Palestine' best hope-‘legitimacy war.
shimatoree last edited by
Interview with Richard Falk, U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Israeli-Occupied Territories of Palestine
Richard Falk, the United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights in
the Israeli-Occupied Territories of Palestine, is sceptical whether the
negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, guided by the U.S., would produce
results, unless the Hamas is taken on board and Israel returns to the
The best hope for Palestinians is a ‘legitimacy war’
similar to the campaign that undermined the apartheid government in
South Africa, says the Professor Emeritus of international law and
practice at Princeton University.
The text of an interview he gave The Hindu in Thiruvananthapuram, while in Kerala’s capital city for a conference on climate change:
**Although you’ve been functioning as the U.N. Rapporteur to the
Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2008, you’ve not been allowed to
enter Israel or the Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine. How, then, do
you propose to deliver on your mandate?**
The U.N. is not regarded by Israel as a critical voice. They feel that
they can ignore or refuse to cooperate with the U.N., even though as a
member they are legally obligated to cooperate. They’re backed almost
invariably by the U.S. government. So they feel diplomatically secure in
being defiant towards the U.N. and the international community. This
issue has become more pronounced in the last two-three years because of
the Gaza war, which has led to a lot of international criticism and a
sense of outrage about the degree to which Israel had used its military
superiority against an essentially defenceless people who had no
capacity really to fight back. It was more like a massacre than a war,
in that sense.
Then the recent incident of the flotilla in the Mediterranean again
showed that Israel feels it can act without regard to international law
and to use its aggressive military style in international waters to
interfere with a humanitarian mission that was trying to bring food and
medicine and reconstruction materials to the people of Gaza that had
been under a blockade for three years. So you have that basic
relationship. And then, you have the somewhat troubled relationship
between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, that of
the people of Gaza not being really represented by the Palestinian
Authority because Hamas is their elected government and they’ve been
excluded from any kind of participation at the international level.
Then there’s also this sense that the Palestinian Authority is kept in
power by U.S. and Israeli money and influence rather than by the will of
the people on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So it’s a very
difficult set of circumstances. Then, on the Israeli side, you have this
very extreme right-wing government that seems to want everything for
itself that is supposed to be the subject of international negotiations.
So one wonders what a peace process can achieve if the Israeli
government is clear about its commitment to maintain and expand the
settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to continue to occupy
the whole of Jerusalem to re-establish borders that take away from the
Palestinians their land. It’s now only 22 per cent of the historic
Palestine. And if the present settlement boundaries and the security
walls and the roads connecting the settlements are all taken into
account, the Palestinians would lose 38 per cent of the 22 per cent they
have. So they would have no land sufficient for a genuine Palestinian
**And, finally, you have inside pre-1967 Israel, 1.3 million
Palestinians who live as second class citizens in a self-proclaimed
Jewish state and have been denied all kinds of rights. The international
community has more or less forgotten them. And then, finally, you have
the problem of four to five million exiled refugee Palestinians living
outside the territory of the occupied Palestine, but still living in a
condition that results from their expulsion from their homeland way back
in 1948 or later in 1967. So those are the basic conditions. So, one
has to wonder: why are these international negotiations taking place? It
doesn’t seem to be the preconditions for negotiations. There’s the
problem on the Palestinian side of representation, and on the Israeli
side there’s the problem of the substantive position: do they really
want to give up what they now possess?**
I’ve just made a report to the U.N. which argues that the prolonged
occupation combined with the expansion of the settlements amounts now to
de facto annexation. There’s no longer just temporary legitimate
occupation after 43 years. Israel has been establishing more or less
permanent settlements throughout the whole of occupied Palestine. It is
more realistic to look at it as a situation of de facto annexation, de
jure occupation. So you have this tension between what is the factual
reality and what is the supposed legal situation. At the present time
I’m very sceptical [whether] inter-governmental diplomacy can achieve
any significant result. And the best hope for the Palestinians is what I
call a legitimacy war, similar to the anti-apartheid campaign in the
late-1980s and 1990s that was so effective in isolating and undermining
the authority of the apartheid government. I think that is happening now
in relation to Israel. There’s a very robust boycott, divestment and
sanctions campaign all over the world that is capturing the political
and moral imagination of the people, the NGOs and civil society and is
beginning to have an important impact on Israel’s way of acting and
thinking. And Israel says itself, what they call the de-legitimisation
project is more dangerous to their security than the violence on the
part of Palestinian resistance. So it’s a big change that way in the
Does this have any impact on the actions of Western governments?
It’s disappointingly ineffective in changing in any fundamental way the
European or the North American approach to this issue, particularly in
the U.S. where the Israeli lobby is so strong. President Obama, who came
to Washington with a commitment to be more balanced in the conflict,
has disappointed many people because he seems unable to resist the
domestic pressures to always support Israel, no matter what they do, and
to give continuous large-scale military and economic assistance to
Israel. The United States gives half of its economic assistance
worldwide to Israel. It has been doing that for many years, as you know.
It’s a very distorted situation. Actually, American public opinion is
ready to shift to a more balanced position, but the opinion in
Washington, in Congress, in the so-called American think tanks, around
the government and in the White House itself, is much more frozen in the
past on this one-sided Israeli position. Basically, that’s the
diplomatic situation at the present time, I think.
What about the European governments?
The European governments are partly following the U.S. leadership. And
it is a sense, particularly during the economic recession, that they
don’t want to have additional political friction. The public opinion in
all of these European countries would favour a more balanced approach.
Some of the important countries like Germany are very sensitive about
the accusation of anti-Semitism. That probably plays a role in the
European thinking of a false equation between being critical of Israel
and being anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. That’s used very much by Zionist
pressure to make people believe that if you criticise Israel you are
basically endorsing anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism leads indirectly to
an endorsement of Nazi policies and the Holocaust and all of those
things in the historical past.
What do you expect the U.N. to do on the report that you’ve submitted?
As I said, I’m very sceptical that the U.N. as an inter-governmental
body will be responsive to a political and legal analysis of the
existing realities of the occupation. And my analysis, I think, is
widely shared by independent opinion that has examined these issues; by
the reliable NGOs that are active in the region and so on. It’s an
intensely politicised issue at the inter-governmental level, and even
within the U.N. bureaucracy. Ironically, even though Israel is very
defiant towards the U.N., the U.N., in its bureaucracy, is quite
deferential to Israel, partly through the U.S. influence within the
organisation. So you’ve this double reality, that on the one side Israel
makes a great public display of things saying that the U.N. is biased
against it, and on the other side, it joins with the U.S. in
manipulating the U.N. to do very little, if anything, that is effective
in supporting the implementation of international law with respect to
the occupation of the Palestinian territories. And this situation is
accentuated by the degree to which the Palestinian Authority will not
take any position that is deeply opposed by the U.S. or Israel. So you
don’t have adequate representation for the Palestinian struggle within
the U.N. system.
**That seems to be a very crucial issue. You spoke about apartheid and
the global legitimacy war that was fought against apartheid,
successfully, by Nelson Mandela and others. But we don’t see that
happening at the global level now. Isn’t that a little distressing?**
Yes. Of course, one would love to have a ‘Palestinian Mandela.’ [The]
Palestinian leadership has been disappointing, particularly after the
death of [Yasser] Arafat. Israel is partly responsible for that. They’ve
assassinated and imprisoned the most qualified Palestinians to be
leaders. And they’ve deliberately either repudiated the kind of
leadership that Hamas offers, or they’ve co-opted the kind of leadership
that the Palestinian Authority offers. So one has a leadership vacuum
that’s damaging in a legitimacy war because a legitimacy war really
depends on gaining and holding the high moral ground, the way the Dalai
Lama has done for the Tibetan people in their efforts to get more
independence within China. The Palestinians don’t have that capability
right now, but they do have a lot of public support around the world.
It’s an important symbolic moral and political issue for many people,
even in the United States. And in that sense they’re all having an
effect... on boycotting products, especially those that come out of the
settlements and the West Bank. I think there’s an effect. Cultural
figures like musicians and artistes are refusing to perform in Israel.
You do have some of the same symbolic and substantive patterns of
rejection of Israeli policies, like you had in the late-1980s and
early-1990s for South Africa. But how this will play out in the future
is very uncertain. As you say, although there are some similarities
because… Since the occupation has many of the characteristics of
apartheid, separate roads where only Jews are allowed to travel, passes
that restrict the mobility of Palestinians, they can’t go even from one
part of the West Bank to the other without passing through very
difficult check-points. They can’t go to Gaza without a permit that is
not restricted. They can’t leave the territory for education and other
reasons. So there’s a kind of apartheid system there. But Israel is much
more diplomatically capable so long as it has this U.S. backing, which
is crucial to its taking the position that it has taken.
Then in its own internal politics it has moved farther and farther to
the right. So it has a very extremist government in power, and even the
Opposition is quite extreme. So you’ve a situation where the Israelis
themselves are now talking about a one-state solution where Palestinians
in the so-called occupied territories would be given Israeli
citizenship, but it all would become a Jewish state. Palestinians, on
their side, are saying that the settlement process is going too far and
that the only thing that would work would be a single Palestine that is a
secular democratic state where no religious identity would be given a
privileged position. The idea of a Jewish state is an anomaly in the
21st century. It does not fit in the modern world where states have to
accept the fact that there are different ethnicities, different
religions and each is entitled to equal protection of human rights and
participation in society. Israel is not set up that way. It is set up in
such a way that the Jewish majority has formal and informal privileges
and rights that the Palestinians and the Christian minorities do not
**Your position on the Palestinian question has been very clear. In
fact, one would say your loyalties have been very clear. You’ve come
under attack from the time of your appointment as U.N. Rapporteur, both
from Israel and from the U.S., both within and outside the U.N. And
also, your conceptualisation of the legitimacy wars has come under
attack. Your comments on the Goldstone report too have come under
attack. Now, how do you take these attacks?**
I view them as part of this unbalanced approach. I think that if you
look at the reality and say how my report has been accurate, or is it
objectively the case that I’m reporting in a one-sided way, I believe
that it would be clear that I’ve been objective and truthful. I’ve a
Jewish background myself and I’d like to see a future in which both the
peoples live in peace and justice. I don’t think you can find such a
solution without justice for the Palestinian people, and on justice I’m
critical often of the U.S. government, my own government. It doesn’t
mean that because I’m critical of Israel I’m anti-Jewish or
anti-Semitic. Some people accuse me of being a self-hating Jew. You know
that it just isn’t true, it’s just propaganda. You’ve to live with that
kind of criticism if you’re trying to be objective and professional
within this territory. It’s a dirty game. And Goldstone himself, who I
know quite well, is a life-long Zionist.
I’m not a Zionist. I don’t believe in the idea of a Jewish state, or any
kind of state where a person has to take a religious stand. But he’s a
life-long Zionist and when he made a report critical of Israel’s
behaviour in Gaza, they attacked him more than me. They called him a
self-hating Jew and all of those things. He had his family there. He had
been on the board of the Hebrew University. He had much closer
connections. So, if he could be attacked in this way, anyone on the
planet can be attacked. He was the most pro-Israel person who had
international credibility that you could have found in the world. I
cannot think of anyone else. And yet he came under attack. Anyone with a
fair mind would come to the same conclusion. In fact, it is better for
Israel if someone like myself who has been critical for a long time,
they can at least attack as biased. If I had had no past background, it
would’ve been a little difficult for them to criticise. So they should
be happy with me because I’m a better target for this kind of
**You’ve not been allowed to enter Israel since your appointment as
U.N. Rapporteur. Then how were you able to prepare your report?**
Well, there are a lot of people outside the country who come from there.
There are very good NGOs that are reporting on different aspects of the
situation, like the health conditions and the employment conditions
there. It would not be anything that I could get if I were to go there
myself. Anyway I would have to rely on the collection of data and
information. Then the U.N. itself has offices in Jerusalem, the West
Bank and Gaza and they prepare very good reports on the conditions that
exist there. So I have the information, and the patterns of behaviour
are more or less matters of public record. The real challenge is to
interpret the information that’s available or, in other words, to
convert the information into knowledge. That’s really the challenge that
I found as Rapporteur.
**Coming to the Abbas-Netanyahu negotiations sponsored by the U.S.,
there’s the accusation that the Hamas is trying to torpedo the
negotiations by mounting repeated attacks on Israel and Israelis… How do
you respond to that accusation?**
I think the Hamas has made it clear that unless it is included in the
process of negotiations, it will repudiate the process, and it is acting
in such a way as to show that. Without bringing them into the process,
no negotiation can succeed. I don’t agree with the tactics of killing
civilians and terrorist tactics. Of course, the armed settlers are an
There were 37 reported incursions into Palestinian areas too in the last week of August…
You’ve to see what’s happening on both sides. There’s a tendency in the
Western press to just look at Hamas’ violence and never look at the
Israeli violence in the same way. And so, in all of these situations I
think one needs a balance between the criticism of terrorism by those
organisations of Hamas and state terrorism being organised on behalf of
There was a time when Palestine was a very major foreign policy issue as
also a domestic policy issue for governments in India. There is this
accusation within this country, particularly from the Left, that of late
there is a definitive pro-Israeli shift in the Indian stand…
I think there is no question that there has been a shift in the
position. It has partly to do with the changing role of India within the
world system. Its search for nuclear technology and its
counter-insurgency warfare related to the Kashmir issue and the Naxalite
issue have led India, I think, into a position almost quite supportive
of Israel. And Israel, of course, has tried very energetically to
promise that it can do things that would be useful for India and can
help India with its problems. So you have a mixture of considerations
that has led a more globalised India and left India more concerned with
economistic criteria of statehood and progress than was the case with
the Nehru era, which was more concerned with its moral standing in the
world and its political relations with all the countries in the South,
the Non-Aligned Movement, etc. India has moved away from that identity
as far as I can tell.
It’s a loss for the world because India played a unique role in the
Nehru era, creating a kind of moral voice in international affairs.
You’re going back to the Gandhi legacy but Nehru carried it forward into
the inter-governmental sphere. It’s missing now. Nothing has taken the
place of India, either in the South or with the decline of social
democracy in the North — Europe, Sweden, Scandinavia and so forth. After
the collapse of the Soviet Union, you don’t have this moral voice in
international affairs. Part of the problem of the Palestinians…
diplomatically is that they don’t have the kind of strong governmental
support that they used to enjoy in the South any longer. And, of course
the Arab world is very conflicted itself [on] how to address the
Palestinian issue. Their worries about political Islam, the connection
of Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt... There are many
problems, of course very complicated.
And the attempt to link it with the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran by the U.S… Isn’t this complicating matters quite a bit?
It’s complicated. But there would be a way of making it much simpler if
you did not have this one-sided policy towards Israel. For instance, the
larger good thing for the region is to establish a nuclear-free zone
that would include Iran and Israel. But Israel persuades the U.S. to act
as if it can keep the weapons, and no one else in the region is allowed
to acquire it. It’s an unacceptable world where you have two types of
countries — those that can have the weapons and those that are not
allowed to have them. Going back a little, India always rejected a
proliferation approach on this basis. They were prepared to join the
nuclear disarmament process but not a proliferation regime. And I think
that’s a correct view. You’ve to treat equals equally. You can’t have
this discriminatory regime. So if you want peace and security in that
region, including Iran, you’ve to create a regional security solution
and you’ve to be just and fair towards the Palestinians. Those two
shifts in policy seem to be the simple and larger goal if it wasn’t for
this political inhibition that you can’t go against the political vision
of the Israeli lobby and the Israeli government.
**What could be driving the Obama administration into these sponsored
negotiations? Is it just a sham dialogue where President Obama is trying
to brush up his image, or is there some other motive as in the link-up
I think it’s all of those. I think he came to Washington with the idea
that he could show that he’s a different kind of leader. And one way of
showing that was by being active in trying to solve the Israel-Palestine
problem. From the beginning of his Presidency, from his Cairo speech of
2009, [he] seemed to open a new path. But then there was the backlash
from the Israeli lobby in the United States and the government in Tel
Aviv, and he backed down — which reinforced the image that the U.S. is
more subject to Israeli influence than Israel is subject to U.S.
influence. And now I think he wants to show he’s dedicated to peace,
that he has done all that is possible, and that it’s the fault of the
Palestinians that they’re not willing to accept what Israel has to
offer. And generally I think there’s very little serious expectation
that these talks would come to any meaningful result.
**Talks’ve been on for the last 20 years. You’ve said in your report
that Palestine is in a state of annexation. That is a fundamental issue
**Given that, how can there be a negotiated settlement unless Israel agrees to go to the 1967 borders…?
Yes, I think that the only negotiated settlement that would work in this
time in history is a single democratic secular state. But that would
require a Zionist government to abandon Zionism — which is not going to
happen. So if you think a negotiated settlement has to produce a
two-state solution, then there is no prospect that can come about
through these kinds of negotiations.
**How can anybody trust Mr. Netanyahu? His own government is divided.
Mr. Lieberhman is totally against this. Mr. Netanyahu himself has always
been against the Palestinians. So what’s the point?**
The point is [the] public relations of Israel, the domestic politics of
the U.S. It’s all a kind of cosmetic diplomacy to show a nicer face. The
reality is quite ugly. Underneath all of this is the ordeal of the
Palestinian people living under this prolonged occupation, who have been
living under this prolonged occupation. Living 43 years under
occupation is something unthinkable for those of us that have lived in
open societies. I’ve met people in Palestinian refugee camps that are
fifth-generation refugees. And you’ve no idea, the conditions have been
very bad in Gaza. They are poor, too crowded. The addition of [the]
blockade has made it a prison camp, with the guards on the borders and
the internal prison conditions handled by the prisoners. Even British
Prime Minister David Cameron used that terminology when he visited the
**Do you think that your role as the U.N. Rapporteur, and the U.N.
intervention, can at some point of time, may be not tomorrow or in a
year, make a difference for Palestine? What can make a difference for
I think there’s no one thing [that can by itself make a difference]. I
do think that the struggle for the high moral ground is on in the U.N.
The U.N. is an important arena of that struggle and my report, and the
general debate within the U.N., is one battlefield within the legitimacy
war. And it’s a place where, with all its limitations, the approach or
the consensus in world public opinion can be registered and has been
One of the reasons that Israel feels so vulnerable to criticism from the
U.N. is that the U.N., despite the U.S. influence, still reports the
reality. And it’s reality that they don’t want. They’re not afraid of
anti-Israeli bias. They’re afraid of truth-telling. That’s what they
want to oppose and resist. And so long as the U.N. is a place where you
have some opportunity to report the reality as it is, it’s one way that
the international community gets information and knowledge and forms its
judgment and determines its policy. Churches and other groups are
increasingly talking about divesting from companies that do business
with Israel, that sell weapons to Israel, or that give them bulldozers
for the demolition of houses. There’s a lot of that activity now going
on, even in the United States.
haider3 last edited by
shimatoree, you really do have the gift of going for the jugular! This time it's I who am bleeding to death as you confront us with us the tortured heart of the Muslim world., my/our beloved State of Palestine in the throes of absolute injustice.
I feel some respect for Richard Falk, but none whatsoever for his boss, the UN, as corrupt an organisation as some of the things we have here in Pakistan. No human rights exist anywhere in this world. Only victor's rights the world over. The rest is but a joke.
Israel is riding the crest of its wave of "success", i.e. tyranny. The world shows indifference, in spite of timid attempts at starting the legitimacy war, divestment, etc.. The West Bank has sold out. Gaza has been squeezed almost to the point of extinction.
Apathy, apathy everywhere and not the least concern, that's the spirit prevailing in the Muslim world regarding their brethren. As for the Palestinian diaspora, which is rarely mentioned, I tell you the Pakistani version of the same phenomenon is a hundred times better. The indifference manifested by outside Palestinians is something neither the heart nor the mind can comprehend.
And now the only positive thing I see on the horizon. Several flottila efforts have been announced. One seems already to be on its way. More when confirmation of the journey comes in.
Shimatoree, my faith in Allah's mercy and grace is strongest when it comes to the present and future of Palestine. You might think this a lame conclusion. It is not. It is the very heart of the matter.
truthlover last edited by
A longish one, have no time right now, shall come back later.
shimatoree last edited by
In fighting battles- often the weaker force wins.
It does not happen because the Supreme Being sends down the Angels to fight on their side.
It happens because they THINK and have a plan which they are able to execute.
For that you need a disciplined and trained force and a THINKER as a General commanding them.
This true in military battles but also of battles of all kinds.
Sometimes the most effective strategy is the total destruction of one's force in order to achieve one's goal.
When Alexander faced the Persians under the command of Darius, he was out numbered. What he did was laid out a battle plan to dynamically concentrate his forces at a point and at that point he achieved numerical superiority, achieved a breakthrough.
When Imam Hussein faced Ibn Zayad and Shimmr at Karbala, his entourage was very small- 72 against 10,000.
He chose the total annihilation of his own force to achieve his goal which he did. How many people do you know who like or think highly of or follow Yezid or Ibn Zayad or Shimmr.
The Muslims today are as divided as they have ever been. In the past they had dictators( kings) who forced their way onto their behaviour by force of arms. If you had a capable commander like Sultan Mohammad or Hazrat Umar- things went well while most of the times you had the past counter parts of Zardari and Gilani and you know the result.
I do not know much about HT but a few tids bits-
1. It is a secretive organization based mostly in Eurtope and Central Asia.
2.It consists of well educated( western sense) people at the helm but no one really knows their strength of numbers and their other locations.
3. Till about 2003 in Pakistan the Govt was not even aware of HT which was operating in Pakistan. Of course the Govt of Pakistan is usually not aware of much except money .
4. Their one pet subject is establishment of Khilafat.
My own view is that it is sort of like an intellectual club of sorts like the Jacobins of the French Revolution much less focused.
In my view the focus is on an imagine issue which never worked in the past- so it remains an imagine issue which is not workable in real time.
haider3 last edited by
Shimatoree, you gave me an excellent answer answer above. I am grateful. About Palestine, you jolted my out of my pre-suppositions and opened up another pain-filled avenue to explore. I shall do so once I've caught my breath.
A million thanks too for the lowdown on the HT. Also a new discovery for me. Their profile is taking shape in my head. And yet another jolt for the nervous system.