Earlier this month, a video clip of an Israeli soldier snatching a bicycle from a Palestinian girl went viral on social media. From the footage one can hear the eight-year-old crying while another soldier throws her bicycle into the bushes. Prior to that, in February this year, another video of an Israeli soldier tipping over a disabled Palestinian man in a wheelchair sparked an outrage on social media. Predictably, Pakistanis are strong participants of the social media-bashing of Israel and are fiercely vocal when calling for the freedom of their Muslim brethren in occupied Palestine. However, it is safe to say that many people that get on the “down with Israel” bandwagon are unaware of the roadblocks that are hampering a peaceful solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflict.
Last week, the Herald spoke with Dr Richard Falk, who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights from 2008 to 2014, and had formerly also served as a Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at the Princeton University, New Jersey.
He was in Karachi to deliver a lecture on Sovereign States, Human Rights and World (Dis) Order at Habib University, where he spoke extensively about how global stability hinged upon a balance between respecting the concept of sovereignty and safeguarding rights such as self determination. Here are some of his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as taken from his conversation with the Herald:
Q. You talked about the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (A clause in the UN Genocide Convention to prevent genocides and ethnic cleansing) which places the onus upon the international community to protect people from their own state, if need be. However in cases like Palestine we see that groups like Hamas utilise armed resistance as a tool to resist Israeli oppression. What is your view on that?
exist so it’s not entirely an imaginary issue. But it’s used politically as a way of discrediting those who seek either justice for the Palestinians or are critical of the way Israel is conducting its policies. The people that are active in BDS are not challenging the existence of Israel as a state; they are challenging its practices and policies. Zionism was a project, historically to establish a Jewish homeland, not a Jewish state. And the idea of a Jewish state applied in Israel, which has a 20 percent Palestinian minority is inconsistent with modern human rights principles, where people living within a sovereign state should be treated equally. So in my view, primarily, the argument is a way of diverting attention from the substantive complaints about Israel.
Q. Why is it that the definitions of anti-Semitism are not clearly demarcated in a forum such as the United Nations?
A. Well, because the United Nations is a geopolitical institution and Israel has the benefit of geopolitical support and since it serves its interests and the interests of the United States as its principal protector to blur the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. It is very hard to clarify those issues in the way that you suggest.
Q. With the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, do you think there is going to be change in the Middle East dynamic?
A. I don’t foresee any change, with the two principal candidates [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump]. Trump, who is much less likely to get elected, is so unpredictable that maybe he would do something that was unexpected. Whereas with Hillary Clinton, who is more reliable and more experienced, but is totally committed to supporting Israel, there is virtually no prospect of [change]. Bernie Sanders, who was the opponent of [Hillary], favored a more balanced approach. If you want diplomacy to work in the region, you have to adopt a balanced approach towards Israel and the Palestinians. You cannot be both the intermediary in negotiations and be a partisan supporter of the stronger side. This is what has happened so far.
Q. Now that countries like France are trying to break the US monopoly on this conflict, by warning that a continued deadlock could lead Paris to recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, do you think international bodies – or even individual countries – can bring about some progress in the foreseeable future?
A. It is very difficult because none of the European countries, even though they favour a more balanced approach, would be prepared to challenge Israel in a direct way. And Israel benefits so much from the so-called ‘special’ relationship it has developed with the USA that it has no incentive to give up that framework for diplomacy. So I think it embarrasses the US and Israel, to some extent, when Europeans and the French seek a more productive way of doing diplomacy. But I do not think it is going to alter the basic interaction. The only thing that will alter this is an increase in international pressure that comes from global solidarity efforts.
Q. In Pakistan, what we see quite often is that knowledge of the Palestinians issue is limited to the fact that we share a common faith. If you were to condense this entire conflict in terms of legal issues as well as humanitarian issues, how would you go about it?
A. Well, I think that the essential argument, morally and legally, in favour of the Palestinians is premised on their inalienable right to self determination and this has been widely recognised in international settings, such as the UN. And it is fully consistent with the understanding of international law, particularly in the post-colonial era, that Israel is behaving as a settler colonial state towards the Palestinian people and this is something that should be challenged regardless of the ethnic or religious or civilisational entities.
Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt.) Limited
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