headquarters in New York [MaanImages/Omar Rashidi, File]
The seven-page document, obtained by Ma'an, asserts that recognition of Palestinian statehood would terminate the legal status of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
If the statehood bid is successful, there will no longer be an institution that can represent the inalienable rights of the entire Palestinian people in the UN, and related international institutions, according to the opinion by Guy Goodwin-Gill.
Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University, and a member of the team that won the non-binding 2004 International Court of Justice judgement that the route of Israel's separation wall was illegal.
Representation for the right to self-determination will be gravely affected, as it is a right of all Palestinians, both inside and outside the occupied homeland, according to the document.
"The Palestine Liberation Organization, the future State of Palestine, and the question of popular representation," states that this change in status will severely disenfranchise the right of the refugees to return to their homes and properties from which they were forcibly displaced during the 1948 Palestinian exodus.
Following the collapse of direct peace talks with Israel in September last year, the PLO adopted a diplomatic strategy of looking to secure UN recognition for a state along the frontiers which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.
Heated debates have focused on whether full UN membership for the State of Palestine should be requested from the Security Council, or whether the PLO should seek "observer status" from the General Assembly.
But the dramatic legal implications for Palestinian rights outlined in the legal opinion have not been discussed.
Goodwin-Gill's recommends that the PLO should "flag the matters requiring attention, if a substantial proportion of the people (having a particular interest in, among others, the right of return) are not be to be accidentally disenfranchised."
Substituting the PLO with the State of Palestine as the representative of the Palestinian people in the UN "raises, first, what I will call 'constitutional' problems (in that they engage the Palestinian National Charter and the organization and entities which make up the PLO)," the legal expert has determined.
Secondly, "the question of the 'capacity' of the State of Palestine effectively to take on the role and responsibilities of the PLO in the UN; and thirdly, the question of popular representation," Goodwin-Gill says.
He adds: "The [Palestinian Authority] has limited legislative and executive competence, limited territorial jurisdiction, and limited personal jurisdiction over Palestinians not present in the areas for which it has been accorded responsibility."
The PA was established by the PLO as a short-term, administrative entity charged with the governance of those areas of the West Bank and Gaza which were placed under Palestinian responsibility pursuant to the Oslo accords.
"The Palestinian Authority is a subsidiary body, competent only to exercise those powers conferred on it by the Palestinian National Council. By definition, it does not have the capacity to assume greater powers, to 'dissolve' its parent body, or otherwise to establish itself independently of the Palestinian National Council and the PLO.
"Moreover, it is the PLO and the Palestinian National Council which derive their legitimacy from the fact that they represent all sectors of the displaced Palestinian people, no matter where they presently live or have refuge," Goodwin-Gills advises.
The majority of Palestinian people are refugees, and they are represented by the PLO through the Palestinian National Council.
"They constitute more than half of the people of Palestine, and if they are 'disenfranchised' and lose their representation in the UN, it will not only prejudice their entitlement to equal representation, contrary to the will of the General Assembly, but also their ability to vocalise their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the State, and to exercise the right of return," the legal expert warns.
Karma Nabulsi, a former PLO representative and now a professor at Oxford University, confirmed that Palestinian officials had received the legal opinion and were aware of its findings.
"Without question, no Palestinian will accept losing such core rights for such a limited diplomatic initiative in September," she says.
"First, we will not have liberated territory upon which to establish a state. But in losing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative at the UN, our people immediately lose our claims as refugees to be part of our official representation, recognized by the world.
"This is an urgent and critical issue for our whole people. We must ensure our representatives advance our rights in international forums, not weaken or endanger them.
"Of course now that the legal dangers have been raised so fully, I am confident the initiative will protect the status of the PLO as sole legitimate representative in the UN in order to advance the rights of the Palestinian people."
She added: ”Prof. Goodwin-Gill has defined and clarified the red lines in legal terms. His view is clearly stated: the PLO is the representative of the people, not just a part of the people; the PLO is the architect and creator of the Palestinian Authority; that any change in who represents the people or a part of the people requires an expression of the popular will and international recognition.
"Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the PLO can alter the role and structure of the PLO without the agreement of the entire Palestinian people. In any case, the PLO and the Palestinian people were not aware that by losing the PLO as representative at the UN, it would create such legal dangers. Now they are."
She concluded: "Obviously, we need clarity from the PLO on this critical issue, and it is important that the Palestinian public everywhere, especially the refugees in the diaspora, are given concrete reassurances that representation of their core rights -- on both representation and right of return -- will remain untouched in September."
Maan News Agency