Legal Issues With Palestinian Statehood: Who Is a Palestinian Citizen?

The Jerusalem Post obtained a document sent to Israeli envoys abroad pointing out some of the legal challenges to Palestinian statehood. The doc’s based on the first article of Montevideo Convention, which spells out four legal requisites for statehood.

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

The JPost writes:

Regarding its permanent population, the paper stated that the Palestinians have “been ambiguous about which group of people would constitute the permanent population of their state.”

“The Palestinians seem to be seeking to establish a new state, and at the same time preserve the status of Palestinians living in the diaspora as so-called ‘refugees,’” the document continued.

“As part of this effort, they have presented contradictory positions, wanting to continue to represent all Palestinians on refugee-related claims, but, at the same time, stating that they do not intend to grant citizenship to members of the Palestinian diaspora.”

According to the document, this is an “internal contradiction” that necessarily leads to ambiguity on the population issue since a state can only represent the claims of its own citizens.

Abdullah Abdullah

Indeed, the most notable muddying of the waters came when PLO ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, told the Daily Star:

The ambassador unequivocally says that Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of the sought for U.N.-recognized Palestinian state, an issue that has been much discussed. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” he says. “But … they are not automatically citizens.”

This would not only apply to refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan or the other 132 countries where Abdullah says Palestinians reside. Abdullah said that “even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

Abdullah said that the new Palestinian state would “absolutely not” be issuing Palestinian passports to refugees.

As an aside, nothing’s stopping Hamas from opening up the refugee camps in Gaza either.

In any event, the question of who represents Palestinian refugees in a post-state world is very, very thorny. Guy Goodwin-Gill’s legal opinion is still causing fear and loathing in Ramallah and the refugee camps.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ document also addresses the issue of effective government and the fact that Hamas — not the PA — controls Gaza. More on that in a separate post.

(Image of child via Flickr/gnuckx)