Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Representation

This concept discusses the status of the right, the authority and the power to represent the Palestinian people following the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the relations between the PLO and the state in that respect.

Definition

The concept of "Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Representation" refers to the authority and responsibilities of representation by the representative bodies of the Palestinian People during Permanent Status.

This issue grapples with the following questions:

  1. Who do the Palestinian governing bodies represent? Who will the PLO and the Palestinian state represent in Permanent Status after a Permanent Status Agreement is concluded and the Issue of Palestinian Refugees has been resolved?
  2. Who will represent the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the Palestinian state? Will it be an executive branch of the Palestinian state, the PLO or a combination of the two?

The Issue of Representation under International Law

There is no comprehensive theory within international law defining what qualifies as legitimate representation of a people. However there are accepted principles, which link representation to the Right to Self-Determination.

A people's Right to Self-Determination is realized with the establishment of a state and the attainment of political independence. The governing institutions of the independent state would then represent their constituents in the international arena;

According to international law, to be recognized as a state (a political sovereign), a political entity must meet the following four criteria:1 (a) ownership of territory or right to a specific territory; (b) a territorially-confined population; (c) effective government; (d) the capacity to conduct foreign relations;

Accordingly, the state is solely responsible for representing all of its residents. In other words, for a body to be recognized by the international community as the representative of a given population, it must embody the realization of that entire population's Right to Self-Determination.

The Uniqueness of the Issue of Palestinian Representation

The PLO is recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. However, the establishment of a Palestinian state - with either permanent or provisional borders - raises the following questions:

  1. What will be the status of the PLO once a Palestinian state is established? Will it continue to exist, and if so, what would be the character of this change?
  2. What will be the division of authority and responsibility between the PLO and the Palestinian state on issues concerning the different Palestinian populations (refugees and non-refugees, within both the Palestinian state and the Palestinian Diaspora, including Israeli-Arabs)?

These questions help to explain the uniqueness of the Issue of Palestinian Representation, which ultimately stems from the combination of the Issue of the Palestinian Right to Self-Determination and the Map of the Palestinian People, as follows:

Palestinian Refugees - The Palestinian People includes Palestinian refugees living in the areas of the PA as well as in Host Countries (Jordan, Syria and Lebanon). These refugees claim the Right of Return to areas within the State of Israel.
Even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, there might remain populations in the Palestinian Diaspora who still have a refugee status. Who will represent these populations: the PLO, the Palestinian state or Host Countries?
Even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, it is likely that there will be residents and citizens of the Palestinian state who still consider themselves refugees and continue to demand the Right of Return to Israel. Who will represent this population, the PLO or the Palestinian state?

Issue of Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs - In the State of Israel some Israeli-Arabs identify with the Palestinian national struggle despite holding Israeli citizenship. The State of Israel claims to represent all of its citizens.
Many Palestinians view Israeli-Arabs as Palestinians. This stance is reflected in the definition in the Palestinian Constitution - Draft No. 3 of who is a Palestinian and who has the right to vote and run for office2 (see Palestinian Constitutional Structure).
One possible outcome is that Israeli-Arabs may be entitled to political and judicial privileges in a future Palestinian state.

Political-Legal Status of Palestinians in Jordan - Over fifty-percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian (including both refugees and non-refugees) and possess Jordanian citizenship.
Jordan perceives itself to be the sole legitimate representative of all of its residents and citizens, including Palestinians. However, Jordan seeks to guard the Hashemite identity of the country by, inter alia, promoting the future settlement of Palestinian refugees outside of Jordan.
Many Palestinians view Jordanian Palestinians as Palestinians. This stance is also reflected in the Third Draft, which defines who is a Palestinian3 and who has the right to vote and run for office.
One possible outcome is that Palestinians possessing Jordanian citizenship will have political and judicial privileges in a future Palestinian state.

The Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Representation

The Uniqueness of the Issue of Palestinian Representation can be viewed through three different approaches.

Overlap Approach - According to this approach, there exists an "overlap" between the population represented by the Palestinian state in the following way:

  1. The Palestinian state will be the only representative of the permanent residents of the Palestinian state - citizens and non-citizens, refugees and non-refugees.
  2. The PLO will have no standing vis-à-vis those residing in the Palestinian state.
  3. Palestinians who are not residents of the Palestinian state, including Israeli-Arabs and Jordanians who view themselves as Palestinian - will be represented by the state in which they reside. Alternatively, they will be able to immigrate to the Palestinian state and be represented by it.

This approach corresponds with the approach of the Government of Israel during the course of the Permanent Status Negotiations during 1999-2001 (see below). The significance of this approach is that Israeli-Arabs are represented only by the State of Israel. The Palestinian governing bodies will not have any powers of representation in relation to Israeli-Arabs (See Permanent Status of the Political-Legal Status of Israeli Arabs).

Succession Approach - According to this approach, the Palestinian state will inherit the role of sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people from the PLO residing in the Palestinian state and in the Diaspora:

  1. Each resident of the Palestinian state, as well as the Palestinians in the Diaspora, will be represented by the Palestinian state.
  2. On this basis, the PLO will be absorbed by the Palestinian state.

The Succession Approach can be found within the Geneva Initiative (see below).

Integration Approach - According to this approach,

  1. The Palestinian state will be the only representative of all its residents and non-residents, both refugees and non-refugees.
  2. The PLO will be responsible for all issues pertaining to Palestinian refugees living in the Diaspora.
  3. Representation of Israeli-Arabs will become the subject of tension between Israel, the Palestinian state and the PLO.

So far, this approach has not been menifested within the Israeli-Palestinian political process.

Historical Background

The struggle to represent the Palestinians began in the early days of the PLO.

Until 10/74, the PLO had struggled, primarily with Jordan, over the issue of Palestinian representation. The Rabat Summit granted this standing to the PLO, after which the UN also bestowed this title (11/74);

Between 11/88 - 9/93, the PLO struggled for the recognition of Israel and the United States over the question of representing the Palestinian people. Israel wished to negotiate with the leaders of the residents living in the West Bank and Gaza or with Jordanian-Palestinian representatives. Recognition was only given through an Exchange of Letters Between the Chairman of the PLO and the Prime Minister of Israel, after which the US followed suit (9/93).

The Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Representation was discussed during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations concerning a Permanent Status Agreement (1999-2001). Israeli representatives implicitly supported the Overlap Approach, in which the State of Palestine, once is established, would be the sole representative of all its residents and citizens, refugees and non-refugees. Therefore:

  1. The establishment of a Palestinian state would realize the right to self-determination for the entire Palestinian People4 (See Permanent Status of the Palestinian Right of Self-Determination);
  2. The Palestinian Government would be the sole representative of its citizens and residents, refugees and non- refugees. According to this, the PLO would not have any standing vis-à-vis this population;5
  3. The Palestinian state would not represent the entire Palestinian population residing outside of its territory, and specifically would have no standing in regards to Arab-Israelis.6

In other words, Israel asserted that there would be an overlap between the area and the population that is represented by the Palestinian state after its establishment. Moreover, Israel claimed that after the establishment of the Palestinian state the PLO will change its name and structure including its stated aims.7

According to the Geneva Initiative, which endorses the Inheritance Approach, "the Palestinian State shall be the successor to the PLO with all its rights and obligations"8. The Geneva Initiative thus has a different approach to the issue of representation, according to which the State of Palestine, after its establishment, will inherit the responsibilities of the PLO and become the sole legitimate representative of the whole Palestinian People, including Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Israel.


1 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933).

2 See Article 12 of the Palestinian Draft Constitution (14/5/03).

3 The draft uses various expressions such as "national", "people" and "citizens" which make its position regarding the Issue of Palestinian Representation vague. Also, Article 109 of the constitution creates an Advisory Council, which would represent "the distribution of the Palestinian people in and outside Palestine."

4 Sher Gilad, Just Beyond Reach: The Negotiations for Peace 1999-2000, Tel Aviv: Mashkal, 2001, Article 2.9, pp. 421.

5 Ibid. Article 2.10, pp. 422.

6 Ibid. Article 2.18, pp. 423.

7 Ibid, Article 2.20, pp. 423.

8 See Article 2.2 to the Geneva Accord - Relations between the Parties.