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Law Institute Holds Legal Seminar on Abbas’ UN Speech

November 5, 2015
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The Institute of Law on Tuesday, October 20 held a legal seminar discussing the legal and [political implications of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Speech at the United Nations General Council.  

Senior researcher at the Institute of Law Mustafa Mari opened the event by welcoming the panelists and the audience. He said the importance of this seminar, which was supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, stems from the developments underway since the beginning of October 2015.

Head of the research committee at the Institute for Palestine Studies, Camille Mansour, chose to tackle the political side of Abbas' speech, while Al-Haq General Director Shawan Jabarin addressed the legal aspects of the speech.

Mansour started off by addressing the general context of the speech and key features shaping the current political phase. He said Abbas’ speech included a number of warning signs aimed at the international community, indicating the political and legal options available for the Palestinian Authority to implement.

The Palestinian Authority’s options, as Mansour suggested, are to provide the Palestinian people with protection based on international humanitarian law, drop international agreements, hold Israel accountable as an occupying power, declare Palestine a state under occupation and appoint the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee as a temporary government and the National Council as its parliament, maintain efforts to join international charters and organizations, and resort to the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

The seminar was attended by a large number of Birzeit’s academics and students, a number of guests working in the academic and legal sector, along with members of civil society institutions and international delegations.

Mansour then thoroughly explained every option, the way it could be translated on the ground, possible outcomes if implemented by the Palestinian Authority and feasibility in practice in the long and short run. 

Mansour then concluded with the simple and clear idea that the Palestinian Authority would choose the fifth and sixth options, which are already being implemented. The first option of international protection is difficult to adopt, because it requires a guardianship system in the Palestinian areas occupied in 1967, a decision that requires a special decree issued by the United Nations Security Council because it is an outdated system.

Mansour ruled out the remaining three options, as they will bring about serious consequences that the Palestinian Authority cannot handle. Instead, he said the government must focus on Israel’s settlement activities and racial segregation, and intensify efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, or else the Palestinian side will change from an active player in the Palestinian-Zionist conflict into merely offering “reactions" to Israel’s actions.


During the second part of the seminar, Jabarin opened by indicating the difficulties of separating between politics and law, because political resolutions and positions define the legal text.

He said it is essential to hold and refer to the partition resolution as the basic reference for any future demands. Jabarin noted that very often the partition resolution is discussed fleetingly while more focus is given to the Green Line, which is only a ceasefire line that doesn’t represent a border in its legal definition.

Jabarin also noted that there are many forms of international protection that have been used throughout history. The perfect form available to the PA, if it is interested in achieving its goal, is to officially ask the United Nations for protection. Such a move would place the UN Secretary-General under pressure, as he will be compelled to study the request and return with recommendations and suggestions. 

Towards the end of his presentation, Jabarin addressed the second pressing legal point in Abbas’ speech, which is to hold Israel accountable for its responsibilities as an occupying power. However, to hold Israel accountable would not alter the situation on the practical side, because Israel is the entity that determines every aspect in the lives of Palestinians in the occupied Territory in 1967. Therefore, this point has more political dimensions rather than legal ones.

Israel, from an entirely legal point of view, never lost its role as an occupying power, even after the signing of the Oslo Accords, pointed out Jabarin. Therefore, Israel must assume responsibility of the Palestinian territory under international law. The change then lies in the political approach - to translate this declaration into a reality on the ground, the role of the Palestinian Authority must be altered and redefined and the Israeli occupation must be lured back into a direct confrontation with Palestinians as prior to 1994.

Jabarin concluded by saying that what determines the consequences of Abbas’ speech is the coming daily and political translation of its content.

The seminar ended with a heated discussion with the audience, mainly about the strategies of the political and legal process in the next stage.

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