Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope is Professor Falk's first major publication since he completed his term as UN special rapporteur on the situation of the occupied Palestinian territories. In it, he gathers and presents the best of the essays on Palestine that he published on his personal blog in the years 2010-2014, with added commentary that provides a rich metanarrative to the collection.
This book powerfully shows how in recent years the Palestinians' struggle for rights and equality has become transformed into a "legitimacy struggle" of the kind that resulted in victory for many (but not all) of the most important other anticolonial movements of the past century.
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The Legitimacy of Hope
By Richard Falk
Just World Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Richard Falk
All rights reserved.
Resolving the Conflict
The mainstream view that the road to peace depends on intergovernmental negotiations in which the United States government serves as the hegemonic intermediary has held firm ever since the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt in 1978, during the Carter presidency. For Israel and Palestine such a process has dominated the diplomacy of the conflict for decades, although the UN Security Council initially tried to set forth a conception of peace based essentially on the 1967 borders and on a fair resolution of the refugee issue in the unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 242.
The Oslo framework agreement was reached in 1993 and sanctified on the White House lawn by a handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, with a smiling Bill Clinton standing between the two leaders. What has been evident all along has been the accentuation of the hard-power disparity by a "peace process" heavily slanted in favor of Israel, dramatized by the Palestinian willingness to indulge the fantasy that the United States can be trusted to act as an "honest broker." This fantasy was revived by U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, who exerted muscular diplomatic pressure on two reluctant political actors, the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in 2013-14 to make one last effort to resolve the conflict by negotiations carried on under the watchful eye of the U.S. government.
The chronologically arranged posts in this chapter consider, at various times during the last three years, this flawed approach to reaching a sustainable and just peace for both peoples based upon the rights, security goals, and sovereign equality of the negotiating political actors. Several offer skeptical commentaries on this unpromising peace process.
Attention is also given here to various Palestinian efforts to alter the diplomatic context, particularly by way of a UN acknowledgement of Palestinian statehood. "The Palestinian Statehood Bid" highlights the interaction between the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to gain voice and presence in the world, and the combined efforts of Israel and the United States at the UN to make sure that the Palestinians remain a mute and humiliated, occupied, and dispersed people until the outcome of diplomatic negotiations certifies them as "legitimate." But suppose, as has been evident for many years, that Israel has no interest in reaching such a finish line and is willing either to extend the status quo indefinitely or offer the Palestinians a paltry remnant of historic Palestine on a take-it-or-leave-it basis?
Three posts in this chapter discuss alternatives to this Camp David–Oslo approach from various angles, with the objective of nurturing what I would call a "genuine peace process." "UNESCO Membership and Palestinian Self-Determination" introduces the motif of hope that pervades this gathering of commentaries on the Palestinian struggle. It sets forth two essential arguments: that at the core of the struggle are contesting visions of what is morally right and legally correct, what I call "legitimacy war" (or, for reasons explained in the Introduction, "legitimacy struggle"), and that the side that prevails in the legitimacy struggle has generally — although not always — controlled the political outcome of the conflict in the decades since the end of World War II.
"Khaled Mashaal and Prospects for a Sustainable Israel–Palestine Peace" cautiously supports the controversial view that Hamas has come to share this outlook: not because of a conversion to nonviolence, but for tactical reasons of resolving the conflict. This interpretation of Hamas's evolving approach to resistance and peace ventures the opinion that a credible Israeli commitment to reaching a solution via diplomacy would be disclosed by Tel Aviv's willingness to treat Hamas as a political actor rather than adhering to the exclusionary insistence that Hamas is a "terrorist organization." Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to insist that the Palestinian Authority must choose between what he calls "unity" (as between itself and Hamas) and "peace" (as between itself and Israel).
"The Palestine National Movement Advances" articulates and advocates this strategy of legitimacy struggle as the most desirable path for Palestinian resistance and solidarity to follow at this time. This post considers why the present approach is deficient and what kinds of changes would have to take place to give statecraft the prospect of playing a constructive role. The essence of the argument is that the political climate in Israel, and to some degree the United States, would have to change sufficiently to enable fairness between Israelis and Palestinians. This seems almost certain to be an unrealizable goal without a Palestinian solidarity movement, conjoined with Palestinian resistance activities, exerting much greater pressure on Israel. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign has been growing in this period and epitomizes the kind of militant nonviolence that has the best chance of creating a diplomatic atmosphere conducive to peace with justice and to equal security and sovereignty for both sides.
* * *
On the Peace Process
November 21, 2010
The mainstream discourse is preoccupied with whether a deal can be struck, and worries not at all about such a deal's fairness, or about the process that features a partisan mediator, or about Palestinian representation (which is neither inclusive nor legitimate). It speculates that maybe it will be possible to strike a bargain because Israel regards Iran as an existential threat and because the Palestinian Authority is weak and badly wishes to solidify its claims to lead some kind of Palestinian entity. The U.S. government is most eager of all, because President Obama needs some kind of foreign policy success and it would be a step toward reducing anti-Americanism in the region.
At the moment, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas insists that unless the settlement freeze for the ninety-day period is extended to East Jerusalem, there will be no resumption of negotiations. Netanyahu is beset by settler militancy but has been gifted such a bribe by the United States that it is hard to imagine that he will accept some sort of ambiguous freeze arrangement. It still seems likely that U.S.–Israeli leverage will revive a negotiating process beset with obstacles from a Palestinian perspective.
An almost-condition of the negotiations is that whatever is agreed upon is final so far as any future Palestinian demands are concerned. This reinforces the importance of assessing the adequacy of the process and of Palestinian representation. It also shows how impossible it seems that anything will emerge that can be reconciled with even a minimal construction of Palestinian rights or expectations.
There are three severe shortcomings of the peace process as now constituted: (1) the excessive influence of the United States, due to its dual role as unconditional ally of Israel and self-appointed "honest broker" for the negotiations; (2) exclusion of any assessment of contested issues by reference to international law, including borders, Jerusalem, settlements, water, refugees — on each of these issues the Palestinian claims accord with international law while the Israeli position does not, and thus excluding international law guidelines from the peace process profoundly impairs prospects for achieving Palestinian self-determination by way of intergovernmental negotiations; and (3) exclusion of any consideration of the historical context that, if considered, would imprint a colonial character on the Zionist project from at least the time of its endorsement in the London Balfour Declaration of 1917 and which, over time, has turned the Israeli governing process into one that combines ethnic cleansing, the crime of apartheid, and settler colonialism.
A further observation: the likely presentation of a land swap in exchange for the incorporation of settlement blocs into Israel is both deceptive and sets a trap with regard to Palestinians' search for self-determination: what Israel seems prepared to offer is either desert wasteland in the Negev, Palestinian communities situated in the Galilee region of Israel, or some combination. The latter would really achieve two Israeli goals in exchange for essentially nothing: it would somewhat legitimate Israeli sovereign claims with respect to the settlement blocs and, at the same time, contribute to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians currently resident behind the green line.
* * *
The Palestinian Legitimacy Struggle versus "Lawfare"
December 15, 2010
There has long been advocacy of the idea that judges in national courts could help strengthen the implementation of global norms by extending the reach of national law, especially for serious crimes that cannot be otherwise prosecuted. The authority to use national courts against piracy on the high seas was widely endorsed and constitutes the jurisprudential basis for what has come to be known as "universal jurisdiction": that is, regardless of where a crime was committed or the national identity of the alleged perpetrator or victim, a national court has the authority to attach its law.
This reliance on universal jurisdiction received a strong shot in the arm as a result of the war-crimes trials at the end of World War II against surviving German and Japanese political and military leaders, a legal framework institutionalized internationally in 2002 as a result of the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The underlying rationale is that aggressive war, crimes against humanity, and severe violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law are crimes against the whole of humanity, not just the victim state or people. Although the Nuremberg judgment was flawed, "victors' justice," it generated global norms in the form of the Nuremberg Principles that are considered by international law consensus to be universally binding.
These ideas underlie the recent prosecution of geopolitical pariahs such as Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Miloevic, and several African tyrannical figures. But when it comes to the lead political actors, as understood by the U.S.-led hegemonic hierarchy, the leadership of the rest of the world enjoys impunity, in effect, an exemption from accountability to international criminal law. It is a prime instance of the double standards that pervade the current world order, perhaps most prominently illustrated in relation to the veto power given permanent members of the UN Security Council or the nonproliferation regime governing nuclear weaponry.
Double standards sever any link between law, as administered by the state system on a world level, and pretensions of global justice. The challenge for those seeking global justice based on international law that treats equals equally is to overcome, in every substantive setting, double standards and impunity. The world of sovereign states and the United Nations have not been able to mount such a challenge. Into this vacuum has moved a surging, global civil society movement that got its start in the global fight against colonialism, especially the Vietnam War, and moved forward dramatically as a result of the South African anti-apartheid campaign. This movement has relied upon various instruments, including BDS solidarity movements, informally constituted citizens' war-crimes tribunals (starting with the Russell Tribunal during the Vietnam War, and extended by the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal in Rome and, in 2005, by the Iraq War Tribunal, which held twenty sessions around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul), and civil disobedience in various forms, especially refusals to serve in military operations that violate international law.
A coalition of civil society actors created the political climate that somewhat surprisingly allowed the International Criminal Court to come into being in 2002, although unsurprisingly without the participation of the United States, Israel, or most of the senior members of the geopolitical first echelon. It is against this background that two contradictory developments are to be found: the waging of an all-out legitimacy war against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for a just peace and a backlash campaign against what is called "lawfare" by Israeli hardliners.
A legitimacy-war strategy seeks popular mobilization on the basis of nonviolent coercion to achieve political goals, relying on the relevance of international law and the accountability of those who act on behalf of states in the commission of crimes of state. The Goldstone Report illustrates this interface between a legitimacy war and lawfare, reinforcing Palestinian contentions of victimization as a result of Israel's use of force, as in the notorious Operation Cast Lead (December 27, 2008–January 18, 2009), and driving Israel's top leaders to venomous fury in their effort to discredit the distinguished jurist Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN mission responsible for the report, and the findings he so convincingly reached. With Israeli impunity under growing threat, special pressures have been placed on the United States to use its geopolitical muscle within the UN to maintain the mantle of impunity over the documented record of Israeli criminality and to make sure that the UN remains a selective sanctuary for such outrageous grants of impunity.
These issues of criminal accountability are on the front lines of the legitimacy war and provide the foundation for efforts throughout the world in relation to the growing BDS campaign. The lawfare counterattack at one level acknowledges the strength of civil society efforts, but it is also cynically and polemically undertaken to discredit reliance on international law by those who are victimized by abusive and oppressive uses of military and police power. The Palestinians have been victimized in these respects for more than sixty-two years, and their efforts to end this intolerable set of realities through an innovative reliance on nonviolent resistance and self-defense deserves the support of persons of conscience throughout the world. Whether this reliance on a legitimacy war can finally achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace for both peoples only the future can tell, but there is no doubt that this struggle is the best contemporary instance of a "just war."
* * *
The Palestinian Statehood Bid
September 20, 2011
Even if nothing further were to happen, the proposed Palestinian initiative, combined with the furious negative response in Tel Aviv and Washington, has given much-needed visibility to the ongoing daily ordeal of the Palestinian people, whether living under the rigors of occupation, consigned for decades to miserable refugee camps, or existing in the stressful limbo of exile. The only genuine challenge facing the world community of states and the UN is how to end this ordeal, which has lasted now for an incredible period of sixty-three years, in a manner that produces a just and sustainable peace. It is the entanglement of geopolitics with this unmet challenge that signifies the moral, legal, and political inadequacy of the contemporary world order. The Israel–Palestine conflict, along with the continued presence of nuclear weaponry and the persistence of world poverty, exhibits the failure of international law and morality, as well as of common sense and enlightened realism, to guide the behavior of leading sovereign states. In the face of this failure, the frustrations and extraordinary suffering experienced by the Palestinian people, the intolerable injustice of their situation, has come to dominate the moral and political imagination of the world. No issue has generated this level of solidarity among the peoples of the world since the anti-apartheid campaign toppled the racist regime in South Africa more than twenty years ago.
To the surprise of many and the comprehension of few, it is not only Israel that opposes this initiative of the Palestinian Authority. A crucial part of the background is the division among Palestinians as to the wisdom and effects of the statehood initiative at the UN. Palestinian critics consider it diversionary and divisive, possibly shrinking the dispute to territorial issues, placing approximately seven million Palestinian refugees and exile communities in permanent limbo, and allowing Israel to treat the outcome of this UN shadow play as the end game in their long effort to transform what was to be a temporary occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank into a condition of permanent, if de facto, annexation. The question that underlies this debate is whether the diplomatic claim of statehood in this form legitimately represents the Palestinian people in their several dimensions or merely fulfills, at a price, the ambitions of the Palestinian Authority. In the background is the organizational complexity of the Palestinian community, with the future of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) drawn into question. Whereas the councils of the Whereas the councils of the PLO includes representatives of the Palestinian diaspora, the Palestinian Authority is a political formation intended to address the circumstances of occupation in the post-Oslo period and has as its primary goal promoting the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces. To carry out this mission it has been seeking, with some success (achieving favorable progress reports from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund), to demonstrate that it possesses the institutional capabilities needed for stable governance, including maintaining security and preventing anti-Israeli activism. How this sense of political priorities relates to the claims of refugees confined in camps in neighboring Arab countries, as well as the several million Palestinians living around the world, seems to be the deepest issue dividing the Palestinian people considered as a whole. A closely related concern, but one that is more widely appreciated, is Hamas's refusal to lend support to this initiative, despite the fanfare surrounding the unity agreement brokered by Egypt in early June 2011.
Excerpted from Palestine by Richard Falk. Copyright © 2014 Richard Falk. Excerpted by permission of Just World Publishing, LLC.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMap 1: West Bank Fragmented by Israeli Settlements and Barrier, 2014,
Map 2: Distribution of Registered Palestinian Refugees,
1. Resolving the Conflict,
3. Prison Resistance,
4. Global Solidarity: Initiatives and Obstacles,
5. The United States, the United Nations, and International Law,
6. The Larger Picture,
7. Fragments of the Whole,
A Concluding Note,