The denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is arguably the very heart of the injustice in Palestine. Most north Americans are unaware that Article 55 of the Charter of the UN recognized this right in the aftermath of World War Two. It states in part: “With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote: …” Furthermore, Article 56 states that “All Members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55.” Clearly the violation of this pledge by Member States is one reason for the unrealized right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Another is the US obstruction and rejectionism in relation to the Palestinian national aspiration.
On September 21, 2022, the UN released a welcome Report by the Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, about human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories with a special analytical focus on the right of self-determination. (See the full report here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/a77356-situation-human-rights-palestinian-territories-occupied-1967) The UN Secretary General transmitted to the General Assembly the report titled “Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Israel did not permit Albanese to enter occupied Palestine, thereby continuing its long record of non-cooperation with the previous UN Special Rapporteurs in particular and with human rights defenders in general.
Three generations of Palestinians in the occupied territories, 40% of whom are 1948 refugees and their descendants, still wake up every day under the yoke of Israel’s domination. Many of them have been displaced once more during the 1967 war. Israel continues to violate numerous Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination and the right of the refugees to return, restitution, and compensation.
The UN report identifies three dominant approaches to the question of Palestine: humanitarian (improving certain aspects of life under occupation), political (ending the occupation through “negotiated peace agreement” between the opposing sides), and economic (promoting economic development of the territories). To its credit, it states that the proponents of these approaches “conflate root causes and symptoms” and ignore “the very system through which Israel rules over the Palestinians.” The Report points out the limitations of the charge of apartheid when leveled only at the conditions of rule over the occupied Palestinian territories, urging instead “a holistic examination of the experience of the Palestinian people as a whole.” It states that the Israeli intention to dispossess, displace, subjugate, dominate, and replace the indigenous Palestinians with Israeli nationals “is the hallmark of settler-colonialism.” It is this settler colonial nature of the Israeli state that violates the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to develop free from Israeli domination.
As the Report states:
Colonialism, a phenomenon often disguised as a “civilization project” and historically imposed by “Western countries” on “third world” countries, was achieved through cultural subordination of the natives, economic exploitation of their land and resources and suffocation of their political claims. Colonialism is characterized as “settler” when also driven by the logic of elimination of the indigenous character of the colonized land. This manifests in the establishment and promotion of colonies, namely, settlements of foreign people implanted among the indigenous population with the aim of subjugating and dispossessing the natives and “permanently securing hold” over specific areas. The violation of the peoples’ right to self-determination is inherent to settler-colonialism.
Furthermore, in relation to the two-state solution, the Report makes clear that “Exercising the right to self-determination in the form of a politically independent State in all of the occupied Palestinian territory would be a minimum requirement of justice for the Palestinian people; yet its realization is as distant as ever, largely because of settler-colonial endeavors pursued by Israel.”
No doubt this is a welcome UN report for those seeking justice for the Palestinians. But the stubborn facts are that as I write (a) the most rightwing, religious, and racist governing coalition has come to power in Israel, returning Benjamin Netanyahu to power once more, and (b) the US is unlikely to shift its full support for Israel even when Israeli recalcitrance and racism is reaching its zenith. On December 29, 2022, the White House released a statement from President Biden on the new Israeli government. (See: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/12/29/statement-from-president-joe-biden-on-the-new-government-of-the-state-of-israel/) It stated: “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran.” Biden went on to reiterate the administration’s hollow support for “the two-state solution” and its opposition to “policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values.”
But, as the UN report states: “The normative framework of self-determination, especially as affirmed in the context of decolonization processes, provides the necessary lens to (re-)examine and resolve the legitimate claims to emancipation of the Palestinian people.”
Holding Israel accountable requires putting an end to its settler-colonial policies.
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