind the Committee of two factors:

(a) As I indicated in my original statement:

"By the right of return we mean that Palestinians should return to their homes and property — to their homeland — as of right and not on sufferance."  (Ibid.,
p. 5)

Clearly this is what the General Assembly meant by the letter and spirit of paragraph 2 of its resolution 3236 (XXIX).  By the right of return we mean the right to full equality after returning; the right to full and free participation in public life on an equal footing with anyone else; the right to participate in the making of all decisions on the basis of full equality; the right to full respect for, and observance of, all their fundamental rights and basic liberties.

(b) The Plan of Partition recommended in resolution 181 (II) and cited by Israel as the legal foundation of its existence contains precise guarantees of the rights of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the then proposed Jewish State which were to be recognized as fundamental laws of the State with which no law, regulation or official action should conflict or interfere and over which no law, regulation or official action would prevail.  Those stipulations were also declared to be "under the guarantee of the United Nations".

Now, even if Israel were to raise no objection on the basis of national sovereignty to the return of the Palestinians displaced in 1948, it would remain the task of the United Nations to ensure that the rights of those Palestinians would not be abridged after their return as a result of the application of certain laws which are now on the statute books of Israel.  I cited in my original statement some of those laws — the so-called Law of Return, the Nationality Law, the Absentees' Property Law and others — which will have direct bearing on the status and rights of the displaced Palestinians after their return, inasmuch as they infringe upon the rights guaranteed to them in section C of part 1 of the Plan of Partition.

Accordingly, in order to safeguard the rights and status of the Palestinians after their return, the relevant laws enacted by Israel since 1948 should be subjected to the scrutiny of a competent body such as the International Court of Justice in order to determine whether or not they are compatible with the provisions of the Plan of Partition, by which Israel is bound and in accordance with which the United Nations itself is the guarantor of the rights of the Palestinian Arabs in the territories occupied by Israel in 1948 and 1949.

I have specified the categories of legal questions with respect to which advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice might be sought, and the circumstances under which those opinions could be sought.  The actual formulation of those questions is, of course, a task for jurists to perform.  I am certain that eminent jurists among the members of this Committee and on the staff of their respective delegations, as well as in the Secretariat, are more qualified than I am to translate the questions which I have posed in a layman's language into the language of jurists, the language in which lawyers and courts communicate.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the members of the Committee for permitting me to present to you this supplementary statement.  May I take this opportunity to assure you once more that I remain available to respond to any additional questions which members of the Committee may wish to pose with respect to the formulation of the part of the programme of implementation with which my statements have dealt, namely, the part relating to paragraph 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX).


*Distributed in accordance with a decision of the Committee.


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