Interview on the Palestinian Statehood Bid

8 Oct

This post consists of my responses to questions put to me by a Greek journalist, C.J Polychroniou, who long followed intellectual thought in the West, and is a keen analyst of the current European economic crisis.


1. What prompted the Palestinian Authority to seek UN recognition for Palestine at this historical juncture in the struggle for justice and the creation of an independent Palestinian state?

I think the essential motivating feature was long overdue disillusionment with the ‘peace process’ as derived from the Oslo Framework of Principles agreed upon in 1993, and looking toward the resolution of final status issues (borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, security, water) within five years. More recently Obama in his 2011 speech to the UN General Assembly appeared committed to the establishment of a Palestinians a state within a year, but awkwardly backed away from this kind of assessment in 2012 when he merely declared that it was difficult to achieve peace, and that only hope was direct negotiations without any preconditions. The published Palestine Papers on confidential negotiations behind closed doors between representatives of Israel and of the Palestine Authority, leaked to Al Jazeera several months ago, reinforced the impression that the Israeli leadership was not at all interested in a negotiated end to the conflict even when offered far reaching concessions by Palestinian interlocutors. Negotiations that lead no where serve Israel’s interests far better than would a clear declaration that acknowledges Palestinian rights under international law as the necessary foundation of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Another line of explanation for the statehood bid relates to the efforts of the PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, to engage in state-building while under occupation, both to demonstrate the credibility of a viable Palestinian state able to govern effectively when Israeli withdrawal takes place and as an alternative path to statehood than that offered by direct negotiations. Several international institutions, including the IMF, have been impressed by these efforts to achieve governmentality despite the difficulties of occupation. There are varying assessments of the degree of success of this Fayyad program of action, both in relation to its approach to economic development, societal wellbeing, and Palestinian self-determination.

Finally, it is important to realize that these periodic failed negotiations have not been neutral as between the parties. They are good for Israel, bad for Palestine. Settlement building and its accompanying infrastructure encroach increasingly on the occupied remnant of historic Palestine. To continue with negotiations without a permanent freeze on settlement expansion is to put an end to any prospect of a two-state solution, and thereby threaten the PA role as providing leadership for the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. The United States has further aggravated the situation by treating the unlawful settlements as ‘subsequent developments,’ in Israeli parlance as ‘facts on the ground,’ that are to be incorporated into Israel rather than undone.

2. The US has called UN recognition of Palestine a “mistake,” with Obama apparently threatening Abbas with significant repercussions, but even some Palestinians have questioned the move, saying it would be mainly a symbolic victory and would not change the reality of the Israeli occupation. What are your views on the matter?

Threatening the PA for taking this perfectly legal initiative of seeking recognition of its statehood and gaining membership in the UN shows the extent of America’s willingness to do Israel’s bidding, however unreasonable its behavior. It is coupled with American silence in the face of blatant Israeli criminality as with the Gaza blockade and 1998-99 attacks, the flotilla incident of May 2010, and the recurring instances of excessive use of force by occupying Israeli forces.

There are complexities on all sides of these questions of why Palestinian statehood and why now. If the Abbas leadership is weakened, it increases the possibility of the extension of Hamas influence on the West Bank. Certainly the United States, and probably Israel, fears such a result. It is possible that Israel would be ambivalent in the face of such a development as it would tend to justify the ongoing dynamic of de facto annexation that has been a byproduct of the settlement phenomenon combined with the rise of Israeli extremist leadership that seems disinterested in any outcome that involves the establishment of a Palestinian sovereign  state.

On the Palestinian side, there are also critics of the statehood bid. Some are concerned that the PA may be transforming the conflict into an essentially territorial dispute over land, thereby marginalizing if not abandoning the right of return of Palestinian refugees and those several million Palestinians living in exile. Closely related is the concern, especially among some respected Palestinian NGOs and throughout the Palestinian diaspora, that the PA is trying to displace the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO, unlike the PA, gives Palestinians living outside of the occupied territories representational rights, including a majority of seats in the now dormant Palestinian National Council. It should be observed that Abbas in his speech tried to provide reassurance as to the PLO role, promising that it will remain the sole representative of the Palestinian people so long as the conflict persists. Also of concern to Palestinians is the fear that Israel will, in effect, tell the Palestinians that now they have their state, and there is nothing more to discuss. The conflict is resolved with Israel retaining control of the borders, internal security, and settlements, producing the sort of surrealistic outcome that apartheid South Africa attempted to impose on the black South African majority by creating ten Bantustans.

 3. In his historic speech of September 23rd to the UN General Assembly,  Mahmoud Abbas spoke of Israel’s policies as “colonial” and “ethnic cleansing” and violation of “international humanitarian laws.” Does this speech represent a change of strategy for PLO or was it for domestic consumption, i.e., in order to promote solidarity among Palestinian supporters?

The use of this appropriately strong language was the most notable feature of the Abbas speech, and a dramatic shift in tone from earlier appeals to the international community. It is this feature as much as the statehood/membership bid that made the speech ‘historic.’ It also served to enhance the legitimacy of the PA, whose reputation has been eroded by its quasi-collaborative relationship with Israel and the United States.

4. Israel has threatened PLO with “punishment” for taking the move to seek UN recognition of Palestine. What more barbaric actions can it take?

The U.S. can withhold financial assistance, a course of action that is likely to be insisted upon by the U.S. Congress in any event unless the Security Council fails to support the statehood bid by a majority of nine or more of its fifteen members, thereby sparing the U.S. the embarrassment of so inappropriately using its veto. America’s right wing Congress is gunning for the UN in any event, and it will seize upon this Palestinian challenge to demonstrate again its unconditional support for Israel’s demands, however unreasonable and cruel in their effects, and to do so at the expense of the UN will be doubly sweet for Tea Party Republicans.

5. Any intuition into what the future holds for the Palestinian question?

I think the overall regional developments are supportive of the Palestinian struggle for a just and sustainable peace. Any Arab government, especially Egypt, will now find it easier to satisfy their restive public opinion at home by confronting Israel than by enhancing the material wellbeing of their own population. In this respect, politics is easier than economics! Whether this prospect will do more than strengthen the hand of Israeli extremism is anyone’s guess.

Turkey has shown the way in these respects, and has embarrassed Arab governments that have been passive for many years in the face of Palestinian suffering and Israeli outrages, including remaining on the sidelines despite the harsh blockade imposed on the 1.6 million people of Gaza as a collective punishment for their willingness to give electoral support to Hamas in the 2006 national elections. If the international community and the Palestinian solidarity movement exerts sufficient pressure for a just solution to the conflict it may eventually give rise to an internal Israeli involving the rediscovery of Israeli realism. One of the costs of Netanyahu/Liebermann hegemony has been to make Israel unable to understand and act upon its own interests, which not only prolongs the Palestinian ordeal but severely endangers Israel’s own security and wellbeing. 

17 Responses to “Interview on the Palestinian Statehood Bid”

  1. david HICKS October 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Thank you Richard Falk for this article. When my head starts spinning with the complexities of the Palestine/ Israel tragedy as a result of my many readings, your writings inevitably bring clarity, common sense & understanding to the situation.

  2. monalisa October 9, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for your answer-article which is very informative.

    I never understood Israels political line because it is somehow contradict in itself as I see it.

    I too think that the best what Palestinians could do was to see recognition and the speech of Abbas was so much welcomed that Palestine has been put into limelight and got with it more attention – which I think is generally very good and maybe could somehow supportive in the long run.

    To me remains something to see clarified:
    as long as Palestinians do not have their own declared state and even if they get it
    Israels politics and “punishments” towards the Palestinians

    point clearly to genozide acts.

    This should be brought into the open and put on trial.

    It is too my impression for a long time that Israeli politicans are acting against their own state interests. Living in a neighborhood consisting of different ethnic cultures they could pay more attention to that fact.
    (Syria for example has more than five ethnic cultures and at least seven different religious believes within their population!!)
    Or do Israelis think that their neighborhood will be eliminated and they have these places all over alone ??

    Jonathan Cook, a British journalist, living in Nazareth, is writing for many many years what has been done to the Palestinians.
    His website:

    I think times are changing but with all these new settlers aggressivness has to be expected.


  3. Nasir Khan October 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,


    You continue to kindle the light of reason and truth in your articles and pronouncements on the rights and aspirations of the people of Palestine who have seen nothing but the Zionist terror, inhumanity and the expropriation of the left-over bits of land they had by the ‘settlement policy’ of the Zionists. We are quite aware how daunting a task you perform in the United States where the Israeli lobby and Tel Aviv tell the Washington rulers what to say and what to do. And they do exactly as told. President Obama’s behaviour in this respect does not surprise those who know who rides whom.

    Those who dare to tell the truth and stand for human rights and human dignity have to face challenges, false charges and falsehood from the powerful interests. I am also fully aware the way Zionists and their accomplices subject you to calumnies and attacks are well known to the people around the world.

    Nasir Khan
    –Peace and Justice Post

    • Richard Falk October 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks Nasir Khan for your encouragement and supportive words, which are much appreciated.

    • david HICKS October 11, 2011 at 5:29 am #

      Well said Nasir Khan !

      • sudhan October 11, 2011 at 8:49 am #

        Thanks you David Hicks. Some of us swim against the current; luckily, you are also one of them!

  4. Claudia Damon October 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    You write in the last sentence, which is a zinger: “One of the costs of Netanyahu/Liebermann hegemony has been to make Israel unable to understand and act upon its own interests, which not only prolongs the Palestinian ordeal but severely endangers Israel’s own security and wellbeing.” I’m writing just to say you are so correct. It is confounding how willingly people don’t understand their own interests and act against their own interests in many arenas. Those who do this consistently won’t be surviving for long…. Not understanding one’s self-interest and acting against it is a sure fire prescription for stopping the evolutionary process dead in its tracks.

    • david HICKS October 13, 2011 at 5:03 am #

      Claudia Damon, you have reminded me of a story from the Buddhist tradition on the subject of greed. In Thailand {?} monkeys are caught to sell to tourists by hollowing out a coconut shell, cutting a smaller than a monkey fist sized hole in it, baiting it with a delicacy,& attaching the whole by a chain to a stake in the ground. Monkey puts hand in hole in coconut, clutches onto the bait with fist & cannot withdraw fist through hole in coconut. For monkey to save itself, it would have to LET GO of the bait. The monkey would have to forgo greed. Not possible. The monkey’s greed ensures its own capture. Hunter collects monkey at leisure.
      Does this remind you of the behaviour – post 1967 – of the Israeli nation, of the Zionist project people, of, dare I say it , the Jews of Israel.
      Their unquenchable greed will be their eventual undoing. What a tragedy, what a crime against humanity that so many human beings will be dragged down& their lives cruelly diminished as a consequence of this greed.

  5. Ray Joseph Cormier October 21, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Professor Falk,

    There is an item on you in The Jerusalem Post Today. I posted this comment on the story.

    If Richard Falk’s name was Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel, they would be subjected to the same hateful vitriol as displayed here.

    UN’s Falk: Israel violates Palestinian children’s rights
    10/21/2011 01:54

    No replies as yet. Neither is there any reply in another comment made in the JP this morning in an article demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.”

    • Ray Joseph Cormier October 21, 2011 at 7:02 am #

      Just recognizing Israel was the demand before this new precondition was added to an already volatile tinderbox in the area.

      • Ray Joseph Cormier October 21, 2011 at 7:06 am #

        This new “precondition” exposes the lie in Netyanahu’s oft repeated claim Israel stands for negotiations without preconditions.

    • Ray Joseph Cormier October 22, 2011 at 4:44 am #

      The “furies” as you called them in another comment have come out. This is one comment directed at me in the JP article on you,

      “May Jesus give you a fatal heart attack.”


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