Exclusive Interview: humanitarian crisis in...
The blockade in what is popularly referred to as the world's "largest open-air prison" means growing unemployment, people having intermittent access to pure water, the economy is almost dysfunctional and poor infrastructure and lack of funding make the two-million population vulnerable to heavy rains and extreme weather.
The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories believes Israel is not doing enough to make the living conditions of Gaza Palestinians better, and the United States is also failing to play a constructive role.
Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, who has published and co-edited some 40 books on human rights, international humanitarian law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In an interview with the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Falk shared his views on the recent controversy surrounding President Trump's proposal to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the Palestinian territories.
Q: In a piece recently published on Foreign Policy Journal, you talked of Palestine as being a hugely discriminated against nation, which in the recent decades has undergone major hardships due to the inability or reluctance of the United Nations to take steps to balance the needs of the Palestinian people against the political leverage of Israel and its allies. The improvement of the living conditions of the Palestinians depends on a logical and justifiable way out being found to end the conflict. Is the international community really unable to come up with a sustainable and all-encompassing solution?
A: The failure of the international community with respect to the Palestinian people and their legitimate grievances is due to several special circumstances; most importantly, the underlying determination of the Zionist movement to control most of Palestine as delimited by the British mandate. In this respect, assertions by Israeli leaders of their desire for a political compromise appear insincere. Secondly, this Zionist ambition is unopposed by the United States and is not clearly articulated by the government of Israel. This obscurity allows the international community to act as if a peace process can produce a solution for the conflict even though Israel’s actions on the ground point ever more clearly toward an imposed unilateral outcome.
Thirdly, the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the U.S. translates into geopolitical protection bearing on security issues and even extending to protecting Israel from censure at the UN, especially by the Security Council, and making sanctions impossible. In such a setting, the Israelis are able to pursue their goals, while ignoring Palestinian grievances, which results in tragedy and suffering for the Palestinian people. Given the balance of forces, there is no end in sight that might end the conflict in a fair way.
Q: President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to move the U.S. embassy to this city met a big resistance at the United Nations, both on the General Assembly and Security Council levels. Why do you think the international community and even the major U.S. allies didn't say yes to this proposal?
A: Trump's initiative on Jerusalem ruptured the basis for seeking a diplomatic solution for relations between Israel and Palestine. There had been a clear understanding, respected by prior American leaders, that the disposition of Jerusalem was a matter that was to be settled by negotiations between the parties. This understanding was broken by the Trump initiative for no reason beyond pleasing Netanyahu and some wealthy Zionist donors in the U.S. Beyond this, for Trump to side with Israel on such a sensitive issue, which is sensitive not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims everywhere, and even for Christians, destroyed the credibility of the United States to act as the intermediary in any future peace process.
This credibility was at a low level anyway, but this latest step relating to Jerusalem removed, at least for now, any doubt about the American partisan approach, and more dramatically, made it evident that diplomacy based on the two-state solution had reached a dead end.
In one respect, the Trump move on Jerusalem lifted the scales from the eyes of the world. It should have been clear for some years that the scale of the settlement phenomenon and the influence of the settlers, now numbering about 800,000, had made it impractical to contemplate the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state. As well, the U.S. had long ceased to be an honest broker in the diplomatic settings that were described by reference to ‘the peace process,’ and probably never was from the outset of the international search for an outcome that was a genuine political compromise. If there is to be an effective diplomacy with respect to the relations between the two peoples, it must be preceded by dismantling the apartheid structures that were developed by Israel over the decades to subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole and the United States must be replaced by a credible third party intermediary. Israel feels no pressure to accept such changes, and so there is no current alternative to exerting pressure on this untenable status quo through support for the global solidarity movement, including the BDS campaign.
Q: In the recent years, many resolutions and statements have been issued in condemnation of the expansion of Israel's settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied following the Six-Day War in 1967 by the UN General Assembly and its affiliated human rights bodies. Even the UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) declares Israel's settlement activity a "flagrant violation" of international law. Is the publication of statements and condemning a state, while the state itself doesn't recognise the demands and considers them invalid, a viable solution? If the international community is convinced that Israel should stop the illegal settlements, then how is it possible to make it happen?
A: The continued expansion of the settlements despite their flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention is both an expression of Israel’s contempt for international law and the impotence of the UN to do anything more consequential than complain about it. When geopolitical realities shield the behaviour of a state from international pressures, the UN is helpless to implement its resolutions, and international law is put to one side. The UN is an organisation of states, and limited in its capacity to shape behaviour, especially by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, the UN was never expected to have the capacity to overcome the strongly held views and commitments of the five states given permanent membership and the right of veto in the Security Council, the only organ of the UN System with clear authority to reach and implement decisions. No conflict illustrates so well this Faustian Bargain between power and justice embodied in the UN Charter and the constitutional framework of the UN, as well as its practice over the years.
Q: News reports and figures show that the living standards and the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip are getting worse as time goes by. The unemployment rate has climbed to 46%. Research organisations and local media say 65% of the population is grappling with poverty and the food insecurity rate is roughly 50%. How do you think the perturbing humanitarian crisis in Gaza can be alleviated?
A: It is difficult to understand fully the Israeli approach to Gaza. It often appears vindictive, with security rationales sounding more like pretexts than explanations. Excessive force has been repeatedly used, and little effort to achieve some kind of tolerable stability has been made.
Israel has rejected a series of proposals for long-term ceasefires put forward by Hamas during the past decade. Israel has periodically attacked Gaza, inflicting heavy damage on a helpless and impoverished civilian society in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014 while the international community condemned these excessive uses of force. Now that the economic squeeze is pushing Gaza toward the brink of a humanitarian disaster is accentuating the ordeal of the nearly two million Palestinians entrapped within what has been called the world’s largest open air prison.
It is unclear what Israel actually wants to happen in Gaza. Unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not part of the Zionist game plan, and is not considered to be part of biblical Israel. To the extent that Israel is pursuing a one-state solution imposed on the Palestinians, Gaza would be likely excluded as adding its population to that of Israel would risk exploding ‘the demographic bomb’ that has for so long worried Israelis because of endangering the artificially generated Jewish majority population.
The Zionist project has long endeavoured to sustain the democratic pretension of its governing process, initially dispossessing as many as 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel in 1948, combined with denying those who left their homes and villages any right of return, and in hundreds of cases utterly destroying the villages with bulldozers. This pattern of controlling the population ratio between Jews and non-Jews has persisted since the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 when the Jewish population of Palestine was about 5%. In the early period, the Zionist effort was focused on overcoming the Jewish demographic minority status by stimulating and subsidising Jewish immigration. Yet even after the surge in immigration prompted by the rise of Nazism and European anti-Semitism, the Jewish population of Palestine was only about 30% at the start of the 1947-48 War.
Israel would probably like to have Gaza disappear. If that is not going to happen, then the second best solution is to entrust Jordan or Egypt with administrative control and security responsibility, which so far neither Arab government wants. With these considerations in mind, Israel seems determined to keep the pressure on Gaza, allowing the population to hover around the subsistence threshold, and then asserting a military presence from time to time that seems both punitive and designed to remind Gazans that resistance on their part would be met with overwhelming lethal force.
Exclusive Interview for Organization for Defending Victims of Violence (ODVV)
By: Kourosh Ziabari