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Le statut international du people Palestinien – CEDIPP – Etudes de DDP Français
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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
1 January 1980


Prepared for, and under the guidance the Committee on the Exercise of
the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People


New York, 1981


    Introductory Note
    The Historical Perspective
    The Mandate of Palestine
    The Palestinian People Under the Mandate
    The United Nations and the Palestinian People The First Phase
    The International Recognition of the Rights of the Palestinian People
    Some Legal Considerations
    Notes and References


The Palestinian people are recognized today by the overwhelming majority of the international community as possessing the inalienable right to self-determination, sovereignty and national independence including the right to an independent State. This acknowledgement is the most recent phase of the Palestine question which has been an international issue for over six decades.

This short study traces the emergence of the Palestinian national entity and the status of the Palestinian people in the international community.


Early manifestations of Palestinian nationalist stirrings appear as part of the nationalist movements which emerged in the declining supra-national Ottoman empire as the First World War approached.

Palestine, an ancient land, at that time had been part of the Ottoman domain for almost four centuries. Falling within the region known historically as Syria, Ottoman Palestine approximated three sanjaks (districts). One was Jerusalem which, because of its historical religious importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, had the status of an independent sanjak, not part of any vilayet (province). It was governed directly from Constantinople, to which it sent its own legislative representatives. The sanjaks of Balqa and Acre, in the vilayet of Beirut, comprised the approximate remainder of Ottoman Palestine.

Prior to the Ottoman period Palestine had been under Arab rule for about 900 years since the 7th century.1 The population of Palestine in the early 20th century was still overwhelmingly Arab Semite, predominantly Moslem with a Christian minority, and a smaller minority of Jews. These included Jewish Palestinians, who personified the ancient spiritual links of their faith with Jerusalem and Palestine since the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century expelled the Jews of Biblical times into the Diaspora. There were also a number of Jewish settlements, started in the late 18th century mainly by East Europeans seeking refuge from anti-Jewish prejudice in their native countries. In 1918, the Jewish population of Palestine was estimated at about a tenth of the whole. Since 1897, however, the declared aim of the World Zionist Organization, in reaction to the unabating anti-Jewish feelings in Europe, had been to ". . .create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine. . .", which a slogan described as "a land without people for a people without land."

The Balfour Declaration

On 2 November 1917, more than a month before the British occupation of Jerusalem, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, informed the World Zionist Organization of British policy for Palestine. The "Balfour Declaration" stated:

The Declaration was to become an integral part of the Palestine Mandate and to influence fundamentally the course of history for Palestine and its people.

The Allied Promises to the Arabs

The British Government almost simultaneously had given undertakings to Arab leaders regarding independence for their peoples after the war in return for support against the Ottomans.

A British message assured the Arabs in January 1918 that:

In November of the same year, an Anglo-French declaration stated that:
That the Allies had made international commitments to the independence of the peoples of Arab lands is clear, but whether Palestine was included in these commitments became a matter of sharp controversy. The Arabs insisted that the Palestinian people were included in these assurances, the British maintaining that they were excluded because of an ambiguous reference in the exchanges. It was not until 1939 that the British Government conceded that in 1917 "they were not free to dispose of Palestine without regard to the wishes and interests of the inhabitants of Palestine."2

It thus would seem that, at the end of the First World War, there was an international commitment by the Allies to the principle that the people of Palestine, among others, had a right to determine their future.

The Plans for Palestine

The victorious Allied Powers in fact had decided, in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, to allocate Ottoman Arab territories to various European spheres of influence. Because of its religious importance, Palestine initially was to be under an international regime, but eventually the Allies agreed to let it pass under British tutelage.

These manoeuvres were conducted among negotiations for a post­war framework which would allow the accommodation of the new nationalist aspirations of peoples emerging from Ottoman rule to the still prevalent and powerful colonial imperative. A champion for the rights of peoples under foreign domination was President Wilson, who formulated the nascent concept of self-determination of peoples. Among the famous "Fourteen Points" was one applying directly to the Arab peoples:

Ironically, the principle of self-determination was not to find a place in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Instead, the moral and political considerations for the self-determination of peoples were superseded by the Mandate system, which purported to apply "the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization. . ."

The Mandate System

The Covenant was an accord between the sovereign States which formed the international community at that time. Those peoples who were colonised, and several of those emerging from Ottoman domination, found no place in the League system other than as wards of the dominant powers. The Arab, including the Palestinian, peoples were evidently considered the most advanced of those to be brought under Mandates, as described in the following clause from Article 22 of the Covenant dealing with Mandates:


In fact, the people of Palestine were given no say whatsoever in determining their Mandatory, much less their status, despite President Wilson's perseverance in his efforts to secure self-determination for the subjugated non-Western part of the world. A Commission appointed at his urging, referring to the principle of self-determination in Palestine, reported:
The Commission. in view of the strong Palestinian opposition to the prospect of the implementation of the Balfour policy under a British Mandate, recommended that Syria, including Palestine, be placed under a US Mandate. This made little difference to Allied plans for Palestine, Lord Balfour candidly noting in a confidential memorandum in August 1919:

On another occasion Balfour commented:

So, with little heed to the Covenant's stipulation that "the wishes of the communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory", an Allied conference at San Remo in April 1920 formally agreed to place the people of Palestine under a British Mandate that also covered Transjordan, consisting of sanjaks drawn from the vilayet of Syria. France received the Mandate for Syria and Lebanon, territories drawn from the Ottoman vilayets of Aleppo, Beirut and Syria.


The Palestine Mandate

The Palestine Mandate came into effect formally on 29 September 1922. On 16 September 1922 the Council of the League of Nations, acting under the provisions of the Mandate, had approved a separate administration for Transjordan, and the Palestine Mandate for the next 25 years applied to modern-day Palestine proper.

That the interests of the people of Palestine were not a principal concern was evident even while the international instrument of the Mandate was in the drafting stage. Lord Curzon, then British Foreign Secretary, noted:

The Mandate, in its preamble, made clear that its principal aim was the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which it incorporated. Further, it gave emphasis to "the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country." It designated the Zionist Organization as a "Jewish agency [which] shall be recognized as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the Administration of Palestine [for] the establishment of the Jewish national home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine." The Mandatory was authorized to "facilitate Jewish immigration [and] encourage, in co­operation with the Jewish agency close settlement by Jews on the land.

The Mandate contained no similar provisions for promoting the interests of the indigenous people of Palestine. The Preamble promised, in the Balfour Declaration's terms, that their "civil and religious rights [as) existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" would not be prejudiced. Other articles assured the "safeguarding [of] the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion'', "respect for the personal status and for their religious interests", and such rights as freedom of worship and non­discrimination. The essential element of the political rights of the people of Palestine was bypassed. There was no body similar to the Jewish agency to promote their interests. The Covenant's provisional recognition of the mandated peoples as "independent nations" received no mention. Thus the Mandate, which promised "development of self-governing institutions"' and which was intended as an international trust for the people of Palestine, in fact was framed in a way to promote the interests of another community instead of those of the Palestinians.

Thus a conflict of interests was built into the Mandate. While the other Mandates over the Arab peoples in Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan all led to their independence about the time of the end of the Second World War, the Palestine Mandate led instead to the Palestine problem".

Demographic changes under the Mandate

Even before the Mandate formally came into operation, implementation of the Balfour Declaration had commenced. The Zionist Organization promoted Jewish immigration into Palestine, and started land purchases through such organizations as the Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (Jewish National Fund). A demographic transformation of Palestine was effected. In a country where an official census in 1922 estimated the population at about 750,000, Jewish immigration totalled about 100,000 in the decade 1920-1930, mostly from Europe. The inhuman Nazi persecution of Jews brought an even larger influx of European Jews in the following decade—about 232,000. Over the years 1919 to 1939, the proportion of Jewish population tripled, from about 10% to about 30%. Land holdings more than doubled over the same period.

Protests by the Palestinian People

These changes were brought about under the Mandate over the resentment and opposition of the indigenous people of Palestine. Wards of the international community, they could not address the League of Nations directly, but only through the Mandatory Power. An Arab Congress was formed, and a delegation sent to London in 1921, where in a letter it complained:

These demands were to remain constant throughout the Mandate period, although political organizations such as the Arab Executive (1920-1934) and the Arab Higher Committee (after 1936) were not recognized by the Mandatory Power. An authority on the Palestine issue summarizes the efforts of the Palestinian Arabs to secure their rights:

Resistance by the Palestinian People

The Palestinian Arabs also resorted to violence to assert their demands for their rights, and inquiry commissions appointed by the British Government recognized the nature of these demands for self-determination.

In 1920, riots protested the allocation of the Palestine Mandate to Great Britain. A military inquiry commission noted that a principal cause was:

More riots and demonstrations occurred following periods of relative calm. After a major outbreak of violence in 1929, the report of the inquiry commission noted:

These protests culminated in the Palestinian rebellion lasting from 1936 to 1939, when British Government succeeded in suppressing it. A Royal Commission investigated and presented an exhaustive report, among whose findings were the following:
The Royal Commission found no way to reconcile the "dual obligation" of the British Government under the contradictory terms of the Mandate to the indigenous people of Palestine and to the new Jewish community created in Palestine under the Mandate, and recommended the Solomonian solution, the partition of Palestine. The Zionists rejected the plan as "unacceptable", and the Palestinians refused to acquiesce in the division of their land. In 1939 a British Government White Paper proposed the termination of the Mandate after 10 years (with limited Jewish immigration being permitted), Palestine becoming an ". . . independent State . . . in which Arabs and Jews share in government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded." In 1942 the Zionist Organization declared that it "affirms its unalterable rejection of the White Paper and denies its moral or legal validity".

The Second World War years, in fact, saw a suspension of major political developments in Palestine, but immigration, both legal and illegal, continued. Various alternatives were considered by the British Government in consultation with the U.S. Government, but none proved feasible. Faced with the insoluble dilemma created by its contradictory policies, Great Britain finally announced in 1947 that it would relinquish its position as Mandatory Power, and hand over a transformed land and what by now had become the "Palestine problem" to the United Nations. The international community had not brought the Palestinian people the independence it had provisionally recognized 30 years before.


The Special Committee on Palestine

One of the purposes of the United Nations, according to the first article of the Charter, is "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

The UN General Assembly, convening in 1947 for its first Special Session, appointed a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to recommend a formula for a solution to the Palestine problem. By this time Palestine was a land torn by violence, with the Palestinian Arabs, the Zionists and the British pitted one against the other.

One of the observations in UNSCOP's report was:

However, the final recommendations of UNSCOP itself were not based on this principle, which would imply a unified independent state securing the interests of the majority with strong guarantees for the rights of the minority. Instead, UNSCOP recommended a partition of Palestine similar to that proposed 10 years earlier by the British Royal Commission and rejected by both the Palestinians and the Zionists.

This recommendation was not unanimous—UNSCOP was deeply divided in its views on the position and rights of the Palestinian people and of the Jewish community in Palestine. UNSCOP's terms of reference had allowed it to visit refugee camps in Europe, and the Jewish problem in Europe was thus effectively linked with the Palestine problem, although the majority of UNSCOP was agreed that it was "incontrovertible that any solution for Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general."

The minority recommendations for a unified Palestine stated:
The majority recommended that:
The population of Palestine was estimated by UNSCOP at 1,935,000 of which 608,000 (32%) were Jews and 1,327,000 (68%) were "Arabs and others". The majority UNSCOP plan proposed partition lines which would award about 56% of the territory of Palestine to the "Jewish State", whose population would be almost equally divided between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. A justification for the partition plan commented:

The Partitioning of Palestine

After an intense and prolonged debate the UN General Assembly. by its resolution 181(II) on 29 November 1947, approved the partition of Palestine 30 votes to 17, with 9 abstentions. The Palestinian Arabs and the Arab States refused to recognize the validity of the partition. The Mandatory Power disclaimed responsibility for maintaining law and order and completed withdrawal on 15 May 1948 with Palestine rent by chaos and conflict. The establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948, forces from neighbouring Arab States entered the territory allotted to the "Arab State" and the first Arab-Israeli war, causing a vast exodus of Palestinians, was ended by an armistice with Israel in possession of about 77% of Palestine's territory, the remainder under Egyptian and Jordanian occupation.

The issue of the rights of the Palestinian people was now enmeshed in a larger dispute. A scholar comments:

Thus even the truncated "Arab State" of the Palestine Partition resolution was not established. Instead, over half of the indigenous Palestinian people (726,000 by 1949 according to a UN estimate) were refugees, many of them dependent on UN relief assistance, prolonging their status as wards of the international community, but in far more difficult conditions than under the Mandate, since their land was now under foreign occupation. At the same time, the "Palestine problem" became a major responsibility of the international community, acting through the United Nations.6


The Palestine Issue as Part of the Middle East Problem

For almost 20 years the fundamental issue of the recognition and implementation of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people remained eclipsed by the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. During this period the United Nations moved no closer to the implementation of the Partition Resolution, and the plight of the Palestinians was viewed only as a "refugee problem", although it remained the core of Middle East tensions which led to the Suez crisis:

In these circumstances the Palestinians, in addition to looking for support from other Arab countries, began to organize themselves to press their claim to their rights. Some took up arms, others turned to political means, establishing the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964. An authority writes:
The War of June 1967

The Arab-Israeli war of June 1967 brought fundamental developments. Israel occupied the rest of Palestine's territory (and Egyptian and Syrian territories also). Another Palestinian exodus swelled the number of refugees—of an estimated 2.7 million Palestinians, 1.5 million now were in exile, half a million of them "new" refugees.9 The Palestinians tried to reorganize to press the international community for their rights:
In July 1968, the Palestinian National Congress, representing all groups dispersed Palestinians, met to draw up a new Charter for the PLO, Yasser Arafat being elected Chairman in 1969. The Charter declared Israel an illegal State and rejected "all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine'', leading to Israeli refusal to deal with the PLO. The PLO also increased its armed actions against Israel, and in addition intensified its political efforts to regain international recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people which had been relegated for two decades under the label of "the Palestinian refugee problem".

Even the fundamental Security Council resolution 242 (1967), passed in November 1967, used this terminology, calling for "a just settlement of the refugee problem". Its political clauses emphasized the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force, called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in the June 1967 conflict, and required the termination of belligerency and the recognition of the right of every State in the area to live in peace in secure boundaries, free from threats of force. But it said nothing about the political rights of the Palestinian people, and Israel refused to withdraw from the occupied territories except in the context of a general peace settlement.

The International Recognition of the Rights of the Palestinian People

In this situation, the General Assembly, which had proposed the Partition of Palestine in the first place, took an approach differing from that of the Security Council. In 1969, the General Assembly, representing all members of the UN, by a large majority recognized and reaffirmed "the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine." In 1970, another resolution declared that the Assembly:

The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people was thus formally recognized by the international community, similar resolutions being passed in the following years. In September 1974, a majority of countries acted to restore, for the first time since 1952, the item "The Question of Palestine" on the agenda of the General Assembly. In October 1974, Arab heads of State and Government declared their affirmation of "the right of the Arab Palestinian people to the return of its homeland and its right of self-determination," and recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people". Soon after, the General Assembly* invited the PLO to participate in its proceedings and, on 22 November 1974, the Assembly passed** resolution 3236 (XXIX), fundamental to the international recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people, declaring that the Assembly:
In November 1974, the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, addressed the General Assembly. He reminded the Assembly that the "terrorist" label had been attached to other peoples who had fought for freedom. He appealed for the implementation of the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, sovereignty and national independence in Palestine, concluding:

The symbolism of his address was evident—the Palestinian people had been recognized by the international community as a people with a right to determine their own status in the world, and with the right to their own independent State.

According to a recognized authority, the PLO's use of armed force has played a part in wresting international recognition of Palestinian rights:

The single most impressive success of the Palestinian commandos in recent years has been to raise the issue of Palestinian national claims to the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the Middle East, in Europe, at the United Nations, and in the United States, recognition of the need for some role for Palestinians in any eventual peaceful settlement involving Israel and the Arab world has increased dramatically in recent years. By insisting on the right to speak on their own behalf, Palestinian nationalists have sought to forestall a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that would be at their expense."11

The identification of the majority of the international community, as demonstrated in the UN General Assembly, with the aspirations of the Palestinian people to exercise their natural and inherent rights has become stronger every year, as has the recognition of the fact that the Palestine issue lies at the centre of the Middle East problem. This is reflected in the most recent resolution on the "Question of Palestine", passed by the Assembly in 1978, in the significant clauses of which the Assembly:
International recognition of the Palestinian people and their rights also has been expressed outside the United Nations. The list of individual States who give the Palestinians full support is too long to detail, but excerpts which follow from declarations made by some of the major groups of States illustrate the overwhelming consensus in the international community in acknowledging the principles for implementing the rights of the Palestinian people.

The Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Countries:
The Summit Conference of the Organization of African Unity:
The spokesman of the European Economic Community:

The UN Committee on Palestinian Rights

The General Assembly has taken two other important steps to demonstrate international recognition of the status of the Palestinians as a people entitled to self-determination and independence. First, in 1974, it conferred on the PLO the status of observer in the United Nations. The PLO now has been recognized by virtually all international organizations as the representative of the Palestinian people. All UN specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, WHO, etc., have given it observer status. Some other international bodies, such as the Non-Aligned Conference, the Islamic Conference and the Arab League, have admitted the PLO as a full member, and have consistently expressed full support for the securing of the rights of the Palestinian people.11 Second, in 1975, the Assembly established a Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People*, now composed of 23 members and 10 observers. This Committee in 1976 presented its first report outlining a programme to restore to the Palestinian people their internationally recognized rights, commencing with the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories occupied in June 1967. These proposals have been overwhelmingly endorsed by the General Assembly every year but have not yet been acted upon by the Security Council. A Council discussion in 1976 ended with the veto of a draft resolution stating that the Security Council:

*Known informally as the Committee on Palestinian Rights.

Further Council discussions in October 1977 and during 1979 ended inconclusively.

The present position, therefore, is that the United Nations has still to take definitive action to secure implementation of the inherent and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, sovereignty and national independence in Palestine. It is clearly evident that these rights of the Palestinian people have received recognition by the preponderant majority of the international community acting through the General Assembly, the same body which, more than three decades ago, recommended the partition of Palestine.

The International Community and the Rights of the Palestinian People

The struggle of the Palestinian people to gain this recognition has been long and hard Along with other Arab peoples they had seen the promise of freedom in their own land in their being provisionally recognized by the Covenant of the League of Nations as "independent nations". This was then denied by the Palestine Mandate, which relegated them to being looked on as strangers in their own land as the "non-Jewish communities in Palestine". During the Mandate period their resistance at least led them to being called "Palestinian Arabs" Following the failure of the "Arab State", promised by the Partition Resolution, to be established, and their expulsion or flight from their homes, they became "'Arab refugees". It is only over the last decade that they have won overwhelming international recognition of their rightful status as the Palestinian people, entitled to exercise their natural and inalienable rights of self-determination, national independence and sovereignty in Palestine. It remains the responsibility of the international community, acting through the United Nations, to secure the exercise of these rights for the Palestinian people.


Without attempting an exhaustive legal examination, a brief consideration of some of the legal considerations may clarify the issues involved in the historical and political course of the Palestine question and the status of the people of Palestine.

Sovereignty Under Mandates

A fundamental issue is the issue of sovereignty, whose nature and meaning for long has been debated intensely in both law and politics because of its symbiotic relationship with the right of self-determination and with the legitimate exercise of power.

The crucial question for the Palestine question is where sovereignty lay during the period that Palestine was under the Mandate. The authority exercised over Palestine by the Ottoman Emperor ceased when Palestine was militarily occupied by the British in 1917, but it was not until 24 July 1923 that, by the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey formally and legally relinquished any claim to sovereignty over the territories it was ceding, including Palestine, by declaring that it "renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories."

In the meantime, the Palestine Mandate had been finalized. Some writers have claimed that under the Mandate system a Mandatory Power assumed full and legal sovereignty over the territory under its authority; this would imply that the Mandatory had the power to annex the territory. This view is rejected by the consensus of international juridical opinion, based on several compelling considerations. First, the Treaty of Versailles, of which the Covenant formed part, was based on the principle of non-annexation of territory. Second, the League itself could not assume or transfer sovereignty, Article 22 of the Covenant unequivocally stating that:

Third, Article 22 further declared that, in the case of "A" Mandates, "their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized." Fourth, the Mandates themselves (article 5 in the Palestine Mandate) explicitly prohibited the alienation of territory under Mandate.

Drawing on these considerations, the international legal consensus is that in the territories under Mandate sovereignty rested with their peoples, notwithstanding their inability to exercise, during the period under Mandate, the powers conferred by this latent sovereignty. One such representative view may be quoted:

A leading authority in international law comments:

The conclusive view has been expressed by the International Court of Justice in the case of South-West Africa, a "C" Mandate which, according to the Covenant, could be "administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory". Even in the case of such a Mandate, the Court declared:

It is self-evident that this ruling in the question of sovereignty in the case of a "C" Mandate is fully applicable in the case of an "A" Mandate such as Palestine.

While, under the new international order introduced by the League of Nations, sovereignty over Palestine rested with the Palestinian people, these sovereign rights were clearly violated by the Balfour Declaration, which possessed several remarkable features. First, it presumed to dispose of Palestine in cooperation with a political organization whose publicly declared intention was to colonize Palestine with foreign immigrants. Second, it termed the Palestinian people, nine-tenths of the whole, "the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine'', a description likened to calling "'the multitude the non-few". Third, it denied the Palestinians from any say in their future status. Fourth, it presumed to alienate a land over which, at the time, it had no authority whatsoever. An authority writes:

The incorporation of the Balfour Declaration, with its infringement of the sovereign rights of the Palestinian people, into the Mandate for Palestine raises the important question of whether the Mandate then remained consistent with the requirements of the Covenant. The answer evidently is that it did not, but the international community, as composed at the time, acquiesced in the denial of the inherent rights of the Palestinian people by, in Balfour's words "consciously seeking to re-constitute a new community and definitely building a majority for the future." Further, where the Covenant prescribed "administrative assistance and advice" in transition to independence, the Mandate, in pursuing the aim of the Balfour Declaration, instead bestowed on the Mandatory "full powers of legislation and administration". According to an authority writing in 1932:

These legal ambiguities did not impede the implementation of the Balfour policy under the Mandate.. As already noted, the demography of Palestine was transformed, the ratio of Palestinian Arab to Jewish population falling from 10 to 1 to 2 to 1. At this stage, the Mandatory Power transferred the issue to the United Nations. The Mandate terminated with the final withdrawal of the Mandatory Power on 15 May 1948, the League of Nations having become defunct earlier.

These developments, however, did not extinguish the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty and self-determination, even though they had not yet achieved independence. At the same time the Mandate had created a situation where the Jewish population had gained acquired rights. The United Nations, which now bore the international community's responsibility for securing for Palestine the self-determination that had not been achieved under the Mandate, was faced with the fait accompli of the natural rights of an indigenous people facing challenge from the acquired rights of a new community. Rather than deal with legal principles, the Assembly took a pragmatic political approach, and approved the Partition Resolution, which did not attempt to implement the right of self-determination in a unified Palestine. A proposal to refer the partition proposal to the International Court of Justice was rejected. The draft resolution was not examined by the Sixth Committee, charged with legal matters. Thus the Partition Resolution's legal implications were not examined by any judicial or legal authority.

As an expression of the will of the international community in 1947, however, the Partition Resolution, as amended by subsequent resolutions, may be considered valid, providing authority for the two States in Palestine.18 But, following the further fait accompli of the establishment of Israel and its later consolidation in an expanded form, and of the non-establishment of the ''Arab State" in Palestine, the legal aspects of the Palestine question lay dormant for two decades, no attempt being made to realize the establishment of an "Arab State" in Palestine.

Self-determination in the United Nations

Unlike the Covenant of the League of Nations, the UN Charter, while providing that only States can be full members, responds to the interests not only of States, but of peoples. The Charter begins: "We the peoples of the United Nations . . . and seeks "friendly relations between nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples . . ."

By 1952 the General Assembly had enunciated the right of self-determination for peoples of former Mandates which had become Non-Self-Governing or Trust Territories under the UN system. The only exception was Palestine, which had become the "Palestine problem". In 1960, the General Assembly adopted resolution 1514 (XV) entitled "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples' clearly endorsed the right of self-determination for peoples subject "to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation", as follows:

This enunciation eventually formed part of the first article of the In­ternational Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966.

Resolutions in similar terms were passed by successive General Assembly sessions, and several international jurists have declared that this expression of the will of the international community is an integral part of the process of making international law. Judge Tanaka, of the International Court of Justice, has commented as follows:
Judge Jessup, in the same case. observed:

Judge Lachs is quoted as stating that the General Assembly's resolutions on self-determination should be:

A UN report notes that:

The Right of' the Palestinian People to Self-Determination

Having clearly established the right of self-determination as a general principle of international law, the General Assembly, still bearing the international community's responsibility for the unresolved Palestine question, has consistently reiterated, since 1969, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty, as already described. If a series of General Assembly resolutions on the right of self-determination in general has the effect of creating a principle of international law, then do not a series of resolutions on the specific right of self-determination of a particular people create obligations on the part of the international community? It would appear that this expression of the will of the international community calls for concrete and definite actions by the United Nations, and more specifically by the Security Council, to secure the implementation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Indeed the initial steps already have been taken in the General Assembly, recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. A writer on international legal questions states:

The most significant manifestation of this international legal standing is the status of observer conferred by the United Nations, since this carries certain legal connotations and consequences, particularly when the recipient of the observer status is a national liberation movement such as the PLO. One authority, Professor Erik Suy, explains these implications:
It is relevant to note, in this context, that the General Assembly has permitted the representative of the PLO to speak in exercise of the right of reply during the General Debate in the Plenary, a right normally granted only to Member-States. Further, the President of the Security Council, in allowing the PLO representative to participate, while not specifying under which rule of procedure this decision is taken has clarified explicitly that "if approved by the Council, the invitation to participate in the debate would confer on the Palestine Liberation Organization the same rights of participation as those conferred on Member States when they are invited to participate pursuant to rule 37."23 The implication appears to be that the PLO is not strictly restricted to the role of an observer, and perhaps may even have taken a step beyond toward the concept of a "proto-state".

In his concluding analysis of the implications of UN practice regarding observer missions representing entities without a territorial base, Professor Suy comments on the effects of the role of non-state entities on the existing world order:

From the various considerations discussed, it appears that the dominant majority of the international community has recognized the Palestinians as a people entitled to their inalienable rights of self-determination, national independence and sovereignty. Further, the United Nations has dealt with representatives of the Palestinian people in a manner that suggests their being acknowledged a "proto-state". It remains for the United Nations, as the organization representing the international community, to fulfil its obligations to secure for the Palestinian people a State of their own. It is a responsibility that the United Nations accepted on behalf of the international community more than three decades earlier from the League of Nations which pledged the Palestinian people independence six decades ago.


( 1) Except for 90 years of Crusader rule in the 12th century.

( 2) The question of the "Husain-McMahon Correspondence" and other historical events, including the drafting of the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate, have been referred to in an earlier UN study, The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem, Part I.

( 3) Letter dated 24 October 1921 from the Christian-Moslem Palestine Delegation to the British Colonial Secretary (Commonwealth Office No 733/14)

( 4) Lesch, Ann Mosley: ''The Nationalist Movement under the Mandate in Quandt, Jabber and Lesch: The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism, (Berkley, University of California Press, 1973), pp. 25, 27-28

( 5) Anabtawi, Samir N.: "The Palestinians as a Political Entity in Moore, John Norton (ed ): The Arab- Israeli Conflict, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 510.

( 6) The course of the Palestine question in the UN has been traced in Part II of the study cited in note 2.

( 7) Anabtawi: op. cit., pp. 511-512.

( 8) Quandt, William B.: "Political and Military Dimension of Contemporary Palestinian Nationalism in Quandt, Jabber and Lesch, op.cit. , p. 50.

( 9) Abu Lughod, .Janet: "The Demographic Transformation of Palestine"' in Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim (ed): The Transformation of Palestine, (Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 1971), p. 163.

(10) Quandt: op.cit., p. 52.

(11) Ibid., pp. 149-150.

(12) The progress of the PLO's recognition by the international community is described by Shah, Mowahid "The Palestinian Progress under International Law—I", Pakistan Horizon, Vol. XXXI, No. 1, 1978, pp. 3-23.

(13) Pic, Pierre: "Le Régime du Mandat d'après le Traité de Versailles": Revue générale de Droit International Public, vol. XXX, p. 334, (1923), (Translated from French).

(14) Wright, Quincy: "Sovereignty of the Mandates": American Journal of International Law, Vol. 17, (1923), p. 696.

(15) International Court of Justice: "Advisory Opinion regarding the Status of South West Africa", ICJ Reports, 1950, p. 132.

(16) Linowitz, Sol M.: "The Legal Basis for the State of Israel": American Bar Association Journal, Vol. 43, 1957, p. 522.

(17) Hocking, William Ernest: The Spirit of World Politics, (New York, McMillan, 1932), p. 196.

(18) The legal implications of UN resolutions are examined in a UN study An International Law Analysis of the Major United Nations Resolutions Concerning the Palestine Question by W. Thomas Mallison and Sally Mallison.

(19) International Court of Justice: "Advisory Opinions and Orders. South West Africa Cases", ICJ Reports, 1966, pp. 291-292.

(20) Ibid., pp. 332, 341.

(21) Sorensen, Max (ed): Manual of Public International Law, (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1968), p. 19.

(22) Fisher, Robert: "Following in Another's Footsteps: The Acquisition of International Legal Standing by the Palestine Liberation Organization" in Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 221-223. The article compares the process by which the Zionist Organization in the Mandate period and the PLO more recently attained international standing.

(23) Suy, Erik: "The Status of Observers in International Organizations", to be published in Recueil de Cours (The Hague), Vol. 159, 1978. These lectures were delivered at The Hague Academy of International Law in 1978 by Professor Suy, the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, in his personal capacity, and do not represent an official view of the United Nations.

(24) This decision was first taken by the President of the General Assembly in 1976 (Document A/31/PV.9, para. 154), and implemented in 1977 (Document A/32/PV.29, pp. 111-112). In General Assembly proceedings other than the General Debate, the PLO participates fully in the Plenary and in the Committees in the capacity of observer on the basis of resolution 3237(XXIX)

(25) Most recently on 29 August 1979 (Docu­ment S/PV.2164).

(26) Suy: op. cit.

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