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Richard Falk:“I'm very sceptical that inter-governmental diplomacy can achieve any significant results.”
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. Excerpts from an interview he gave C. Gouridasan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram, while there for a conference on climate change:
You've been U.N. Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2008, but have not been allowed to enter Israel or the Israeli occupied areas. How do you propose to deliver on your mandate?
The U.N. is not regarded by Israel as a critical voice. They feel they can ignore or refuse to cooperate with the U.N., though as a member they are obligated to cooperate. They're backed almost invariably by the U.S. government. So they feel diplomatically secure in being defiant… This has become more pronounced in the last two-three years because of the Gaza war which has led to international criticism and a sense of outrage about the degree to which Israel had used its military superiority against an essentially defenceless people.
The incident of the flotilla in the Mediterranean again showed that Israel feels it can act without regard to international law and use its aggressive military style on international waters to interfere with a humanitarian mission... 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 P.A. because Hamas is their elected government and they've been excluded from any kind of participation at the international level.
I've just made a report to the U.N. which argues that prolonged occupation combined with the expansion of settlements amounts to de facto annexation. Israel has been establishing more or less permanent settlements throughout occupied Palestine. It's more realistic to look at it as a situation of de facto annexation, de jure occupation. So you've this tension between what is the factual reality and what is the supposed legal situation. At the present time I'm very sceptical that inter-governmental diplomacy can achieve any significant results. 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's happening now in relation to Israel. There's a robust boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that is capturing the political and moral imagination of people, NGOs and civil society are beginning to have an impact on Israel's way of acting and thinking. And Israel itself says the de-legitimisation project is more dangerous to their security than the violence on the part of Palestinian resistance…
What do you expect the U.N. to do on your report?
I'm very sceptical that the U.N. as an inter-governmental body will be responsive to a political and legal analysis of the realities of the occupation. And my analysis, I think, is widely shared by independent opinion that has examined these issues; by reliable NGOs that are active in the region and so on. It is an intensely political issue at the inter-governmental level and even within the U.N. bureaucracy. Ironically, though Israel is defiant towards the U.N., the U.N., in its bureaucracy, is quite deferential to Israel, partly through U.S. influence. So you have this double reality, that on the one side Israel makes a great public display of things saying 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. This situation is accentuated by the degree to which the P.A. 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.
You've not been allowed to enter Israel… How did you prepare your report?
Well, there're a lot of people outside the country who come from there. There are very good NGOs reporting on different aspects like the health conditions and employment conditions there. It would not be anything that I could get if were to go there myself. The U.N. itself has offices in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, and they prepare very good reports on the conditions. 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 information into knowledge. That is the challenge I found as Rapporteur.
There's the accusation that the Hamas is trying to torpedo the Abbas-Netanyahu negotiations by mounting attacks on Israel and Israelis…
I think Hamas has made it clear that unless it is included in the process of negotiations, it will repudiate the process, and it's acting this way to show that. Without bringing it into the process, no negotiation can succeed. I don't agree with killing civilians and terrorist tactics. Of course, the armed settlers are an ambiguous category…
There were 37 reported incursions into Palestinian areas in the last week of August…
You've to see what's happening on both sides. There is a tendency in the Western press to just look at Hamas' violence and never look at the Israeli violence in the same way. In all of these situations, I think, one needs a balance between the criticism of terrorism by those organisations of Hamas, and state terrorism...
There was a time when Palestine was a major foreign policy issue and domestic policy issue for governments in India. There is this accusation in India, particularly from the Left, that there has been a definitive pro-Israeli shift in the Indian stand…
I think there is no question that there has been a shift. It has partly to do with India's changing role in the world system. Its search for nuclear technology and its counter-insurgency warfare related to Kashmir and the Naxalite issue have led India, I think, into a position almost quiet supportive of Israel. And Israel, of course, has tried very energetically to promise that it can do things that would be useful for India… So you've 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. It's a loss for the world: India played a unique role in the Nehru era, creating a kind of moral voice in international affairs.
Can your role as U.N. Rapporteur, and U.N. intervention, at some point make a difference for Palestine? What can make a difference?
One of the reasons why Israel feels so vulnerable to criticism from the U.N. is that the U.N., despite U.S. influence, still reports the reality and it is 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 is one way the international community gets information and knowledge and forms its judgment and determines its policy. Churches and other groups are talking about divesting from companies that do business with Israel, sell weapons to Israel or give bulldozers for the demolition of houses. There's a lot going on, even in the U.S.
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