Wednesday, August 24, 2011

25th Day: Palestinian Diaspora Deserves Equal Representation

Today, an article titled "UN statehood bid 'threatens Palestinian rights'" appeared in Ma'an News Agency, the popular Palestinian news outlet which literary means Together.

In theory, the subject of a Palestinian right to self-determination is unquestionable. In my opinion, anyone who questions the "readiness" of Palestinians to have their own state from the perspective of available state-run institutes and work-force is questioning whether Palestinians have had enough humiliation for the past 63 years or the same as asking if Palestinians are human enough to be at the same mental and cognitive level as other humans to be capable of running a state.

But this is exactly what I am not questioning.

Way to go, Oslo.
Palestinians have been subject to all kinds of atrocities, oppression and violation of their human rights way before the creation of the Zionist state of Israel and still are to this day. During the British mandate, local indigenous Palestinian Arabs were treated as second-class citizens compared to newly arrived European Jews escaping the persecution of the Nazis and the Holocaust in Europe. In reality, the mal-treatment of Arabs only increased after the rise of Third Reich, but the truth is that Palestinian Arabs were always viewed in light of their skin color and their un-European cultural background as less human from the a preconceived perspective of a racist colonialist. The Jews, on the other hand, have already guaranteed their goal to establish a modern European state and were simply being rewarded with an established country.

Palestine was a country of only less than one million Palestinian Arabs who were distributed across nearly a thousand towns and villages. In a sense the landscape would appear to be vast and empty (only 28 thousand square Kilometers). This fact was altered into the Zionist agenda which marketed for Palestine as a land without people. The truth is, Palestine was not any emptier than any other Mediterranean region or most modern countries, and with at least a dozen major cities and centers, it was certainly an established region with civil centers as well as vast farmlands.

On the other hand, Palestine had its share of institutes and not only empty buildings. Palestinian institutions and orders have always been implemented in a way or another and most were set by rules and endorsed agreements. These institutes changed with time but they have always existed. Palestinian civil institutes have already been established through local units such as Maxtara (Mayorship)  or Islamic rules, yet under the Ottoman rule, Palestinian leadership fell under the rules and legal system of the Ottoman empire and was directly serving its interest. Palestine, like all other countries and region which were part of the Ottoman empire, had few attempts to self-determination some of which succeeded even if only for a short period.

Palestine, when lost to Zionist colonialism, offered its already established cities, theaters, houses, and public buildings to the new colonialists, but not the local indigenous population who were forced out of their lands whether at gun-points or out of fear for their lives. Some of the Palestinian rules and regulation which were adopted during the British mandate still apply to the Israeli legal system nowadays.

Today's Palestinian leadership, however, was not the natural result of an established civil order. It was the result of an agreement which was secretly endorsed by the head of the PLO at the time: Yasser Arafat.

The way Oslo produced a Palestinian government is very questionable or at least problematic: for how would a hand-full of unelected officials at a self-declared sole representative of the Palestinians determine the fate for millions of Palestinians scattered across the globe with an admitted agenda for concessions? Oslo produced a new concept for a two-state solution which meant Palestinians not only give up their aspiration for a unified landscape for their historic homeland, but also meant that many Palestinians will be excluded from the political equation.

Ma'an's article was the first attempt of its kind I have seen at a PA-loving media source to shed the light on the Palestinian statehood from a perspective other than the official fiery speeches about self-determination and putting an end to the suffering of the Palestinians, plus the question about the right to have a state. The news excerpt quoted a high authority on the international legal system, Guy Goodwin-Gill, who is a professor of international law at Oxford University. Offered in seven pages, the legal advise warns about the possible exclusion of most Palestinians had Palestine been admitted as a legal entity other than the PLO, which is the only body which is accepted universally to represent the Palestinians anywhere they're found.

The advise argued that losing the status of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians means that "there will no longer be an institution that can represent the inalienable rights of the entire Palestinian people in the UN and related international institutions". Losing the status of the PLO means that the 65 percent of Palestinians, mostly refugees, will lose their sole representative. Having their authority and Israel mutually recognize each other's states means that the Palestinian refugees might lose their 63-year old plea, and may only have the choice to move into the West Bank or Gaza, if allowed by the future State of Palestine.

The legal advise also questioned the role the PA will play after dissolving of the PLO in favor of a recognized state at the UN, a state which is effectively still under occupation. The advise noted that the PA "has limited legislative and executive competence, limited territorial jurisdiction, and limited personal jurisdiction over Palestinians not present in the areas for which it has been accorded responsibility [the PA] is a subsidiary body, competent only to exercise those powers conferred on it by the Palestinian National Council. By definition, it does not have the capacity to assume greater powers."

The legal advise however fails to point out that the PA intentionally excluded the representation of many Palestinians to their countries of citizenship, including those Palestinians who held the Israeli citizenship. In reality, many of those Palestinians, whether fully nationalized Israelis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Europeans, Americans, or any other nationality who felt sentimental about Palestine, or who wish to one day move to their ancestral homeland despite enjoying full rights of their new citizenship, will not be allowed to do so.

Palestinians today account for nearly 11 million people scattered across the globe and in every country on earth. The PA has practically a legal authority over nearly 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip (depending on how you think of the current agreement to end the division between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank). These account for less than 31 percent of the entire Palestinian population world-wide. I am not sure if the legal advise took that into consideration.

The Palestinian Authority in its desperate battle to build it's civil institutes in the West Bank, coordinate with the IDF on security issues, and cosmopolitanize Ramallah to make its future capital have practically left all Palestinians outside of the West Bank un-represented, including the residents of Gaza who were left to look for themselves through digging tunnels in the sandy rocks of Gaza.

If the future Palestinian state was to be declared and recognized, Palestinians should have an exclusive right to a dual citizenship immediately, and if their country of residence happened to insist on not allowing a dual citizenship they should be given an immediate right to hold a semi-governmental document that allows them to live, work and vote in Palestine. After 63 of unusual events and bizarre responses to these events including UN resolutions and whathaveyou, it may be only be apprehensible to allow for exceptional new measures.

As Palestinians, we should start demanding equal rights for our fellow Palestinians anywhere they are. Excluding Palestinians for simply not residing in the right locality has been an Israeli tactic to push Palestinians out of Palestine. Let us not allow our government to mimic these tactics.