by John V. Whitbeck, International Lawyer and Legal Advisor to the Palestinians
Jan. 11, 2013 (TSR) – On January 3, Mahmoud Abbas, acting in his capacities as President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed “Decree No. 1 for the year 2013”. While he did so with minimal ceremony or fanfare, and while the change formalized by this decree should surprise no one after the UN General Assembly’s overwhelming vote on November 29 to upgrade Palestine’s status at the United Nations to “observer state”, this change is potentially historic.
By this decree, the “Palestinian Authority”, created for a five-year “interim” period pursuant to the “Oslo” Declaration of Principles signed on the White House lawn in September 1993, has been absorbed and replaced by the State of Palestine, proclaimed in November 1988, recognized diplomatically by 131 of the 193 UN member states and supported in the recent General Assembly vote by an additional 28 states which have not yet formally recognized it diplomatically.
After citing the November 29 General Assembly Resolution, Article 1 of the decree states: “Official documents, seals, signs and letterheads of the Palestinian National Authority official and national institutions shall be amended by replacing the name ‘Palestinian National Authority’ whenever it appears by the name ‘State of Palestine’ and by adopting the emblem of the State of Palestine.” Concluding Article 4 states: “All competent authorities, each in their respective area, shall implement this Decree starting from its date.”
There is no further need for a Palestinian leader to be three-headed or three-hatted. While the Palestine Liberation Organization will continue to represent all Palestinians everywhere, those Palestinians who live in the State of Palestine (whose territory is defined by the November 29 General Assembly Resolution as “the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967”) or who, living elsewhere, will be the proud holders of new State of Palestine passports will now also be represented by the State of Palestine.
Perhaps due, at least in part, to the low-key manner in which this change has been effected, it has attracted remarkably little attention from the international media or reaction from other governments, even the Israeli and American governments. This is not necessarily disappointing, since passive acceptance is clearly preferable to furious rejection.
The relatively few and brief media reports of the change have tended to characterize it as “symbolic”. It could – and should – be much more than that. If the Palestinian leadership plays its cards wisely, it could – and should – represent a turning point toward a better future.
The State of Palestine now exists on the soil of Palestine – albeit still, in varying degrees and circumstances, under belligerent occupation by the State of Israel.
In its November 29 Resolution, the General Assembly “Affirms its determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfills the vision of two States, an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel, on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”
The members of the international community must now show their determination not simply in words but also in deeds and actions. In a world which professes to take human rights and international law, including the UN Charter, seriously, the perpetual belligerent occupation of one state by another state is inconceivable. The fact that the Israeli occupation of Palestine has been permitted to endure, expand and entrench itself for more than 45 years represents an appalling black mark against mankind. This occupation must now end.
John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel. A specialist in conflict resolution, particularly as it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was a longtime advocate of “joint undivided sovereignty” over Jerusalem by both Palestinians and Israelis.Recently, Whitbeck has called for “delegitimizing Zionism” (which he calls a “racial-supremicist, settler-colonial experiment”) and rejecting the “peace process”. In 2009, Whitbeck wrote that Western states should adopt a policy that he called “profoundly philo-Semitic, pro-Jewish and, yes, anti-Zionist” by encouraging Israeli Jews to “return to their countries of origin or emigrat[e] to other countries of their choice” while the state of Israel is replaced by a “unitary state in the land which, until 1948, was called Palestine.” Whitbeck rejected what he called “cynical recycling of a partition-based ‘peace process’ which is now widely recognized to be both a fraud and a farce and which, even if ‘successful’, would simply legitimize, reward and perpetuate ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.” After several years of advocating a democratic one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Whitbeck has supported the Palestinian leadership’s initiative to increase diplomatic recognitions and obtain United Nations membership for the State of Palestine, and he was invited by the United Nations to address the UN Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held in Montevideo in March 2011, on the applicability of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States to the State of Palestine. Since 1988, his articles on behalf of Palestinian rights and Middle East peace have been published more than 650 times in more than 80 Arab, Israeli and international newspapers, magazines, journals and books.