Issue of Palestinian Representation

This cocept refers to the authority and responsibilities of representation by the representative bodies of the Palestinian People.

Definition

The concept of the Issue of Palestinian Representation refers to the authority and responsibilities of representation by the representative bodies of the Palestinian People. This issue grapples with the following questions:

  1. Who do the Palestinian governing bodies represent? i.e. who have the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) represented during the Interim Period? Who will the PLO and the Palestinian State represent after a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders (PSPB) is established? Who will the PLO and the Palestinian State represent in Permanent Status after a Permanent Status Agreement is concluded and the issue of Palestinian Refugeeism has been resolved?
  2. Who will represent the PA or the Palestinian State? i.e. who will represent the PA toward the Second Phase of the Roadmap (the PLO, the PA's executive branch (Palestinian Cabinet) or a combination thereof), and who will represent the Palestinian State once it is established (its government or the PLO)?

The Issue of Palestinian Representation is closely associated with the Issue of Palestinian Right of Self-Determination, Issue of the Political Status of Israeli Arabs and Map of the Palestinian People, which examines the geographic and demographic make-up of the Palestinian people.

The Issue of Representation under International Law

There is no comprehensive theory within International Law defining legitimate representation of a people. However there are accepted principles, which demonstrate the intrinsic relationship between representation and Self-Determination:

  1. A people's right to self-determination is realized with the establishment of a State and the attainment of political independence through the free election of representative bodies. These respective entities will represent their constituents in the international arena;
  2. According to International Law, to be recognized as politically sovereign, a country must meet the following four criteria:1 (a) ownership of territory or right to a specific territory; (b) a territorially-confined population; (c) government; (d) management of Foreign Relations.
  3. 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 Issue of Palestinian Representation is unique to the Palestinian case because of a combination of factors:

  • Palestinian Refugeeism – The demographic and geographic dispersal of Palestinian Refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Host Countries throughout the Palestinian Diaspora, who claim the Right of Return to the State of Israel (See Map of the Palestinian People).
  • The Political-Legal Status of Israeli-Arabs –
  1. In the State of Israel there are Arabs who view themselves as Palestinians despite holding Israeli citizenship;
  2. The State of Israel claims to represent of all its citizens;
  3. Many Palestinians view Israeli-Arabs as Palestinians. This stance is reflected in the Draft of the Palestinian Constitution regarding the definition of who is a Palestinian2 and who has the right to vote and run for office (see Palestinian Constitutional Structure). One possible outcome hereof is that Israeli-Arabs may be entitled to political and judicial privileges in a future Palestinian State.
  • Political-Legal Status of Palestinians in Jordan –
  1. Over fifty-percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, consisting of both refugees and non-refugees, who possess Jordanian citizenship;
  2. Jordan perceives itself as the sole legitimate representative of all its residents and citizens, including Palestinians. However, Jordan seeks to guard the Hashemite identity of the country by, inter alia, promoting future settlement of Palestinian refugees outside Jordan;
  3. Many Palestinians view Jordanian Palestinians as Palestinians. This stance is also reflected in the Draft of the Palestinian Constitution, 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.
  1. How will authority and responsibility be divided between the PLO and the PSPB regarding representation of constituencies particularly with regard to Palestinian Refugees who reside within the PSPB?
  2. How will authority and responsibility be divided between the PLO and the PSPB regarding issues that are within the sovereignty of the Palestinian State but impact the entire Palestinian people such as holy sites?

Historic Background

The PLO was founded in 5/64, and was recognized as the Sole Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian People by the Arab League at the Rabat Summit4 (10/74) and by the United Nations5 (11/74).

An Exchange of Letters between PM Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman of the PLO Yassir Arafat conferring mutual recognition preceded the Oslo Process (9/93).6 Throughout the Oslo Process all agreements were signed between Israel and the PLO7 (see Parties to the Israeli-Palestinian Process).

The PA was created and endowed with powers and responsibilities by the Declaration of Principles (9/93), the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (5/95) and by the Interim Agreement (9/95). According to the Declaration of Principles, Israel and the PLO would work together to construct governmental institutions capable of exercising self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (See Palestinian Self-Governing Authority and 1978 Camp David Accords).

According to the Interim Agreement:

  • The PA will not have the authority to conduct foreign affairs, and is prohibited from establishing embassies or consulates, summoning or receiving diplomatic teams or performing any other diplomatic functions;
  • The PLO will manage all foreign affairs and sign all agreements with other countries and international organizations on behalf of the PA;8
  • The shape of relations between the Palestinians and third parties was an Outstanding Issue, which would only be resolved during a Permanent Status Agreement.9

Throughout the Interim Period Yassir Arafat wore three hats – Chairman of the PLO, Chairman of the Fatah and Chairman of the PA – which reflected and preserved the ambiguity surrounding the issue of representation.

During Permanent Status negotiations (1999-01) Israel demanded that the future Palestinian State be the sole representative of all its residents and citizens, refugees and non-refugees, signifying that:

  1. The establishment of a Palestinian State would realize the right of self-determination for the entire Palestinian people10 (see Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Right of Self-Determination);
  2. The Palestinian government would be the sole representative of all its residents, both refugees and non-refugees. The PLO would not represent this population.11
  3. Correspondingly the Palestinian state would not represent any other population outside of its territory, including Israeli-Arabs.12 In other words the constituency of the State of Palestine will be comprised solely of its population;
  4. When a Palestinian State is established, the PLO must change its name and stated goals by amending the Palestinian National Charter, the founding document of the PLO.13

According to the Geneva Initiative, the “state of Palestine shall be the successor to the PLO with all its rights and obligations”.14

Under this plan the Palestinian State will inherit the designation of the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian People, implying powers of representation of Palestinians throughout the Diaspora (i.e. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and possibly, Israel) (for details see Permanent Status of the Issue of Palestinian Representation).

Hence, the Geneva Initiative reflects an entirely different (though unofficial) Israeli approach to the issue of Palestinian Representation.

Implications for Israel

The Issue of Palestinian Representation will continue to affect relations between Israel and the Palestinians:

  1. The Identity of the Palestinian Interlocutor – This question deals with the identity of the Palestinian interlocutor – the PLO or the PA – and its corresponding effect on Israeli-Palestinian political process. The identity of the interlocutor will impact the agenda of negotiations and their relative chances of success.
  2. Political-Legal Status of Israeli Arabs – the character of relations between the State of Israel, Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinian State / PLO will be directly and significantly shaped by the issue of Palestinian representation particularly if the Palestinian State claims to represent Israeli citizens;
  3. Jordan's stance – Jordan, under the Hashemite regime, is a central component of regional stability which has far-reaching implications for Israel's national security. The character of relations between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian State / PLO will be also directly and significantly shaped by the issue of Palestinian representation;
  4. Palestinian Constitutional Structure – The Palestinian Constitution and the Palestinian electoral systems are the principle institutions relating to the Issue of Palestinian Representation. Therefore, it is in Israel’s (as well as Jordan’s) interest to influence the Palestinian Constitutional Structure to prevent irredentist tendencies;

1 See Article 1 – Convention on Rights and Duties of States, Dec. 26, 1933 [Montevideo Convention].

2 See Article 12 of the Draft of the Palestinian 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 In a summit conference held in Morocco's capital, Rabat, (26-29/10/74) the Arab States bestowed the status of sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people on the PLO. This decision compromised Jordan's claim to the West Bank, though King Hussein did not relinquish the Jordanian claim to this territory until July 1988. For the full text of the declaration from the Rabat Conference

5 See UN Decision 3237 (22/11/1974) – Which bestowed the status of observer on the PLO.

6 For the exchang of letters

7 For the names of the signatories on the Oslo Agreements (9/93 – 9/95), Hebron Protocol(15/1/97), Wye River Memorandum (23/10/98) and the Sharm El-Sheik Memorandum (4/9/99)

8 Chapter 1 – the Council, Article IX – the Powers of the Council and Its Responsibility, paragraph 5.

9 Chapter 3 – Legal Matters, Article XVII – Jurisdiction, paragraph 1, sub-section A.

10 See Sher, Gilad, Just Beyond Reach: Negotiations for Peace – 1999-2000, (Tel-Aviv, Miskal, 2001).

11 Ibid, Article 2.10.

12 Ibid, Article 2.18.

13 Ibid, Article 2.20.

14 See Article 2.2 – "The relations between the parties".

More Sources
  • Amin M. Husain, “Who is the Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian People?” Chinese Journal of International Law, Spring 2003 v2 i1 p207.This paper offers three tests for the legitimacy of the representation of the PLO or any other Palestinian body: The test of recognition – recognition of a group as the legitimate representative of the people by international organizations and countries.The test of effective government – whether or not a group is able to efficiently govern its population. The test of democracy – did the group earn its control through a democratic process.
  • Omar M. Dajani, Stalled between seasons: The International Legal Status of Palestine during the Interim Period, Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Fall 1997 v26 n1 p27-92.