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UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and international experts: Legal Forum for Palestine discusses international change needed to decolonize and realize self-determination


Law for Palestine, in partnership with the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), organized a panel discussion entitled “Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right of Palestinians to Self-Determination: An Exceptional Step Towards Correcting the Course? What’s next?”

The seminar came as part of the monthly webinars held by the “Legal Forum for Palestine”, the sixth in the second season of the Forum, to examine the important report prepared by the United Nations Rapporteur on Palestine and examine its hoped-for repercussions, including at the level of Palestinians, the United States, global civil society and the international community as a whole.

The seminar took place on Monday 7 November and hosted the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, along with four international experts on the question of Palestine: Itay Ebstein, Special Adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council, Hadeel Abu Hussein, lawyer and research fellow at Erasmus University, Wissam Ahmed, President of the Center for Applied Truth for International Law, and Josh Rubinner, author and expert on American policy (Palestine-Israel).

The seminar was moderated by Diana Alzeer, Vice-President of FIDH and Head of Strategic Communications at Al-Haq, and attended via Zoom by 80 researchers, activists and politicians, including Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Luisa Morgantini, former Vice-President of the European Parliament for the Palestine delegation, and Dr. Ammar Dweik, President of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, among others.

Realization of the right to self-determination must be a precondition for negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians

In her intervention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, stressed the need to properly understand and act upon the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination and to act on this right, noting that “it [i.e., the right to self-determination of Palestinians] is not only unrealized, but also severely misunderstood” despite being a fundamental right and the right through which all rights are realized. That was what prompted her to address this right at the beginning of her mandate.

Albanese argued that “the violation of this right is inherent in the state of Israeli occupation which gives it the full label of settler colonialism.” She also criticized the international approach to dealing with the Palestinian issue, which is based on focusing on the manifestations of the occupation rather than its illegality, which led to the omission of the larger picture.

The Special Rapporteur concluded by explaining the fallacy of assuming that the Palestinians must wait for the end of negotiations to obtain their right to self-determination, which “is the opposite of what should happen” according to Albanes, noting that “freedom will bring peace, but first and foremost the occupation must be dismantled and the right to self-determination respected.”

Report expands space for researchers to challenge the constraints of international law and bring Palestinian lives back to the center

For her part, international researcher Hadeel Abu Hussein presented a comprehensive analysis of the report and its impact on academia, especially in the countries of the Global South (Asia, Africa and Latin America), considering that the report represents a milestone in the way it delves into the roots of the Palestinian cause and the origins of the Zionist movement.

Abu Hussein stressed that despite the exclusion of Palestinians living in Israel and the diaspora from the scope of the report due to the legal restrictions of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, the foundations on which the report is based relate to all Palestinians regardless of their geographical location or legal status, because it deals with the issue of self-determination, which is related to All Palestinians as a people, and therefore, “has an impact on all the Palestinian people who live under or are affected by the settler colonial regime”.

The importance of the report also, according to Abu Hussein, lies in the way it emphasizes the validity and importance of using the apartheid framework alongside illegal occupation, which is crucial to understanding and thus ending Israeli domination of Palestine.

In the academic context, Abu Hussein believes that the report provided an integrated and broader framework for understanding the issue of Palestine and bringing the issue of colonialism to the table. It also opened a new door for academics to view the issue from the perspective of the anti-colonial movement. It thus helps to bring Palestinian lives and suffering back to the center of academic debate and to challenge the power dynamics that influence the effectiveness of international law.


Palestine is a microcosm of global injustice

For his part, Wissam Ahmed approached the report from the perspective of Palestinian civil society, saying that it was well received as a long overdue correction to the decades-old suffering of Palestinians. Wissam stressed that “the idea that colonialism has ended is something we need to overcome and address the fact that colonial practices are still continuing in many aspects, and we see that they occur in the context of Palestine in the form of classic settler colonialism.”

The head of Al-Haq Center for Applied International Law continued his intervention by explaining the importance of the report’s call for a paradigm shift to change the way the international community and activists deal with the issue of Palestine towards it being an issue of apartheid and colonialism.

Ahmed also stressed the importance of cooperation between all activists and international bodies in order to end colonialism, noting that “Palestine is a microcosm of global injustice, and this partly needs to fulfill our role as Palestinians, but also human rights activists as a whole need to link the challenges we all face.” together and addressing the issue of colonialism and its current manifestations in several forms.


The report of the Special Rapporteur plays an important role in changing the mindset of the American public towards the question of Palestine

An expert in US politics, Josh Roebner, spoke about the potential impact of Francesca Albanese report on US policies, and referred to the approach and the main goal of US policy towards Palestine, saying: “From Clinton to Bush to Obama, the idea has always been a non-sovereign Palestinian entity… that would be under the control and hegemony of Israel. While the approach was slightly different under the Trump and Biden administrations, the result has remained the same (a non-sovereign entity dominated by Israel).

Roebner argued that the report is unlikely at all to change the Biden administration’s approach to Israel-Palestine. Nevertheless, the report could create a paradigm shift in American public discourse, especially in Congress.

According to Rubner, this could happen in three ways: First, the report could create public pressure to stop US assistance to what constitutes an illegal occupation. Secondly, placing the issue in the context of settler colonialism reframes it as a continuation of what Israel started in 1948 and begins to evoke the Nakba and what happened then rather than focusing solely on 1967, something that is not seen as tragic or significant in the American mentality. Third, the right to self-determination has been completely out of the way of US thinking and policy for decades. Hence, this report helps to reframe the issue as a struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors rather than the prevailing view of two equal states, which nurtures and reinforces the moral dimension of the issue to the American public.


Global civil society plays an important role in promoting the realization of the right to self-determination for Palestinians

When asked to discuss the impact that global civil society can play in achieving the findings and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, NRC Special Adviser Itay Epstein stated that global civil society must work collectively with a sense of urgency towards realizing the right to Self-determination as the cornerstone of any political solution.

Focusing on three elements, Epstein first argued that global civil society still has a vital task in protecting Palestinians whose vulnerability increases over time, for example: by providing humanitarian relief, legal support, advocacy, and documentation of violations of the Israeli occupation.

Epstein said, “The report focused on an inalienable fact in international law, which is that the right to self-determination cannot be diminished under any circumstances, and that it imposes obligations towards all on the international community as a whole.” Pointing out that this leads us to the second role of the global civil society, which is to draw the attention of third parties to this matter and pressure them to fulfill their obligations in this regard.

Finally, Epstein believes it is time for the International Court of Justice to reconsider its 2004 advisory opinion and right the legal mistakes made at the time. This requires pressure from the global civil society on their countries and on the General Assembly to finally refer the issue to the International Court of Justice to obtain a new advisory opinion recognizing the non-restrictive right to self-determination of the Palestinians without it being subject to negotiations.


The keynote speakers’ interventions were followed by a comprehensive legal discussion in which researchers and international experts presented their insights and questions to the UN Special Rapporteur and other speakers, including an intervention by the speaker.