with Richard Falk, U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights
SATURDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER
25, (Pal Telegraph - The Hindu) -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 Ďlegitimacy warí 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 Keralaís capital city for a conference on climate change:
Although youíve been
functioning as the U.N. Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian
Territories since 2008, youíve 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. Theyíre
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 theyíve been excluded
from any kind of participation at the international level.
Then thereís 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 itís 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. Itís 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 doesnít seem to be the
preconditions for negotiations. Thereís the problem on the Palestinian side of
representation, and on the Israeli side thereís the problem of the substantive
position: do they really want to give up what they now possess?
Iíve 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. Thereís 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 Iím 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. Thereís
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 Israelís 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 itís a big change that way in the overall situation.
Does this have any
impact on the actions of Western governments?
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. Itís 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, thatís
the diplomatic situation at the present time, I think.
What about the
governments are partly following the U.S. leadership. And it is a sense,
particularly during the economic recession, that they
donít 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. Thatís 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
What do you expect
the U.N. to do on the report that youíve submitted?
As I said, Iím 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. Itís 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 youíve 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.
So you donít 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 donít see that happening at the global level now. Isnít that a little distressing?
Yes. Of course, one
would love to have a ĎPalestinian Mandela.í [The] Palestinian leadership has
been disappointing, particularly after the death of [Yasser]
is partly responsible for that. Theyíve assassinated and imprisoned the most
qualified Palestinians to be leaders. And theyíve deliberately either
repudiated the kind of leadership that Hamas offers, or
theyíve co-opted the kind of leadership that the Palestinian Authority offers. So
one has a leadership vacuum thatís 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 donít have that capability right now,
but they do have a lot of public support around the world. Itís an important
symbolic moral and political issue for many people, even in the United States. And
in that sense theyíre all having an effect... on boycotting products, especially
those that come out of the settlements and the West Bank.
I think thereís 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 becauseÖ 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 canít go even from one part of the
West Bank to the other without passing through very difficult check-points. They
canít go to Gaza
without a permit that is not restricted. They canít leave the territory for
education and other reasons. So thereís 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
youíve 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 possess.
Your position on the
Palestinian question has been very clear. In fact, one would say your loyalties
have been very clear. Youíve 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 Iím
reporting in a one-sided way, I believe that it would be clear that Iíve been
objective and truthful. Iíve a Jewish background myself and Iíd like to see a
future in which both the peoples live in peace and justice. I donít think you
can find such a solution without justice for the Palestinian people, and on
justice Iím critical often of the U.S. government, my own government.
It doesnít mean that because Iím critical of Israel Iím anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic.
Some people accuse me of being a self-hating Jew. You know that it just isnít
true, itís just propaganda. Youíve to live with that kind of criticism if
youíre trying to be objective and professional within this territory. Itís a
dirty game. And Goldstone himself, who I know quite well, is a life-long
Iím not a Zionist. I
donít believe in the idea of a Jewish state, or any kind of state where a
person has to take a religious stand. But heís a life-long Zionist and when he
made a report critical of Israelís
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
wouldíve been a little difficult for them to criticise.
So they should be happy with me because Iím a better target for this kind of
Youíve 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 thatís available or, in other
words, to convert the information into knowledge. Thatís really the challenge
that I found as Rapporteur.
Coming to the Abbas-Netanyahu negotiations sponsored by the U.S., thereís the accusation that the Hamas is trying to torpedo the negotiations by mounting
repeated attacks on Israel
and IsraelisÖ 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 donít agree with the tactics of killing civilians
and terrorist tactics. Of course, the armed settlers are an ambiguous categoryÖ
There were 37 reported
incursions into Palestinian areas too in the last week of AugustÖ
Youíve to see whatís
happening on both sides. Thereís a tendency in the Western press to just look
at Hamasí 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 standÖ
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.
Itís a loss for the
world because India
played a unique role in the Nehru era, creating a kind of moral voice in
international affairs. Youíre going back to the Gandhi legacy but Nehru carried
it forward into the inter-governmental sphere. Itís missing now. Nothing has
taken the place of India, either
in the South or with the decline of social democracy in the North ó Europe, Sweden, Scandinavia
and so forth. After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
you donít have this moral voice in international affairs. Part of the problem
of the PalestiniansÖ diplomatically is that they donít 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.
the attempt to link it with the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran by the U.SÖ Isnít this complicating matters quite a bit?
Itís 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
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. Itís an unacceptable world where you have two types of countries ó 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 thatís a correct view. Youíve to treat equals equally. You canít have
this discriminatory regime. So if you want peace and security in that region, including
youíve to create a regional security solution and youíve to be just and fair
towards the Palestinians. Those two shifts in policy seem to be the simple and larger
goal if it wasnít for this political inhibition that you canít 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 itís all of
those. I think he came to Washington
with the idea that he could show that heís 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 ó 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 heís dedicated to peace, that he
has done all that is possible, and that itís the fault of the Palestinians that
theyíre not willing to accept what Israel has to offer. And generally I think
thereís very little serious expectation that these talks would come to any
Talksíve been on for the last 20 years. Youíve
said in your report that Palestine
is in a state of annexation. That is a fundamental issue here.
Given that, how can
there be a negotiated settlement unless Israel agrees to go to the 1967 bordersÖ?
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 ó 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 whatís the point?
The point is [the] public
relations of Israel, the
domestic politics of the U.S.
Itís 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. Iíve met people in
Palestinian refugee camps that are fifth-generation refugees. And youíve 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 Palestine?
I think thereís 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 itís a place where, with all its
limitations, the approach or the consensus in world public opinion can be
registered and has been registered.
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 itís reality that they donít want. Theyíre not
afraid of anti-Israeli bias. Theyíre afraid of truth-telling. Thatís 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, itís 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. Thereís a
lot of that activity now going on, even in the United States.
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