Palestine' best hope-‘legitimacy war.

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    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

    pre-1967 position.

    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

    overall situation.

    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

    ambiguous category…

    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

    the government.

    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

    with Iran?**

    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


    I agree.

    **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.

  • 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.

  • A longish one, have no time right now, shall come back later.

  • MG-

    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.

  • 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.