Statement by the Acting Permanent Observer of the Palestine Liberation Organization at the fifth meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People*
resolutions have been adopted by the United Nations to achieve a major task,
namely, the attainment of peace – in particular, peace in the Middle East.
It is an accepted fact that the heart of the so-called Middle East crisis is the question of Palestine,, and that unless and until a solution to the question of Palestine is found and implemented, the situation in the Middle East, and world peace, will remain in danger.
The General Assembly, in paragraph 3 of its resolution 3236 (XXIX), “emphasizes that full respect for and the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are indispensable for the solution of the Question of Palestine”.
Thus, the General Assembly emphasized the indispensability of the full respect for and the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people for the attainment of peace.
We note that the General Assembly has defined and affirmed the inalienable national rights as well as the inalienable right of return of the Palestinians. It has recognized the linkage between the national rights of the Palestinian people and the individual right of the Palestinian to return to his homeland and it has described both rights as inalienable.
The General Assembly has also stressed the indispensability of the realization of these inalienable rights to the solution of the question of Palestine, the heart and core of the so-called Middle East crisis.
After having defined the inalienable rights of the Palestinians, the General Assembly, in paragraph 2 of resolution 3376 (XXX), expressed "grave concern that no progress has been achieved towards the exercise of these rights".
Consequently, the General Assembly decided to establish a Committee — this Committee – with a precise task, defined in paragraph 4 of resolution 3376 (XXX):
This Committee is entrusted with a serious task, a task that emphasizes the important character of this Committee and its functions. The task of this Committee is to formulate a programme of implementation designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its rights.
In the opinion of my delegation, the character of this Committee is not conciliation; neither is it entrusted to play the role of a mediator seeking to bring the adversaries together. It is not a body of arbitration or adjudication, not a negotiating instrument.
By its very mandate, the Committee is bound to seek how to implement the inalienable rights defined above. The Committee, in our opinion, is charged with drawing up a blueprint for action, designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise the inalienable rights already defined by the General Assembly.
In paragraph 4 of resolution 3376 (XXX) the General Assembly requests the Committee "to take into account, in the formulation of its recommendations for the implementation of that programme, all the powers conferred by the Charter upon the principal organs of the United Nations".
This is a very important statement. The character of this Committee is not limited. The powers conferred by the Charter upon the principal organs of the United Nations are considerable, and the Committee, in formulating the "programme of implementation", must keep in mind the vast array of powers for enabling the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable rights. These powers include, among others, powers defined in Articles 5, 6, 4l, 42 and 96.
It is by virtue of this authorization, and in response to your invitation, that my delegation is appearing before you with some suggestions for you to consider; suggestions which will help in the fulfilment of your task.
General Assembly resolution 3236 (XXIX) reaffirmed jointly the inalienable right of the Palestinian to return to his homeland and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty. The inalienable rights are welded and fused and inseparable. The realization of one set of rights is no substitute for the other set. My delegation believes that for the question of Palestine there is one unitary and integrated solution. This Committee, in our opinion, should keep constantly in mind this linkage of the two rights.
At this juncture, my delegation will offer suggestions concerning the implementation of the inalienable right of the Palestinian to return to his homeland. My delegation will, in the future, make suggestions concerning the implementation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including the right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty.
It is our considered opinion that the national inalienable rights could and should be exercised only in Palestine, and consequently the exercise of the individual right of the Palestinian to return to his homeland is a condition sine qua non to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty.
The General Assembly, in resolution 3236 (XXIX) reaffirms "the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine'7. Thus the General Assembly conceives of the exercise of this right in Palestine, and it is imperative that Palestinians should be physically in Palestine in order to be enabled to exercise their inalienable national rights.
The right of everyone to return to his country has always been recognized as an inalienable, universal right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in article 13 (2) that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".
The applicability of this universal right to Palestinians in particular has been consistently recognized by the United Nations ever since the first Palestinians were displaced. In this connexion, it is important to recall that the recognition of this right by the General Assembly in paragraph 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX) was not an innovation. It was, rather, a climax. The record shows that, whenever a new wave of displacement of Palestinians occurred, the United Nations responded with a reaffirmation of its call for repatriation. Thus, the first wave of displacement, in 1948, elicited the famous provisions of paragraph 11 of resolution 194 (lll) of 11 December 1948, provisions which have been reaffirmed by the General Assembly every year since then. During the years between 1949 and 1967, when the Armistice system prevailed, expulsion by Israel of Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the "demilitarized zones" invariably elicited demands by the Security Council that the expelled Arabs be permitted forthwith to return to their homes, as in paragraphs 3 and 4 of Security Council resolution 89 (1950) of 17 November 1950 (which must be read in conjunction with the follow-up resolution adopted by the Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission on 30 May 1951) and in paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 93 (1951) of 18 May 1951. And, since the massive displacement of more Palestinians in 1967, four organs of the United Nations – the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council — have reaffirmed the right of the new displaced persons to prompt repatriation in no less than 18 resolutions.
Repatriation is the natural solution to the problem of displacement. It is the unanimous choice of my people. The Palestinians have invariably made it clear in every way and on every occasion that they want to go back home. In paragraph 7 of his report (document A/648) to the General Assembly, the late
Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations Mediator slain by the racist Zionists, stated
It is intolerable that Israel and international Zionism should continue to agitate throughout the world for recognition of the "right" of all Jewish citizens of all other countries to emigrate from their respective lands and to immigrate into Israel, to facilitate that mass emigration from other countries organizationally and financially and to facilitate the mass immigration into Israel through the so-called Law of Return – even though those Jews had never before seen Palestine or set foot on its soil – while at the same time Israel and world Zionism continue to deny the right of the displaced Palestinians to return to their country in principle and continue to prevent the exercise of that right in practice.
The return of the Palestinians to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted is a prerequisite to peace. The dispossession and homelessness of the Palestinians is indeed the root problem.
But what do we mean by the right of return? Unless it is based on an authentic understanding of the meaning of the right of return, the "programme of implementation" to be formulated by the United Nations Committee may be unequal to the tasks assigned to that Committee by the General Assembly.
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.
By the right of return we mean that the right to choose between returning and not returning is a right vested in each Palestinian, and is not subject to curtailment by any authority.
The racist Zionist forces of occupation and their supporters have marshalled a number of arguments against the exercise by Palestinians of their inalienable right to return. We shall examine the validity of these objections.
Those who have not been familiar with the development of the question of Palestine since its inception may think that this objection is now being raised, 28 years after the displacement of Palestinians, in view of the practical difficulties of reversing the changes which have occurred in the course of the past three decades. But whoever accompanied the evolution of the problem from the beginning knows that Israelis and Zionists raised the same objection, in the same words, immediately after the exodus of the Palestinians and before any basic changes had actually occurred in Palestine.
Thus, on 28 July 1949, the Israeli Government, in an official memorandum submitted to the Technical Committee on Refugees, set up by the Palestine Conciliation Commission, stated: "The clock cannot be put back." (document A/1367/Rev.l, appendix 4, para. 36).
Even a year earlier, the late Moshe Shertok (later Sharrett), then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Provisional Government of Israel, wrote to the United Nations Mediator on Palestine, in a letter dated 1 August 1948: "The Palestinian Arab exodus of 1948 is one of those cataclysmic phenomena which, according to the experience of other countries, change the course of history." (document A/648, part I, annex II, para. 9).
Thus the argument of alleged irreversibility of the demographic changes which have overtaken Palestine is not a statement in good faith describing conditions which are judged to be impossible to alter: it is, rather, a reflection of a subjective opposition to the alteration of the new, contrived situation – a determination to prevent the restoration of rightful conditions. It is a confession of an unwillingness to envisage or effect restoration, and not an objective assessment of inability to do so.
If the return of Palestinians to their homes and property and homeland should be declared impossible by virtue of the passage of time since their dislodgement -a few months., a year, or 28 years later — how much more persuasive should that same argument have been in 1947/48 against the attempt to restore Jewish presence in Palestine 1,900 years after the expulsion of the Hebrews from Palestine? 1947/78, the United Nations was not daunted by the prospect of erasure of 1,900 years of history: should it, in 1976, be daunted by the prospect of correction of 28 years of injustice?
The United Nations declared that Palestinians should be permitted to return to their homes and homeland immediately after their displacement, before any basic changes had occurred in their homeland;, it kept repeating that declaration, year in and year out, while changes were being illegally created, in defiance of international law and the will of the international community. If it were now to accept the argument that those changes – effected in defiance of justice and the law – are sufficient and valid reason for nullifying the right of Palestinians to return and obstructing their exercise of that right, the United Nations will in effect give the green light to any potential law-breaker to do the same. "Defy the will of the international community obstinately enough, long enough, and then come and declare that the clock cannot be turned back – and you will get away with it": this will be the message signalled by the United Nations to any potential aggressor coveting someone else's homeland or territory.
If Israelis and their supporters ascribe finality and irreversibility to the Palestinian exodus, and oppose the return of Palestinians by peaceful and orderly means, on the basis that their exodus was "one of those cataclysmic phenomena which, according to the experience of other countries, change the course of history" as Sharrett argued, then they are paving the way for – and making inevitable – the determination of Palestinians and other Arabs to restore the rights of Palestinians by other than peaceful means, by creating new "cataclysmic phenomena" through the same methods through which the Palestinian exodus of 1948 was brought about.
(2) "There is no room in Palestine, and less room in those parts of Palestine occupied by Israel before 1967, for all the displaced Palestinians and the Jews now resident there," – so runs another Israeli/Zionist argument against the return of the Palestinians.
Throughout the years of the British Mandate, however, it was the Zionists who were arguing that the "absorptive capacity" of Palestine was not static but elastic and flexible; and that modern technology and organizational techniques could be relied upon to expand considerably the limited absorptive capacity of the land.
Moreover, even now, the same Israeli and Zionist spokesmen who argue that Palestine cannot accommodate both the displaced Palestinians and the Jews now in Israel are actively clamouring for the immigration of millions of Jews from all over the world into the country. Surely they must assume that there is room for all these additional millions of Jews 3 else they would not urge them to uproot themselves from their respective countries and cone to Israel. And if there is room for millions of Soviet, American, West European and other Jews (who had never been to Palestine before), should not that room be assigned first – as a matter of rightful priority – to the indigenous Palestinians who are not refugees outside Palestine?
(3) "One wrong cannot right another … You cannot correct one injustice by inflicting another injustice … The plight of a displaced Palestinian cannot be remedied by displacing an Israeli": this is the third – quasi-moral – objection to the return of Palestinians.
In the aftermath of Hitler, Zionism played upon the sympathies of a rightly outraged world by arguing that the gross injustice done by Hitler to the Jews should be corrected by giving Jews a homeland of their own. Thoughtful observers then protested that an injustice against a Jew by a Nazi German could not be righted by inflicting an injustice on a third party – the Palestinian Arab. The Zionists are now borrowing the same argument – but with a big change. They say: "An injustice against a Palestinian Arab by an Israeli could not be righted by an injustice against that same Israeli" The irony of this abuse of the argument cannot escape any fair observer.
The Israeli who lives in the home of a Palestinian – a home from which the rightful owner fled or was forcibly evicted and to which he is not permitted to return – is a usurper, not an innocent third party. His transfer to another place in Palestine, in order to permit the rightful owner to return, may mean inconvenience; it is not an injustice.
For what the Palestinians demand is their own return, and not the departure from the country of the alien Jews who have, under the influence of Zionism, immigrated into the country.
And one important point must be borne in mind. The Israeli who now lives on land rightfully and legally belonging to the displaced Palestinian Arab is not recognized – even by the Government of Israel – as the owner of that land: he is only a tenant, leasing the land from the Israeli Government or one of its agencies (such as the Custodian of Absentee Property) or from the Jewish National Fund, to whom some of that land was transferred by the Israeli Government. Even the dubious title to the land which the Israeli Government claims it can bestow on him,, it has withheld from him!
A book officially published by the Jewish National Fund (the JNF or Keren Kayemeth Leisrael) in Jerusalem in 1949 under the title, Jewish Villages in Israel, admits that the land in question (the bulk of the land occupied by Israel) is at law the property of the Palestinian Arabs. When you read the following passage (from p. xxi), keep in mind that the total area occupied by Israel in 19^9 was over 8,000 square/miles or 20 million dunams, and that a dunam is roughly one-quarter of an acre:
(The juridical situation of title to property in Israel is complex; but it may be simplified by referring to three institutions which have taken control of all the property of the displaced Palestinians. The first is the State itself, which has taken title to "State domain", the collective property of the entire people: the second is the Jewish National Fund, which, as the foregoing statement shows, has "acquired" part of the land of the displaced Palestinians, and which is prohibited by its Charter from selling any of the land it acquires; and the third is the Custodian of Absentee Property, established by the Absentees' Property Law of 1950. Under section 4 (a) of that Law, "all absentees' property is vested in the Custodian". The Custodian may transfer property vested in him to the Development Authority, established by the Development Authority Law of 1950 – but the Authority, in turn, is prohibited by that same Law (section 3 (4) (a)) from selling or otherwise transferring the right of ownership of property except to the State, the Jewish National Fund, or municipalities and other local authorities.)
(4) Next comes the quasi-legal argument, which runs something like this: "The Palestinian Arabs were not forcibly displaced; they fled of their own accord, or at the behest of their leaders. Therefore, they have no right to return."
If I were teaching a course in logic, I could not choose a better illustration of a "grotesque syllogism" than this!
Major premise (explicit): The Palestinian Arabs left their homes freely and voluntarily j
Conclusion: Therefore, the Palestinian Arabs have forfeited their right to return.
The explicit major premise is a purported statement of fact which is patently false; the implicit minor premise is a purported statement of moral law which is equally false; and the conclusion derived from these two false premises is no less false than the premises themselves.
The explicit major premise is known to be false; so much has been written about why and how the Palestinians were displaced, that there is no need for me here to go into it all over again. Suffice it to quote once again the report of the late Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations Mediator who was assassinated by Israeli terrorists in Jerusalem in 1948. paras. 6 and 7):
He wrote (document A/648, part I, chap. V,
But let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own accord or at the behest of their leaders during warfare. Would that make the implicit, minor premise true? Would it deprive them of their right to return to their homes when the immediate cause of their flight ended? Would a man who flees his home because of fire, and in pursuit of self-preservation, lose his right to return to it when the fire has been put out?
The real Zionist opposition to the return of the displaced Palestinians is that that return would alter the demographic balance in Israel to such an extent that it would destroy its Zionist, exclusionist character. This, of course» is true. But the preservation of the Zionist, exclusionist character of Israel is neither an international responsibility nor a moral-juridical-political fact that outweighs in importance the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
There is some confusion over this issue. Some people are under the impression that, in supporting the establishment of Israel in 1947, the United Nations endorsed the Zionist conception of Israel as a "State of Jews" or as an exclusionist Judenstaat. The United Nations did nothing of the sort, as I shall show in a moment. Nor did the League of Nations. Nor did the Balfour Declaration. Nor did any country that extended recognition to Israel as a "normal State". The Zionist conception of Israel is a unilateral Israeli conception which has no binding effect upon – and no relevance to – the United Nations, which is morally and legally committed, at the same time, to the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they were uprooted (paras. 1 and 2 of resolution 3236 (XXIX)).
In its own "proclamation" of 14 May 1948, Israel invoked three international instruments: the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate of the League of Nations, and the Partition Recommendation of the General Assembly. Whatever the true legal value of these international documents, however – and I shall not now dwell upon the legal short-comings of all three -it is evident that none of them endorsed the Zionist idea. On the contrary, each of them in effect rejected that idea, by putting two conditions: (l) safeguarding the rights of the Palestinian Arabs inside the proposed "Jewish State" or "National Home" and (2) safeguarding the status of Jews outside it.
(a) The Balfour Declaration: Britain's announcement that it "view/s/ with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People" was balanced by the remaining part of the Declaration, which stated, "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".
The meaning of this clause was authoritatively explained in the White Paper of 1922, which stated:
Zionist consent to this interpretation was requested – and received – before the Mandate was confirmed. Writes Weizmann: "It was made clear to us that confirmation of the Mandate would be conditional on our acceptance of the policy as interpreted in the White Paper, and my colleagues and I therefore had to accept it, which we did, though not without some qualms." (Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error , p. 208.)
(b) The League of Nations Mandate : It reproduced the safeguard clause of the Balfour Declaration verbatim and proceeded to add more explicit and more far-reaching guarantees, particularly in articles 2 and 6. These two articles stipulated that the Mandatory Power "shall be responsible" among other things for ''safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine'1 and for "ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced". Let it be remembered that the "position" of the Palestinian Arabs at that time was that of the preponderant majority of the population.
(c) The United Nations Partition Recommendation: Far from endorsing the Zionist idea of an exclusivist Judenstaat, or "State of Jews", the Partition Plan for Palestine recommended by the General Assembly on 29 November 1947 envisaged a "Jewish State" whose population then consisted of 499,020 Jews and 509,780 Arabs (document A/AC.l4/32, para. 59); it recommended that: "in the appraisal of the Palestine question, it be accepted as incontrovertible that any solution for Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general" (document A/AC. 13/82, chap. V, section B, recommendation XII); and it stipulated that, before independence, the provisional government of the proposed "Jewish State" should make a declaration to the United Nations containing specific and precise guarantees of the rights of the Palestinian Arab population of the territory, which were spelled out in great detail in chapter II. The requested Declaration contained also a general provision which stated:
"The stipulations contained in the Declaration are recognized as fundamental laws of the State and no law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation or official action prevail over them."
All this is contained in part I, section C, of the Partition Plan recommended by the General Assembly – which Israel invokes as the legal foundation for its statehood.
(a) The international community, including the United Nations, has never given its consent to the Zionist concept of Israel;
(b) On the contrary, the United Nations, in its Partition Recommendation -like the League of Nations before it – prohibited the actions which led Israel to approximate its own unilateral Zionist conception of itself:
(c) The United Nations is under no obligation to protect or safeguard the Zionist character of Israel, particularly in its demographic aspect;
(d) On the contrary, the United Nations is a guarantor of the rights whose denial was a prerequisite of the zionization of Israel:
(e) The United Nations is obligated to the Palestinian Arabs to restore their rights and to undo the actions of Israel which led to the denial of those rights.
Implementation, among other things, is a function of time- it requires a time-table, which in turn requires that certain accomplishments precede others.
I believe that the Committee would be well advised to recommend in its initial report (which it is required to submit before 1 June 1976). that the first phase of the implementation of the right of return should consist of the return of the Palestinians displaced from territories occupied since June 1967.
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 considerations of timing, and not by any other considerations.
The Committee, then, could recommend that the Security Council demand that the Palestinians displaced in 19&7 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 196? or future sovereignty over those territories. The return should be immediate and not linked to any other dispositions.
The Committee could also recommend that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which played a role in the very limited return of some of the displaced persons in the summer of 1967, be asked to help organize the envisaged return of the persons concerned. If the ICRC declines to participate in the programme, then perhaps UNRWA, which has a long association with the problem, could be asked to do so. Its mandate could be adjusted accordingly, and its budget and staff would have to be commensurately expanded. However, whether the questions of organization and logistics are entrusted to the ICRC or to the UNRWA, the agency in charge will have to perform its duties in constant consultation with the competent authorities in the host countries, with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and with the occupying Power, over the mechanics of the programme.
The Committee should strongly recommend to the Security Council at the same time that, in conjunction with the immediate return of the Palestinians displaced in 1967 to the territories occupied by Israel since that date, the Council should demand, in accordance with the powers conferred upon it by the Charter, that (a) Israel desist from the establishment of new settlements in the occupied territories, and effectively prevent its citizens from creating so-called "unauthorized" settlements and that (b) Israel withdraw its citizens from the 50 or so settlements already established since 1947 in the occupied territories contrary to the provisions of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and contrary to several resolutions of several bodies of the United Nations.
In addition, the Committee should urge the Security Council to demand that, pending the early termination of the occupation, Israel should abide scrupulously by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and declare its recognition of the applicability of that Convention. Effective supervision by the ICRC of the application of all the provisions of that Convention – both to the existing population and to the returnees – should be requested by the Council, on the recommendation of the Committee; and the Committee should recommend alternative methods and instruments of supervision in case the ICRC declines to undertake this responsibility.
Finally, the Committee should urge the Security Council to consider what steps or measures should be taken, in accordance with the Council's competence under the Charter, if Israel refuses to permit the application of this phase of the "programme of implementation" in all its parts.
Preparations for the second phase of the programme – namely, the phase relating to the Palestinians displaced in 1948 from territories occupied by Israel and placed under its jurisdiction before 1967 – should be taking place while the first phase is being implemented. These involve the following elements:
(1) Designation or creation of a competent agency to be entrusted with the organizational and logistical aspects of the mass return of displaced Palestinians i
(3) Registration of displaced Palestinians other than those already registered with UNRWA. (It will be recalled that not all displaced Palestinians have qualified to register with UNRWA, but only those who fell within the restrictive definition of a "refugee" which was adopted by UNRWA at the beginning of its activities.);
(4) The Committee may also consider recommending to the Security Council (or to the General Assembly) immediate action in accordance with Article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations – which provides that either of those two principal organs "may request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on any legal question".
Israel's refusal to permit the return of the displaced Palestinians – should it be reiterated by Israel, as in all likelihood it will – could be one legal question on which an advisory opinion of the Court may be requested, particularly in the light of the resolution admitting Israel to membership in the United Nations and its integral linkage with the relevant provisions of resolutions l8l (ll) and (lll), to which it referred.
Other subjects which suggest themselves in this connexion are the compatibility with section C of part I of the Partition Plan, of several laws enacted by Israel, including the so-called Law of Return, the Nationality Law, the Absentees' Property Law, and the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law. All these laws have direct bearing on the status and rights of the displaced Palestinians after their return; all these laws infringe upon the rights of the Arab population guaranteed in section C of part I of the Partition Plan. All those guarantees were governed by the "general provision" contained in the opening part of that section, which states:
Document Type: Document, Statement
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), General Assembly, International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Subject: Agenda Item, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Legal issues, Palestine question
Publication Date: 09/03/1976