Palestinian Nationality and “Jewish” Nationality: From the Lausanne Treaty to Today

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Book Chapter

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Leila H. Farsakh


University of California Press




This chapter assesses the legal foundations of Zionist and Palestinian national claims over the land of Palestine since the British Mandate. It explores the legal basis and implications of the claim of Jewish nationality in Palestine and compares it with the claim of Palestinian nationality. The question of national rights, and who can claim them, is central to rethinking the statehood and residency rights of those living today in the area of historic Palestine. The law of nationality is at the core of the protections of peoples’ right to self-determination, and understanding the principles underlying nationality law is essential to separating claims from rights in considering Palestinian and Jewish peoples’ supposedly conflicting claims to residency and right of return.

The central premise in applying international nationality law to the conflict over territorial claims is that Palestinians possess a defined nationality that remains valid and legally cognizable today. Moreover, as a legal matter, Palestinian nationality is not negated by the claim of a Jewish state in Israel, or by an extraterritorial claim to Israel by Jews elsewhere in the world. In order to understand the difference between Israeli, Jewish, and Palestinian national statuses, it is critical to appreciate that the international law of nationality operates to protect a fundamental connection between peoples and their lands of origin: the territorial and direct “bloodline” connection, not a religious connection, determines national rights. This chapter will analyze the key norms of international nationality law, and apply them to the relevant legal instruments affecting the conflict over rights to territory in Palestine. It examines not only the application of the norms to this conflict, but also how (and whether) instruments such as the British Mandate, the Balfour Declaration, and the most relevant United Nations resolutions affected the claims of Jews and Palestinians to national status in the territory. In essence, this short excursus into the legal and historical background of the conflicting claims of self-determination to and in Palestine illustrates how “getting the law right” paves the way for a different and more equitable shared future in the same land for Jews and Palestinians, both those now living there and those who have the right to return there.

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