Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He was appointed to this role by the UN Human Rights Council, in 2008. Alresalah.ps interviewed him on April 29, 2015.
Alresalah.ps: Why does the world keep silent over the Israeli violations against the Palestinians and the UNRWA field offices during wars on Gaza?
Richard Falk: Western governments and global media are subject to the strong influence of the United States and Israel, and this leads to the minimization of any wrongs done to Palestinians, and especially those living in Gaza. This relative silence even ignores such provocative attacks as occurred against UN facilities as during the attacks in July and August of 2014, and even in situations where women and children were seeking sanctuary in these supposedly protected UN buildings.
AL: How do you assess the international democracy in the light of the US veto?
RF: There are two kinds of vetoes that the US Government possesses. There is the constitutional veto in the UN Security Council that has been used to insulate Israel from criticism and accountability, and this is reinforced by the geopolitical veto that takes the form of informal power and influence exercised behind closed doors, blocking action that goes against the policies favored by the United States. This veto power undermines any possibility of ‘international democracy’ in the operations of the UN, and confirms what I have called ‘the primacy of geopolitics.’
AL: What do you think about the US political and financial stances concerning Israel? Why do not you form independent international committees to investigate Israel's violations against the Palestinians?
RF: The political and financial support given to Israel by the United States reflects two sorts of pro-Israeli realities: the convergence of American and Israeli strategic interests in the Middle East and the influence of the Israel Lobby, which is especially strong in relation to Congress. There are some independent committees and may activities supportive of the Palestinian struggle, especially at universities and in religious settings, but they lack the funding and commitment that is possessed by those unconditionally supportive of Israel. This is changing gradually as the reality of Palestinian victimization and Israeli expansionism is more widely appreciated, but it is a slow process.
AL: In your opinion, how can we explain the Israeli standpoint, which rejects the world justice and which denies investigation committees entry to the Palestinian territories?
RF: Israel contends that the UN and outside investigations are biased, and claim a sovereign right to uphold its national interests even if it means defying international law, UN authority and obligations, and world public opinion. It uses its influence, and relationship with the US to diminish the effect of all effort to hold the government of Israel and its leaders accountable.
AL: Do you think a two-state solution is reachable in the light of the Israeli arrogance?
RF: No, I do not think the Israeli leadership has any interest in a two-state solution, and I am not sure it was ever a solution in their mind except in a form that the Palestinian state would be denied real sovereignty and independence. It is time for the Palestinians to form their own conception of peace, given the realities of the present, and if it continues to be within the two-state format, then it should be described in ways that relate to such issues as the settlements, future of Jerusalem, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
AL: In your opinion, how can we explain the Israeli standpoint, How you evaluate the peace process with Israel?
RF: In my view, the peace process has given Israel 20+ years to consolidate their penetration of the West Bank and their ambitions in Jerusalem. Instead of the peace process being a diplomatic framework for achieving a two-state solution its impact has been to undermine the plausibility of creating a viable contiguous Palestinian state with full sovereign rights. It has been a cruel deception with respect to Palestinian hopes and rights, and should never have been given any improvement. The Oslo Framework is fundamentally flawed for two main reasons: it is wrong to have the United States serve as the intermediary and it is inappropriate to have allowed Israel to continue building settlements, which are unlawful encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory.
AL: Will the US support the Palestinians if they head to ICC to prosecute the Israeli leaders?
RF: No, there is no possibility that the US Government would support such recourse, and opposed strongly even the preliminary move of Palestine to become a party to the Rome Treaty that allows recourse to the ICC. The US response will be that such a Palestinian initiative is contrary to any genuine search for peace, and is thus destructive and irresponsible. Israel will, of course, be infuriated if the PA should make such a move, and would retaliate in various ways. Such reactions shows that international law is not taken seriously when it collides with national interests of powerful countries.
AL: Why did the UN keep silent over Israel's 2014 war on Gaza?
RF: As indicated above, the UN is subject to the geopolitical control of the United States, which acts to shield Israel from criticism and any challenge to its policies. This dynamic is what I meant by reference to a ‘geopolitical veto.’
AL: Why does the US keep silent over Israel's siege on Gaza, which has lasted for 8 years?
RF: Same essential reasoning, amplified because of its treatment of Hamas as ‘a terrorist organization.’ Again the fact that Hamas was elected, sought a long-term ceasefire, and has essentially opted for a political approach to the conflict with Israel is deliberately ignored. As a consequence, the Israeli siege of Gaza, which violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits any form of collective punishment, is not subjected to criticism.
AL: Who is halting the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip? And why?
RF: The world essentially defers to Israeli policy in its relations with Gaza. This is a cruel policy, but it has been the consistent Israeli approach ever since so-called ‘disengagement’ in 2005, intensified by the takeover of the Gaza governing process by Hamas in 2007. The interference with the reconstruction process in Gaza has to be seen in the wider context of Israel’s punitive approach that is highlighted from time to time by massive attacks ‘to mow the lawn,’ that is, to keep Gazans at the subsistence level, and no higher.
AL: Does the world community press on Israel to open the crossings with Gaza?
RF: Again, there is little pressure exerted on Israel with respect to policy toward Gaza. Such pressure as did previously exist has been diminished by the Sisi regime in Egypt, which seems to share policy approaches with Israel, and blames Gaza for some of the unrest in the Sinai region.
AL: Will the UN oppose Hamas, if it wins the upcoming presidential and PLC elections? And how do you assess the PLO's stance towards Hamas in the wake of winning in 2006's elections?
RF: Yes, I would assume that there would be a challenge in the UN if Hamas wins the presidential and PLC elections, and then attempts to represent Palestine within the UN. It would likely be a major confrontation, especially in the General Assembly. I would anticipate that Hamas would be successful in this setting in persuading a majority of UN Members that has earned the right to represent the Palestinian people.
The PLO and Fatah for a variety of reasons refused to accept the political implications of the 2006 elections, and it is not likely that they will accept a future Hamas victory unless some kind of power-sharing and unity government can be agreed upon. This best chance for this to happen would be before the elections themselves.
AL: Do you think it is important to have contacts with Hamas in the light of the Israeli arrogance?
RF: Yes, Hamas has behaved as a political actor since deciding to compete for political leadership by entering the electoral process. It was initially encouraged to do so by the U.S. Government, but it was not expected to win. It is my understanding that Hamas has given private diplomatic assurances as well as public statements to the effect that it seeks to end violent confrontations with Israel and is willing to enter into long-term peaceful coexistence arrangements. The language of the Hamas Charter is relied upon by Israel and the U.S. to justify categorizing Hamas as a terrorist organization.
AL: Do you think Hamas can play a major role in the peace process?
RF: Potentially, yes, but only if Tel Aviv and Washington accept Hamas’ role as a normal political actor, and this does not seem presently at all likely. Keeping Hamas in a terrorist cage serves the purpose of claiming the absence of a Palestinian partner for peace, and Israel does not want a negotiated peace at this time.
AL: Have you heard about the 5-year truce between Israel and Hamas? What do you think about it?
RF: I favor all attempts to move the underlying conflict from an uneven battlefield to some kind of political setting, and Hamas has long signaled its readiness to move in such a direction. It is Israel that opposes such a shift, partly because it enjoys a big edge in any military encounter and partly because it wants to continue on its expansionist path until there is nothing left of historic Palestine.
AL: What do you think about the relationships between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, as the Rafah border crossing is still closed by the Egyptian authorities?
RF: I believe the government in Egypt considers Hamas to be aligned with and similar to its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. It also claims a relationship between the turmoil in the Sinai and Gaza, and so justifies closing Rafah for security reasons. It is a tragic further difficulty for the people of Gaza to be confronted by a hostile government in Cairo, which is more aligned with Israel than was the case during the Mubarak period.
AL: Is there any UN to end the crisis of the Rafah crossing?
RF: The UN lacks the will and capacity to challenge Egypt’s border policies unless there unfolds a humanitarian emergency that raises worldwide concern. The situation since the attacks of the last summer should have led to a UN campaign to allow reconstruction materials to enter Gaza as well as other forms of humanitarian assistance, but the troubles throughout the region and the leverage against such moves possessed by the US have rendered the UN almost helpless in easing the hardship confronting the people of Gaza.
AL: Why does not the UN run the Rafah crossing?
RF: The UN is incapable of exercising any independent authority in relation to Gaza, and it could only administer Gaza if Egypt, along with Israel and the United States agreed, and it is difficult to imagine this happening.
AL: Will the UN support any inter-Palestinian reconciliation?
RF: The UN will support any initiatives that include the participation of the US and Israel, but will likely oppose or ignore any independent or bottom up initiatives organized by civil society. The UN is subordinated by geopolitical constraints imposed by its major members, especially the United States.
AL: Will the UN act as a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a long-term reconciliation?
RF: This can only happen if Washington and Tel Aviv give encouragement, which seems almost impossible to imagine. The situation could change, and Washington at some point might reconsider its willingness to lend Israel unconditional support, but this will not happen soon. The UN requires a green light from the parties to the conflict if it is to play a mediating role. I wish that such a light would be shone sometime soon, but it would presuppose an independent Secretary General and a strong UN political will, which in turn will only emerge if civil society mounts a strong UN reform movement.
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