“The Palestine Papers”: Dealing Away Human Rights

As many of you have probably heard by now, the World has been rocked by yet another massive leak of some 1,600 confidential documents detailing meetings and negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian and American representatives. These documents, currently in the exclusive possession of The Guardian and Al Jazeera, reveal the massive concessions which the Palestinians are willing to make and the Israeli view that such massive yielding is not enough. At the core of these leaked papers is a massive human rights issue: the right of some 5 million Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

The Palestinian right of return has been the issue which has proved most controversial and difficult during the ongoing peace process between Israel and Palestine and these documents demonstrate just how far Palestinian negotiators are willing to limit it. To the shock and anger of many Palestinians comes the news that their right to return had been dealt away in a token gesture that would allow just 10,000 people back into Israel. The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (a refugee himself), has also been quoted in the “Palestine Papers” as having said: “it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million. That would mean the end of Israel.” Although, this statement makes sense and such a deal would never be brokered this is not what is at issue. In order to illustrate that we must briefly look at the history of this conflict, which has lasted more than six decades.

The Six Day War and establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 led to more than 700,000 Arabs to flee their homes. Their descendants now number in the millions and are still unable to return to Israel. In December of 1948 the UN General Assembly passed UN Resolution 194 which urged Israel to repatriate those who had been displaced by the conflict. The right to return was also enshrined in international law where Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that anyone who leaves their home has the right to return to it. Within this body of international law is where the biggest human rights problem revealed by the “Palestine Papers” becomes clear. Palestinian negotiators were dealing away the human rights of individuals which they had no legal power to do.

The human rights of Palestinian refugees have been used as, what was described by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a “bargaining chip”. It seems likely, even with the revelations provided by these leaked documents, that in order to broker the two state peace solution so sought after by the international community the rights of 5 million people will be dealt away by people who have no legal right to do so. If this were to happen, not only would it be a black day in the history of international human rights law, but it may very well prolong a conflict into its seventh century instead of stop it.

If you wish to know more about the “Palestine Papers” then please visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/palestine-papers There are some very interesting comments on there, including a proposal by Condoleezza Rice to resettle Palestinian refugees in South America.

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