Reclaiming commons rights: Resources, public ownership and the rights of future generations

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The claim that the public "owns" natural resources or public spaces is an event that has recurred in the past decade in Israeli social and environmental struggles and campaigns. Analyzing two high-profile issues-the Palmachim beach and the controversies over the offshore natural gas revenues and export-this paper argues that the rhetoric of public ownership reveals an emerging "commons sense," a public consciousness of collective ownership of natural resources and public space, interwoven with a sense of responsibility for their long-term preservation and for future generations. The paper shows that the rhetoric of public ownership is best accounted for by The Commons discourse, which conceptualizes resistance to enclosure (privatization), reclaiming public rights and affinity with future generations. The paper surveys various conceptions of the commons discourse and its possible integration with human rights. So far, discussion of the Commons with relation to human rights emphasized the rights to subsistence and to a healthy environment, i.e. derivatives of the basic human rights for life and health, the standard list of environmental rights. However, in order to conform to the sentiments of Israeli "commoners," commons rights should also affirm public ownership rights over natural and shared resources which, when understood as inherently diachronic and trans-generational, implicate also sustainability and long-term social and intergenerational justice. These rights may conflict with the Lockean conception of private property as curved off the commons. Therefore, conceptualizing such rights necessitates rethinking the idea of private property versus public and futuregenerations' collective good.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-366
Number of pages32
JournalLaw and Ethics of Human Rights
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2014


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