Widgets Magazine

UN representative challenges Middle East peace process

Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, spoke Monday at Stanford Law School on the “fundamental” flaws in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the talk, titled “Imagining Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Why International Law Matters,” Falk expressed his pessimism at the possibility of peace emerging from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in its current form.
The peace process refers to a Quartet-mediated and U.S.-led negotiation process between Israel and Palestine that has taken a number of forms since its birth in 1991. Falk called for an Israeli-Palestinian solution that goes “beyond” the Quartet and the peace process.


Falk began the talk by reflecting on a speech he gave in 2009, in which he said he could not “imagine peace” out of the current process, highlighting “structural and substantial flaws.”


“The flaw in its structure was that a negotiated process of conflict resolution in which the unconditional ally of the strongest party in the conflict also purports to play a mediating neutral party role is just unacceptable as a form of conflict resolution,” he said, referring to the United State’s role as a conflict mediator in the negotiations.


The other “flaw” Falk mentioned was the excision of international law from the diplomatic process. He argued that Israel has used its diplomatic leverage, “to exclude any consideration of the international law bearing on such issues as refugees, borders, Jerusalem, water and settlements.”


“What in fact was the political foundation of the negotiations was the so-called ‘facts on the ground,’ which is a euphemism for converting unlawful developments into a political premise on which negotiations are supposed to proceed,” Falk said.


He deemed this process, “a ratification of illegality in the name of realism.”


Moving to explain his pessimism at the possible results of the peace process, Falk said the kind of peace process he imagines as having the potential to produce, “a sustainable and somewhat just” peace was “never given any opportunity to develop.”


Falk did, however, emphasize the importance of finding a resolution to the conflict.


“So long as this conflict continues, it produces a cycle of intense tension… it produces war-generating situations as now seem to be the case in relation to Iran…it keeps the whole region in a perpetual pre-war condition,” he said.


“One would’ve supposed that something more imaginative than this futile process would have emerged at this stage, and yet what does one find from our leaders?” he asked. “A unified plea to the parties to resume these fruitless negotiations.”


Falk attributed this continued return to the conventional diplomatic framework to the “delusion that a peace process exists through this negotiating charade.”


“There is this sense that something constructive can possibly emerge, and it removes any pressure to do something else,” he said. “It creates this closure of the imagination and… takes our attention away from the ordeal of suffering that has been imposed on the Palestinian people.”


After painting a bleak picture of the peace process, Falk called for thinking outside the “conventional box.”


“I can’t envision how [the situation] will be transformed in a constructive way without moving from the domain of reason and analysis to the domain of the imagination,” he said.


Falk stressed that multiple alternatives are possible, but focused on a region-wide solution incorporating Israel and Palestine, coupled with the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.


“It does seem to be the one kind of orientation that could really change the negative expectations on all sides and produce, with a little give on the part of several of the actors, a genuine win-win outcome for all the participants in the region,” he said, mentioning the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as an example.


Falk made remarks on the contextual changes that have affected the peace process more recently. He highlighted the Arab Spring, developments within the Palestinian movement and changing public opinion.


He described the Arab Spring as “encouragement for increased democratization in the region, which inevitably works in favor of the Palestinian struggle.” He also praised the “great potential” he saw in nonviolent militancy in the Palestinian resistance movement.


“Perhaps the most important development within the Palestinian movement itself is a strong shift in tactical emphasis from armed resistance to popular resistance and a reliance on a global solidarity movement of the sort that was so effective in opposing apartheid South Africa,” he said. “The Palestinians have increasingly been waging what I call a ‘legitimacy war’ to occupy the high moral and legal ground in relation to the conflict.”


Following the talk, John Felstiner, English professor emeritus, commented that Falk’s talk presented “half the truth, historically.”


“I provided an interpretation based on my understanding of how to see the essential issue,” Falk replied. “I would stand behind my view that the essential character of the conflict represents this denial… of Palestinian rights, the expansion of Israel [and] the unconditional way in which the U.S. has handled the conflict.”


“Regardless of where you stand on the conflict… hearing someone with such high academic standing and rank in the international world… spend most of the time not imagining peace but shooting down peace at an event called ‘Imagining Israeli-Palestinian Peace’ was quite frustrating,” audience member Daniel Bardenstein ’13 said.


Other members of the audience posed questions on population transfer issues, grassroots social movements, Hamas’ charter and its viability as a partner for peace and the inevitability of a one state solution.


The event was co-sponsored by The International Law Society, Students for Palestinian Equal Rights, the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, the Advanced Degree Students Association and the Stanford Association for Law in the Middle East.

About Marwa Farag

Marwa Farag is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she was the managing editor of news, managing editor of the former features section, a features desk editor and a news writer.
  • Danielbeez

    You managed not to note that Falk is one of the leading proponents of the idea that the U.S. either orchestrated, or at least knew about in advance,the 9/11 attacks.

  • Spottbott-3

    The claim that the majority of Arabs were “indigenous” to Jewish Mandate Palestine, as Falk claimed, is bogus. Here is Robert Kennedy’s (who lost his life to Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan) take on the phenomenon:

    “From a small village of a few thousand inhabitants, Tel Aviv has grown into a most impressive modern metropolis of over 200,000. They have truly done much with what all agree was very little.
    The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state. This is the only country in the Near and Middle East where an Arab middle class is in existence.”
    Robert Kennedy, June 3, 1948

  • Peacemonger_1

    Yeah, just like Native Americans here weren’t indigenous to the United States. This is extremely offensive. This is a gross distortion of the truth.  At the time of Mandate Palestine in 1914 (it wasn’t called “Jewish Mandate Palestine”) Jews comprised only 12 percent of the population. From there that percentage only continued to grow. Here’s a quote by Yehoshua Porath Professor of Middle East History at Hebrew University: “As all the research by historian Fares Abdul Rahim and geographers of modern Palestine shows, the Arab population began to grow again in the middle of the nineteenth century. That growth resulted from a new factor: the demographic revolution. Until the 1850s there was no “natural” increase of the population, but this began to change when modern medical treatment was introduced and modern hospitals were established, both by the Ottoman authorities and by the foreign Christian missionaries. The number of births remained steady but infant mortality decreased. This was the main reason for Arab population growth. … No one would doubt that some migrant workers came to Palestine from Syria and Trans-Jordan and remained there. But one has to add to this that there were migrations in the opposite direction as well. For example, a tradition developed in Hebron to go to study and work in Cairo, with the result that a permanent community of Hebronites had been living in Cairo since the fifteenth century. Trans-Jordan exported unskilled casual labor to Palestine; but before 1948 its civil service attracted a good many educated Palestinian Arabs who did not find work in Palestine itself. Demographically speaking, however, neither movement of population was significant in comparison to the decisive factor of natural increase.” 
    Justin McCarthy and American demographer states: “The argument that Arab immigration somehow made up a large part of the Palestinian Arab population is thus statistically untenable. The vast majority of the Palestinian Arabs resident in 1947 were the sons and daughters of Arabs who were living in Palestine before modern Jewish immigration began. There is no reason to believe that they were not the sons and daughters of Arabs who had been in Palestine for many centuries… Some areas of Palestine did experience greater population growth than others, but the explanation for this is simple. Radical economic change was occurring all over the Mediterranean Basin at the time. Improved transportation, greater mercantile activity, and greater industry had increased the chances for employment in cities, especially coastal cities… Differential population increase was occurring all over the Eastern Mediterranean, not just in Palestine… The increase in Muslim population had little or nothing to do with Jewish immigration. In fact the province that experienced the greatest Jewish population growth (by .035 annually), Jerusalem Sanjak, was the province with the lowest rate of growth of Muslim population (.009).”

  • Peacemonger_1

    Sorry I meant 1917. 

    Also, in 1914 the Jewish population comprised only 8% of Palestine (still under the control of the Ottoman Empire in 1914). 

    Here’s a quote by Ahad Ha’am in 1891: We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha’aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated and that’s because the Arabs do not like working too much in the present for a distant future. Therefore, it is very difficult to find good land for cattle and not only peasants, but also rich landowners, are not selling good land so easily. . . . 
    We who live abroad are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all wild desert people who, like donkeys, neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But this is a grave mistake. The Arab, like all the Semites, is sharp minded and shrewd. All the townships of Syria and Eretz Yisrael are full of Arab merchants who know how to exploit the masses and keep track of everyone with whom they deal—the same as in Europe. The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people’s life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily . . . If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can’t ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. . . .The only one good thing about all our actions—the purchase of land—is failing because of disorder and lack of unity. He who sees how land is bought and sold in Eretz Yisrael these days never saw such a detestable and despised competition in his life. All the mongering between the shopkeepers and the petty merchants in one of those Jewish ghettos is nothing but justice and truth considering the state of affairs in Eretz Yisrael. Three months ago, when I was there, there were only two speculating companies (those who buy big chunks of land to sell them piece by piece), and even then we realized that future land speculation would be a problem for the Yishuv. Shortly after, the number of speculating companies grew alarmingly, and before I left there were already six . . . and some of the newcomers, to our shame, describe themselves as “future colonialists.” . . . It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in our dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do our brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves [’eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put an end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that the law is on their rival’s side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival’s actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revengeful like no other. . . .If only we would have in Eretz Yisrael good, honest and healthy people, hard workers who live off their labor in peace and order. Such people would not have initially created hatred among the natives because they would not have provoked them and trespassed their borders. Even if eventually their jealousy would have turned into hate, it wouldn’t have mattered because by then our brothers would have been able to strengthen their hold on the land by sheer numbers, their large and rich estates, their unity and their organized way of life. [But as long as things continue the way they are, with uncontrolled land speculation,] the society that I envision, if my dream is not just a false notion, this society will have to begin to create itself in the midst of fuss, noisiness and panic, and will have to face the prospects of both internal and external war . . . 

  • Gramps

    In: ” He also praised the “great potential” he saw in nonviolent military in the Palestinian resistance movement.  

    It was: nonviolent militancy.

  • Spottbot

    Pg. 135
    From “The Rape of Palestine” by William Ziff 1938

                “Time has shown conclusively that the findings of the Shaw Commission, as well as those of the bodies which followed in its train, were so wrong to as to seem willfully ridiculous….The Zionists have been mercilessly jobbed. They choked and spluttered in amazed exasperation. The incredible posing of ‘landless Arabs’ in a country suffering from a drastic shortage of workers was past understanding. So, too, was the Commission’s demand that Jewish capitalists be forced to put all Arab unemployed to work before another Jew could come in, which meant literally the employment of all the natives of Northeast Africa and Arabia (since these outsiders were already flowing into the country in a steady stream).

  • Spottbott

    Yaacov Lozowick, “Right to Exist” Pg. 78
              Two parallel developments deserve to be mentioned. The first was the immigration of Arabs into Palestine during most of the years of British rule. Interestingly, while the British recorded the statistics of Jewish immigration, they seem not to have been counting the Arabs. Yet too many Arab villages near Jewish ones were growing too fast to be explained merely by natural population growth, and the doubling of the Arab population from below 600,000 in 1900 to well above 1.5 million in 1947 was too steep without significant immigration. An anecdotal illustration: One of the most important Palestinian heroes and role models, Sheikh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam, a rabid preacher whose underground organization the Black Hand murdered at least eight Jews in the early 1930’s before he was killed by the British, was himself Syrian. He arrived in Palestine in 1920, when he was already thirty-eight years old – so he wasn’t’ a Palestinian at all. Not all Palestinians who claim to have been here “since time immemorial” really have been, and the ease with which this truth is omitted even by so important a Palestinian hero as al-Qassam is striking.

  • K Nguyen

    The Daily either avoids or is ignorant about the extremist positions this guy has taken, such as supporting  Khomeini’s Islamic takeover in Iran and subscribing to 9/11 conspiracy theories.  He is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality speakers about the middle east, even if the organizers intended to bring a virulently anti-Israel speaker to speak.