Professor Richard Falk is the Fmr. (5th) United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967 (26 March 2008 – 8 May 2014). Professor Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus, at Princeton University, the Director of the Climate Change Project, and an Advisor on the POMEAS Project in the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University. He is widely revered as one of the great legal minds in the world today, especially on the issue of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and reviled in other circles as well. The position of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967 isn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken lightly based the depth and length of the human rights issue, and on the level and extent of state and other actions one can encounter against oneself in the position devoted to this long-standing human rights catastrophe seen on the Israel-Palestinian issue, as Professor Falk and others encountered in their tenures. An individual with a clear sense of human rights, humanitarian law, and the range and character of history. This was a humbling experience. With great pleasure, and a deep sense of honour, I present the extensive interview with Professor Richard Falk to you.
Here we talk about the “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” apartheid discourse and sustainable peace, settler–colonialism and the Indigenous in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and the Golan Heights and Area C of the West Bank.
*Interview conducted on April 3, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The topics to be discussed today based on the recommendations of Professor Falk were the relevance of apartheid discourse to a sustainable peace, the Great March of Return, and the annexation of the Golan Heights and Area C of the West Bank. Let’s start at one of the larger conversational pieces around discourse, when you’re phrasing things as “apartheid discourse” and “sustainable peace” as a particular type of peace, what are you intending by apartheid discourse and sustainable peace?
Richard Falk: That’s an important issue, I believe. The way in which language is used in trying to approach the preconditions of a settlement or a solution, and the nature of what one is trying to achieve is often conveyed by a choice of words. Part of my use of “sustainable peace” rather than the naked word ‘peace’ as in ‘peace process’ is to signal a critique of the Oslo diplomacy. I wanted to call attention to a series of failed negotiations and more specifically, to the way in which the United States Government tried to impose a framework of what was misleadingly being called ‘peace’ on negotiations between Palestine and Israel. The diplomatic dynamic was almost explicitly partisan in favour of the stronger side and would have introduced had it ‘succeeded’ – what I would call – a one-sided peace that over time would be little other than a ceasefire between phases of an ongoing struggle. Such an outcome reflecting the geopolitical disparities between the negotiating parties would not have been sustainable even if the Palestinian Authority was persuaded to accept what was being offered. Since it was not a genuine peace agreement it would be inevitably resisted and repudiated at some point. For this reason, it is more realistically understood and interpreted as a ceasefire. As suggested, even if the Palestinian leadership could have been induced to swallow such a one-sided peace arrangement, future generations of Palestinians and young Palestinians, and, maybe, Arab neighbours, would surely reject it when an opportune moment arrived, and then proceed to resume a politics of struggle with the goal of sustainable peace. A fundamental precondition of genuine peace is to treat the parties on the basis of equality and on this basis seek an outcome that embodies a fair compromise. To my mind, that cannot be achieved, so long as present structures of the domination and fragmentation of the Palestinian are maintained. This has made the apartheid discourse responsive to the realities of the diplomatic impasse that has kept the conflict alive decade after decade. It also makes it crucial to challenge, discredit, the alternative paradigm or narrative of liberal Oslo critics, which insists that “ending the occupation” is the vital precondition for reaching peace between Palestinians and Israeli. I believe there are several difficulties with any perspective that concentrates on territory rather than people.
Among other concerns, focusing only on the occupation marginalizes the grievances and rights of the several million Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and those other Palestinians who are living around the world as involuntary exiles. Also, it doesn’t address the issue of discrimination within Israel itself as between Jews and non-Jews. My view is that this kind of hegemonic relationship between the Jewish/Israeli form of governance and the Palestinian people seen as a whole are, in different ways constitutive of the interaction. This embedding of inequality has to be removed for restorative diplomacy to be able to fulfill its stated purpose of lasting accommodation reflecting widely endorsed views of fairness to both sides. So, my view, and the view that is embodied in the UN study [Ed. “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” or the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Report.] I prepared in collaboration with Virginia Tilley [Ed. Professor of Political Science at Southern Illinois University]. In our report to the UN, we agreed that the indispensable precondition for diplomacy leading to what I am calling a “sustainable peace” needed to be based on existential equality of the peoples, and this could not be achieved without the prior dismantling of Israel’s apartheid structures of control. The further point is: unless, equality is established between the peoples there will be resistance to the status quo exerted both by Palestinians living under occupation and by a global solidarity movement that is guided by diaspora Palestinians. In turn, continued resistance by Palestinians will lead Israel to respond by a variety means designed to crush, demoralize, and discredit resistance. If this transpires, the likely prospect is a cycle of violent and non-violent confrontations, possibly aggravated by ethnic cleansing of the weaker Palestinian side. This combination of different modes of struggle has characterized the whole century during which this conflict has unfolded. More or less, this analysis of why peace has eluded the parties arises from the contradictory agendas of the two sides, even as they both claim a dedication to a negotiated agreement. This interpretation of failed diplomacy expresses my personal view as to why the apartheid discourse is a preferable and necessary precondition for reaching a genuine peace while endorsing the slogan ‘ending the occupation’ is not. Ending Israeli apartheid clears a more credible realistic path, at least this is so if we assume that the goal of this diplomacy is what it claims to be—the search for a sustainable peace. This assumption is somewhat questionable as the evidence seems to support the view of Rashid Khallidi, and others, that Israel never sought a diplomatic solution, at least after Rabin’s assassination in 1995, and that the U.S. was complicit in acting as if Israel was ready to accept an independent Palestinian state.
Jacobsen: How would Israeli citizens and Palestinian citizens integrate with one another within this “sustainable peace,” early on, given the history?
Falk: Underlying this issue is the anti-colonial movement, which gained strength after World War II, that is, after 1945. One of the perplexing peculiarities of this conflict is that Israel established its political independence at the very time that colonialism around the world was discredited and in a condition of free fall. In one way, the Zionist project was facilitated by the historical context. Zionism overcame many formidable obstacles on the path to its goals by gaining a great deal of sympathy and support as a consequence of the Holocaust and the failure of the liberal democracies to take action that might have prevented genocide against the Jews. This failure produced a post-war sense of liberal guilt. It allowed a myopic sense of Palestine to dominate the political imagination. This land of Palestine was open to settlement by a people dispersed around the world who had a strong historical attachment and strong biblical feelings of entitlement, to be sure, that could be traced back to ancient times. Yet Jews, despite a huge effort to encourage immigration remained a relatively small minority, even as late as 1945 – with about 30% of the population of Palestine being Jewish. This demographic imbalance remained despite the feverish Zionist efforts since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to encourage and subsidize Jewish immigration. This included striking a series of Faustian bargains between the Zionist movement and anti-Semitic governments – Poland, Germany, Ukraine, and others – relating to receiving aid in exchange for settling expelled Jews in Palestine often against their will.
Zionism was also assisted in establishing its military capabilities and arrangement for the removal of Jews from the various European countries. It was understandable to rescue Jews from these very crude forms of persecution, but the process also served the pragmatic priorities of the Zionist movement by increasing the Jewish demographic presence in Palestine. This Zionist Project also served the interests of these European governments that welcomed the removal of Jews from their societies. These developments largely preceded the genocidal phase of Nazism, which didn’t begin to occur until midway through World War II. There was earlier persecution and concentration camps. However, the deliberate and systematic killing of Jews came later and before that the favoured anti-Semitic policy during the 1930s was ethnic cleansing, achieved through some form of voluntary expulsion. That served the world Zionist movement, which was trying to create a sufficient Jewish presence in Palestine. Zionism was totally committed to fulfilling its statist ambitions that included a commitment to establish a democratic political framework, which was understood to require an assured Jewish majority. It is important to understand both of the elements were posited as essential goals in this dominant tendency of Zionism to attain Jewish statehood and legitimacy through being democratic. It sought to attain sovereignty by dominating the political realities of Palestine.
As earlier observed, it was remarkable from a Zionist point of view and tragic from a Palestinian point of view, that a settler colonial polity could be established and gain international acceptance in the middle of the last century. A utopia on one side, a catastrophe on the other side. In this period all forms of European colonialism were being discredited and collapsing in the response to anti-colonial movements dedicated to national independence. This has always created part of the puzzle confronting the state of Israel. How could Israel become internationally legitimate when its origins entailed the cruel displacement of the resident majority population? Several troubling elements accompanied the birth of Israel.
First, the way the 1947/48 War was conducted, including the denial of any right of return to the Palestinians who had been dispossessed and displaced and numbered anywhere between 700,000 and 800,000 from many peasant villages. During the fighting Palestinian civilians were encouraged or forced to flee and many were so frightened that they left their villages just to escape the ravages of combat. Several hundred of these villages were later bulldozed and destroyed by Israel to send a message that those Palestinians who left had no future in Israel and were not welcome to return. This meant the creation of a permanent refugee and dispossessed population that coincided with the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state. These flaws or crimes associated with the establishment of Israel were overlooked by most of the non-Arab members of the international community. Israel received the most important symbol of international legitimacy early in its existence by being admitted as a full member of the United Nations while the Palestinian fate was left unresolved, a huge and unforgivable mistake by the UN.
Combining this failure to find a solution prior to granting Israel UN membership was made that much worse by recommending a partition of Palestine to satisfy the irreconcilable claims of these two peoples. Such a proposed solution was put forth in defiance of the dominant trend toward regarding self-determination as the fundamental and inalienable right of a people, Palestinians and the Arab neighbours overwhelmingly rejected the idea of an imposed partition on the territorial entity governed as a unity during the period of the British Mandate. The British, as was their custom in a series of countries once colonially administered, were the original sponsors of a partition approach, which they had imposed on India, Ireland, Cyprus – a whole series of countries—in part, the outcome of their ‘divide and rule’ approach to colonial administration. This partition policy produced a series of disastrous results, with the worst outcome inflicted on the Palestinian people with no end in sight. The British were not solely responsible for the adoption for this partition approach. The British came to the conclusion that they could no longer govern Palestine effectively as the mandatory power, a role entrusted to them after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. In frustration, the British gave the UN the responsibility for determining the future of Palestine, a role for which it was not able to discharge in an equitable and fair manner. The United Nations, as became its practice, appointed an international commission dominated by a Euro-American outlook, which came up with this partition proposal. As might have been predicted, it was accepted by the Zionist leadership and rejected by the Palestinians.
I believe the Zionist Project always had on its agenda–which was then a prime goal of Israeli public policy, the recovery of the so-called “Promised Land,” the cultural/secular conception of Palestine as a biblical entitlement of the Jewish people. This sense of biblical entitlement produced an additional kind of tension, which is very often overlooked in commentary on why the political impasse has never been broken. Feelings of entitlement to the land are a fundamental part of the self-justifying narrative affirmed not only by Israel, but also by Jews around the world. This claim of right is not one of self-determination or rooted in international law, or even international morality, although these elements are not entirely ignored in Israeli legitimation discourses. Read the Israeli proclamation of independence and the relevant provisions of the Basic Law of Israel as formulated in 1948 makes evident this emphasis on the Jewish return to a land that was contained in a sacred promise to the Jewish people.
Even after 1967, when Israel first occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, it never accepted the international language of “West Bank” or “occupied territory.” Israeli politicians of all political persuasions consistently referred to the West Bank by its biblical names of “Judea” and “Samaria” (provinces of the original ancient Jewish state). I believe that calling the West Bank Judea and Samaria was a signal that this land is part of the biblical entitlement, and hence is part of the incomplete Zionist project, and always been part of the unacknowledged political agenda, and not subject to negotiation with the Palestinians. If this is correct is means that the image of a two-state solution was never accepted on the Israeli side and the diplomatic impasse was a convenient way to gain time to establish reinforcing facts on the ground, which is one way of interpreting the settlement movement.
After the 1967 ceasefire Israel almost immediately declared Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and by its law enlarged the area of the city. This contradicted the UN partition resolution, General Assembly Resolution 181 that proposed Jerusalem as the joint capital of Israelis and Palestinians and\ as an international city. There were many changes in expectations reflecting changing power balances and due to the fact that the Zionist Project publicly revealed its full extent only gradually. With tactical ingenuity Israel took what it could get away with at any moment in time, while not treating the last phase of expansion as satisfying the overall vision of the Zionist Project. In reaction, the Palestinians seemed innocent and naïve, and were consistently outmaneuvered, yet helpless. To some extent, the Palestinians didn’t seem to realize that Oslo diplomacy was basically a trap, giving Israel time to alter realities on the ground, mainly through the expansion of the settlement process and the building of the separation wall.
A number of developments created a new set of expectations. The failure o the Oslo diplomacy to find the sustainable peace played very strongly into the favour of Israel and very much to the detriment of Palestine. That, to me, is part of the recent story. One thing I have emphasized throughout is the degree to which the Zionist movement successfully swam against the anti-colonial current and managed to create this, essentially, colonial-settler state in a historical period, where colonialism was discredited and collapsed. This discrediting was reinforced by the United Nations, which was, originally, neutral about colonialism. Gradually, the UN adopted an anti-colonial posture. Partly, this was a result of the outcome of the colonial wars and the anti-colonial movements. Partly, the Soviet pressure always hostile to colonialism, ever since the Russian Revolution, and partly because the United States was ambivalent towards European colonialism, despite its own imperial background, having a certain national pride in being the first movement to an anti-colonial war in its War of Independence. Looked at more critically, the victory was rather hollow. It was the settlers repelling the colonizers, not the native or resident population.
Jacobsen: Regarding expulsions and colonialism, two things come to mind from the history and the description there. You mentioned “colonial-settler state” in a time in which colonialism was in a state of discrediting.
Falk: And collapsing, as well as delegitimizing the whole project of colonizing a foreign people.
Jacobsen: Within some of the anti-colonialist movements or adaptations, and modernizations, to the present, they may not use the phrasing of “colonial-settler state.” They will use the phrase “settler-colonialism.” In other words, they will look at societies like Canada or the United States with some or much of their history as settler-colonialism playing out. If there is a discrediting and collapse in the 20th century of colonial-settler states or settler-colonialism, by and large, yet, we have the Israeli-Palestinian issue grounded in that history since the inception of the United Nations. Does this make that issue, in particular Israel, the state of Israel, the last remnant of a colonial state, settler-colonial state, from the 20th century in the 21st?
Falk: I think, Israel is the last important remnant of the settler colonial political dynamic. What you raise leading up to that issue is interesting because, as you point out, Canada, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, are all settler-colonial states, that have essentially, established their international legitimacy and de facto control long before colonialism was delegitimized. They established kind of closure with respect to their legitimacy essentially by effectively neutralizing the native populations in their respective countries. One way of looking at Israel-Palestine: Israel, despite the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and again in 1967, hasn’t been able to establish that kind of sufficient control to be able to dispose of the native population, that is, the Palestinian population. Also, the historical context was different. When these successful settler-colonial movements occurred, colonialism did not have a negative connotation; in national or international law, or even from most ethical perspectives. Colonialism up to and including World War I was endorsed by the international legal system, reflecting the self-interest of the colonial powers themselves. So, the separation of these countries – United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – was something ambiguous from a de-colonization perspective. These countries were treated as independent sovereign states with only ritualistic ties to their mother country, and spared a colonialist taint. In one respect these countries that broke with colonialism were ironically the most abusive toward the native populations. Their hegemonic control over the native population was sufficient to result in marginalizing the native population, which enabled the erasure of both the discrediting settler and colonialist identity.
The issue hasn’t disappeared altogether in any of these countries. I have been to all of them at one time or another, and have been academically interested in supporting the rights of Indigenous peoples, as they are generally called, there have been different strategies emerging in each of these countries. You could say, “Israel is trying to find some kind of strategy for dealing with the Palestinian people without acknowledging their equality, yet without the ability to marginalize the Palestinian presence. Yet they are being denied the benefits of belonging to their own country of residence, their own homeland.” Of course, such a denial is something in the anti-colonial international atmosphere existing now that is hard to imagine the Palestinian people swallowing without resisting to the extent of their capacity. Indigenous people, as you know in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand seem a lost cause politically, yet still challenge the established order culturally and socially. The representative voices of the Indigenous communities refuse to accept the legitimacy of the arrangements that exist. These indigenous movement are helpless to challenge, except emotionally and in terms of expressing their sense of being victimized by the historical process by which these states have consolidated their power. Their self-assertion is an expression of spiritual resilience, a refusal to surrender of identity despite an acceptance of powerlessness.
Jacobsen: Different countries will have different ‘outcomes.’ In Canadian society, we have had protests around pipelines. In the United States, they had protests at Standing Rock, which became violent to some degree with militarized police coming into the situation. In general, since you have been to these places, read more, seen more, had more authoritative positions, and had conversations with the individuals who would have authoritative synoptic judgments about these issues, if you’re looking at the Aborigines in Australia, the Maori (in New Zealand), the First Nations, the Metis, the Inuit in Canada, or just any of the number of Native American tribes in America (e.g., Iroquois, the Hopi, etc.), what cases come to mind that mirror some of the issues of the Palestinians and the ways in which there was some leverage of equality for that “sustainable peace”?
Falk: Yes, we are on territory that I have not explored very much recently. However, these experiences are certainly very interesting and somewhat relevant. I think, the Palestinians, unlike the Indigenous peoples of the white settler-colonial countries, were not pre-modern. There was a difference in their political consciousness, an identity that was aligned to modernity. The Palestinians had a sophisticated intellectual class. Palestine was considered the most educated Arab population when the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917. There was intellectual concern and a sense of foreboding within Palestine from the beginning of the Zionist penetration at the beginning of the 20th century. Although there are similarities, there are important differences. This made it more difficult for Israel to address the resident population in the ways these other governments managed to do prior to the decline of colonialism, which partly reflected the changed historical situation and increased support for self-determination. These values precluded the methods used in the United States, Australia, Canada, and, to a lesser degree, in New Zealand, as far as I know. I spent some time in New Zealand talking with some of the Maori. They, interestingly, said, “We are able to preserve our way of life to a greater extent than the Australian aboriginal people have done because we are like the Vietnamese. We were never defeated in war. We retreated to the mountains. We signed a treaty.” The dominant white population in New Zealand acknowledged the cultural equality of the Maori. I remember, when I was there, even the Prime Minister was studying the Maori language. There were something like 18 Maori language schools in Auckland alone. This does not alter the reality of political marginalization, but rather expressed cultural resilience.
There was a different kind of feeling, as recently as the end of the last century. There could be a cultural accommodation, and a sense of mutuality and equality between settlers and indigenous people. In Australia, you get this feeling that meetings and conferences begin with almost an apology and a prayer. It is a gesture, an expression of guilt. It seems a little hypocritical, but is very much a part of the living sense of how the excesses of the colonialist background should be addressed. You could never imagine this kind of acknowledgement of guilt happening in the United States in the manner of Australia and New Zealand. Americans have written and talked movingly about the injustice done to the Native Americans, there are important Indigenous leaders who have articulated the injustice and founded movements seeking some kind of self-determination within the modern political landscape. I was a friend of Russell Means who was one of the leading voices of the Sioux people and a major figure in the American Indian Movement that captured the nostalgic moral imagination of many Americans projecting a different image of the past than that portrayed in cowboy and Indian movies that often disclosed genocidal patterns of thought and behaviour.
Jacobsen: If you look at the amount of land the Hopi kept, contiguous land, one hunk (surrounded by the Navajo), if you count the square mileage there, it’s about as much as 1/5th of all the land combined that Canadian Aboriginals kept. So, there was something in the history of the dynamic that played out much differently, at least in Canada compared to the United States, in the case of the Hopi compared to the 600+ bands in Canada. So, another topic on the agenda is the Great March of Return or the Great Return March. Depending on the person that you talk to, the phrasing will be different. The most frequent one that I have heard is the “Great March of Return.” So, with regards to it, there is a day, for those who may not know reading this, called Nakba day. For the Great March of Return, what has been the reaction of the international rights community?
Falk: First of all, the Great March Return should be perceived and understood as a largely non-violent movement among the people Gaza who are claiming the right to return to their homes from which they, their parents, or their grandparents were expelled or fled decades ago. The basic image of “return” is a sense of legal, moral, and political entitlement. They are not trying to enter a society in which they have no legitimate claims. They have many serious grievances, painful experiences, and long records of having rights denied. These Palestinians sought to dramatize those grievances so long denied by confronting Israel at its border. Israel responded with live ammunition, use of snipers that targeted medical workers and others, and, definitely, engaged in or relied upon tactics that were excessive from the perspective of international humanitarian law by reference to Israel’s right to defend its borders and prevent unauthorized individuals from breaking the fence and crossing into Israel. On the Palestinian side is the issues related to seeking visibility and international support for unacknowledged grievances that have persisted over such a long time and have been accompanied by the blockade of Gaza for more than twelve years, accompanied by a very harsh form of confinement and occupation. It is misleading to separate the protest activity from the overall oppressive conditions: an overcrowded living space, an impoverished population with the great majority of inhabitants jobless and dependent on humanitarian assistance just for survival. Gaza has been the target of periodic military incursions or armed operations by Israel in 2008/09, 2012, and 2014, as well as pervasive daily uses of force that have traumatized the entire society; a civilian population confined in these very difficult circumstances, which I have witnessed. I was able to travel to Gaza via Egypt before al-Sisi limited access in 2012. It is difficult to imagine living in for a week, much less a lifetime.
This initiative was not started by Hamas, which is in control of the administrative processes of Gaza. The Great March was at the start a spontaneous civil society initiative of coming together every Friday to protest. This was an impressive movement because it mobilized a large number of Palestinians in spite of the violent Israeli response by way of sophisticated weaponry and excessive uses of force directed at basically unarmed demonstrators who lacked any means of self-defence. These Palestinian protestors continued to show up on successive Fridays for more than a year in spite of enduring heavy casualties and the deliberate crippling of protestors caused by snipers shooting at and below the knees. A very shocking pattern of Israeli response that wasn’t responsibly dealt with by the international community, especially if proper account is taken of Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power in relation to the civilian population of Gaza. The Palestinians have long been lectured by liberals in the West: Since Israel is a democratic society it would be responsive to non-violent protests by Palestinians. This experience once more showed Israel’s iron fist tactics as applied to the Palestinian people no matter how their opposition was manifested. Despite these concerns, as far as I could tell, there was virtually no sympathetic coverage of the Great March in the mainstream media. What attention was given was devoted to reporting on how many people were killed, what happened week-to-week as to the size of demonstrations. So, it’s a very dispiriting outcome, which reinforces the conception that Israel thinks it can defeat militarily the Palestinian challenge and, basically, create a situation not so unlike the situation that exists in these other settler-colonial states that are no longer criticized because of their treatment of the natives. Once the native population becomes so demoralized, humiliated, and defeated, Israel can then govern the whole of Palestine as part of an apartheid one-state solution.
This kind of Israeli endgame was set forth in the Trump-Kushner so-called peace proposals, which incorporated the persistent advocacy of Daniel Pipes who is one of the prominent Zionist militant intellectuals who had been developing an argument for an Israeli victory scenario during the past several years on his website Middle East Forum: diplomacy had been attempted in relation to the conflict and failed to reach agreement. In light of this, the only way for this conflict to end if diplomacy fails is to allow one side to win and the other side to lose. The challenge to Israel, according to Pipes, is to make the Palestinians accept the reality that their struggle had become a lost cause. Pipes urged Israel to increase its coercion so as to convince the Palestinians of the futility of their further resistance. Of course, the Great March of Return was defying that defeatist attitude. That Pipes approach is adopted, in my view, in the extremely one-sided proposals contained in this Trump-Kushner plan endorsed by both Gantz and Netanyahu who together represent the large majority of Israeli public opinion. One of the things that has happened over the course of this prolonged struggle is that Israeli internal politics have move steadily to the right. By “to the right,” I mean embracing the maximal Zionist vision to a solution is more or less uncontested in Israel, although there are ambiguities, including an Israeli majority that still favours a two-state solution if it were viable. This move toward a victory scenario amounts to an annexationist approach to the West Bank, which has been, from an international law and United Nations perspective, occupied territory. Over the years, especially Area C that is 60% of the West Bank, has been treated more and more as de facto Israel. Again annexation has been given, more or less, a green light by the Trump presidency. Although such encouragement by Washington has no legal status, it exerts a political influence that reinforces Israeli expansionism.
I think, the Israeli leadership, the Likud leadership, and even the Blue and White opposition to the Likud, see the Trump presidency as a time-limited opportunity to complete the Zionist Project by proclaiming that the conflict is over. Some Palestinian communities will be somewhat self-governing, a policy comparable to what South African tried to do in the last phases of South African apartheid. Israel, facing different conditions, has shaped its own form of apartheid. It is helpful to recall that in South Africa a minority elite created structures of racial domination to subjugate the large majority African population. One can learn, in several ways, from this earlier apartheid experience, particularly the connection between dismantling apartheid and achieving racial peace. South Africa only moved toward ending the struggle when it decided to release Nelson Mandela from prison as a symbolic step toward the dismantling apartheid. Without that dismantling, that struggle would still be happening. That’s my central point with respect to Israel: If Israel wants peace, then it must get rid of apartheid. There’s no other way for these two peoples to live together in some coexisting and peaceful manner.
Jacobsen: The last two points were the Golan Heights and Area C of the West Bank. Any points for the audience there?
Falk: I think, the Golan Heights and Area C are part of the expansionist vision of the Zionist Project. Israel feels it is now strong enough that can incorporate these territories into its state control in ways that will bring it to some kind of new reality. In other words, the Golan Heights has already been annexed with the explicit approval of the Trump presidency, which is appropriating Syrian territory going against the basic rules of post-1945 international law: no territory can be acquired by uses of force. As for the West Bank, specifically Area C, as I said earlier, is part of the Zionist sense of biblical entitlement. This was part of the Promised Land. Israel feels that it’s entitled to include within its sovereign domain. In this sense, I think, religion as fused with cultural traditions has been relevant to the modern Jewish political sensibility, including even the secular political class. Jews worldwide generally assume that respecting their religious and cultural roots should take precedence over Palestinian claims based on law, secularism, and modernity. So, it is an odd thing. On the one side, Israel is claiming to bring the benefits of modernity to Palestinians and the Arab population. If only the inhabitant would accept benevolent Israeli governance, they would benefit from this Europeanized way of organizing social and economic life. At the same time, Israel’s claims ultimately rest on this pre-modern idea that they, on the basis their religious and cultural tradition, have a superior claim to consider the land their homeland to that of the people living there. That’s the radical nature of the Zionist claim. In effect, the Jewish diaspora deserves precedence over the claims of the native population, the resident population, when it comes to delimiting national homelands. In that way, the period before World War II, the Zionists turned against their original colonial sponsors, the British, and succeeded in making the British regard Palestine ungovernable. Zionism then claimed to be an anti-colonialist movement of the Jewish nation. When you read the influential Exodus narrative that glamorized Zionism and erased the Palestinian you understand the process better by which fiction became fact. The Zionist Project succeeded in appropriating the anti-colonial ethos as the core event of their emancipatory history while persuading much of the world to overloo the cruelty of the Nakba and the displacement of the Palestinians.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Falk.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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