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Friday, December 3, 2021

The Two State Solution Is The Best Possible Solution, So Far


Ali Mhanna, Minister of Justice for Palestine, has seen the struggle up, close and personal. Jailed twice by the Israelis, he never lost hope for freedom and worked on strengthening the nascent justice system of the Palestinian state. In his interview with TSI’s Saurabh Kumar Shahi, Mhanna talks about the legal paradigm of the Palestine struggle and the way forward.
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: September 29, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Palestinian movement | West Bank and East Jerusalem | UN | International Court |

The Palestinian movement for the reclamation of homeland has seen some tectonic shifts in the last decade. In Europe, increasingly lawyers, human right activists and others have also started exploring the legal dimensions of this conflict bringing a completely new form of challenge to the Israeli regime that was hitherto absent. What changed?


There are many reasons behind this. The foremost, of course, has been new developments in the Palestinian political and legal discourse addressing international bodies, NGOs and human rights organizations that have made it easier to understand the Palestinian issue. Second, we must also acknowledge the contribution that the Palestinian NGOs has done to this discourse by providing it a paradigm hitherto absent. And while this was happening, the international community, especially so in the West, started showing more maturity in understanding our story, cutting through the maze of complexities and misinformation. So, a synergy of the sorts developed.

There is now a very frank debate going on the future and viability of a Palestinian state. Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A growing number of members from the European legal community and Palestinians alike are starting to feel that the idea of a Palestinian state is becoming unrealistic. Does the two-state solution still stand a chance?

The Palestinian leadership, in accordance with the PLO formula, believes that that two-state solution is the best possible solution so far. I insist, so far. However, having said that let me also add that because of the ongoing Israeli policy of expanding the settlements and confiscating lands, this solution will be very difficult to implement. If this continues, then we’ll have no option but to go for the one-state solution. But that won’t be in any way suitable for either us or them. Primarily because of the raciest and extremist policies followed by them.

Let me put the question in another way. Because of the massive settlements, the land-swap will also be huge and therefore contentious. Whereas if you go for one state, you can push the international community to draw parallels from the apartheid era South Africa...

The land-swap we are looking at the moment won’t exceed more than two percent of the total land. But this is not our first preference. We have gone for the Observer Status in the UN on the commitment that there will be a functional, viable, independent state within the land before the 1967 War, with East Jerusalem as the capital. This does not mean that we accept the status quo vis-a-vis the settlements. In no way is this de facto. This land is not in contention. This land is under occupation of Israel in any interpretation of law. And it has been recognised as such by the international community and international legal bodies alike. When Israel withdrew from Sinai Peninsula, it withdrew completely and demolished its settlements including the town of Yamit.

The situation has turned more complex since the Sinai conflict days. Knesset passed a law recently that asks the government in power in Tel Aviv to go for a referendum before taking any decision related to withdrawal or land-swap. In my view, this is pretty well looks like a water-tight thing.

Israeli public discourse keeps shifting in accordance with the circumstances. It is more or less cyclic in nature. Nobody can predict when the political developments in the region shift the equilibrium towards the Right-wingers, or moderates or the Left-wingers. If Netanyahu allies with the Left-wingers and Arabs there, he will have enough numbers to sail through. If only there is a political will to do so. And, more importantly, Knesset laws are not written in stone. No subsequent Knesset has looked same in terms of political distribution. Its laws can always be changed. It has happened in the past and we have a reason to believe it will happen again in the future.  

Talking about the bid for the full membership in the UN last year, there is a section that sees it as merely symbolic. Whereas a dominant narrative suggests that Palestine should now seek the full membership of International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court and bring Israel to book.

The Observer status in the UN is not the endgame for us. From the legal point of view, we have the right to apply for the full membership and we’ll keep attempting that. The decision has brought many benefits. The foremost is the recognition that the Palestinian lands are not conflicted but occupied. Plus we are entitled now to join all relevant international agencies and organizations. We can now also join all international conventions and become signatory in them. Because of the structure of the UNSC, we faced a logjam. But we’ll keep trying. In years to come, new members will join the non-permanent member rotation and we might achieve the figure of nine. So make no mistake, we’ll keep trying. We have refused to give any guarantee that we’ll not seek the services of International Court of Justice and sue Israel there. Whenever we’ll feel that the time is appropriate, we’ll not hesitate to take that path.

A free, democratic state needs a free judiciary. Assuming Palestine gets the statehood, what structure do you have in place to usher an independent and functional judicial system?

We truly believe that there will not be national independence without the independence of judiciary. Our system is multilayered and consists of HJC, the Attorney General’s office, the Palestinian Bar Association and the Independent Commission of Human Rights. I can confidently say that Palestine has come a long way in the justice performance level whether it relates to technical development, the academic and practical training of judges, or development of sentence criteria in accordance with Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Within the scope, remarkable progress has been made.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017