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International treaties and the prospects for justice for Palestinians

April 9, 2014 10:35 P.M. (Updated: April 14, 2014 7:27 P.M.)
By: Ata Hindi
Ata Hindi is the Communications Officer, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat/Researcher at the Institute of Law at Birzeit University.

I originally wrote this piece with the usual Palestinian uneasiness a couple of weeks ago after President Mahmoud Abbas' meeting with US President Barack Obama.

I, like many other Palestinians, feared that he would be pressured into accepting an extension of what have been termed "negotiations" past the April 29 deadline, while Israel continued its ongoing violations against Palestine and the Palestinian people.

The Palestinians had gone too many years questioning decision after decision, policy after policy, on behalf of Palestine and the Palestinian people -- particularly insofar as international law was concerned.

What immediately comes to mind is Palestine's disconcerting failure in acceding to international treaties and joining international organizations, supported by a robust legal and victim-based strategy at the international level.

Many have been frustrated with the PLO for the perceived continuing disregard for the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people that continues to occur even while its representatives are seated at the negotiating table. Legal strategies were substituted with inexcusable political lingo and seemed lacking, unclear and substandard.

Then, on April 1, 2014, Palestine decided it will be "joining 15 international treaties including those pertaining to human, civil, women and disabled rights." These include both treaties and sets of treaties, equaling more than 15 in total -- some of which Israel is not yet party to. Palestine's ability to take this step was provided by General Assembly Resolution 67/19 -- which upgraded Palestine to non-member observer state status at the United Nations. The resolution provided the State of Palestine and the Palestinian people a means to pursue justice and accountability at the international level.

So have the Palestinians finally seen their leaders employ our ability to join international treaties and organizations as a right, rather than a threat? Palestine's accessions on April 1 indicate that justice and accountability for the Palestinian people was not the priority.

It has been reported that the Palestinian leadership has done the work necessary to join 63 agencies, organizations and treaties. The Palestinian people are, for the most part, unaware of this list and its contents. It does not suffice to say that Palestine can join "as and when it sees fit."

If it is in the best interests of the Palestinian people, then the time is now. This is a right, not a threat.

If the PLO wanted to provide justice and accountability, the Palestinians should enjoy greater access to justice and accountability at the international level, including through accession to those instruments providing complaint mechanisms to these treaties. This would be complemented by a robust international legal strategy.

Now that we have acceded to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, we should challenge the fundamental flaws of the Oslo Accords. We should challenge the restraints on our ability to investigate and prosecute Israeli war criminals.

With the International Court of Justice, we must strategize and return to the ICJ on questions of fundamental importance to Palestine and the Palestinian people.

We should not delay our accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in order to protect the Palestinian people from future violations. The Palestinian leadership failed before when they fell short of continuing their push towards the 12(3) declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court from July 1, 2002. They should have further challenged the determination made by the Office of the Prosecutor (which had been shared beforehand).

Palestine's decision not to accede to the Rome Statute in exchange for a release of prisoners implies that accession to these treaties is a means for negotiations, rather than a sincere effort at providing justice and accountability for the Palestinian people. Israel has an obligation to release prisoners regardless -- not at the expense of the rights we can exercise as a state.

In relation, it has been the case that certain intergovernmental bodies have invited Palestine as an "entity" rather than a "state" due to pressure from the US. Such is a situation that cannot be accepted.

We should not sit back while the Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict sits on the shelves in New York and Geneva. The past session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has given us another an opportunity to pursue justice and accountability for Gaza. In relation, the Palestinians should immediately request a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to remind Israel and third states of their obligations as it relates to the serious breaches of international humanitarian law committed by the State of Israel.

These are all but a few steps that the Palestinians should strongly consider. Perhaps most importantly, we must seriously assess the illegality of this occupation as it relates to colonialism and apartheid.

Our occupiers and their supporters have lobbied heavily against these routes because they fear the law.

How can we negotiate with a state (Israel), through the mediation of another state (the United States), neither of which recognize the State of Palestine?

It must be made clear: we are a state and should be recognized as such at the negotiating table. There is no compromise on our borders, just like there will be no recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State" and just like there is no forfeiture on the legal right of return for all Palestinian refugees.

The law and justice are right there in front of President Mahmoud Abbas. He must continue moving forward and not turn back.

The free State of Palestine and justice and accountability for the Palestinian people are past due. It is time for the Palestinian Authority to rethink its current configuration. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs should take a leading role in creating and implementing a robust and aggressive international legal and victim-based strategy.

The negotiators should not monopolize Palestine's legal options to only be a used as playing cards on the negotiation table. An strategy should be drafted with the participation of NGOs on the ground that have been fighting through years of pain and frustration (perhaps a working group that can create a plan of action for the State of Palestine).

We must go to New York, to Geneva and The Hague and not look back. It is our time to get what has been long ours: peace, justice, accountability and freedom.

The Palestinian people cannot be held hostage to the situation created by the facade of negotiations.

We are a State. We must act like one.

Here, I remind the Palestinian leadership of the words of Malcolm X: "Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it."

We are a people asking for justice and accountability. Let us take it.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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