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The Gulf Crisis Reassessed

12 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The dysfunctionality of the Gulf Crisis, pitting a coalition of four countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt against tiny Qatar, is emblematic of the descent into multi-dimensional chaos, conflict, and coercion that afflicts much of the Middle East. Qatar may be tiny, but it is wealthy and has chosen for itself a somewhat independent path, and for this reason has experienced the wrath of the more reactionary forces operative in the region and world. At the center of the dysfunction is the manipulation of the political discourse on terrorism, pointing accusing fingers without any regard for evidence or fabrication.

 My text below seeks to put forward a dispassionate and objective analysis from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol of the so-called ’13 Demands’ (appended as an annex) directed at Qatar by the coalition almost a year ago. Despite having its own internal problems and challenges, Qatar has provided a relatively open political space compared to the rest of the region, encouraging media and educational diversity, giving asylum to political exiles and refugees, and showing sympathy, although inconsistently, for the aspirations of the Arab masses. This makes the Gulf Crisis a further setback for those seeking regional empowerment, sustainable development, and social, political, economic, cultural, and climate justice for the region as a whole. The intrusion of Trumpian geopolitics, especially the escalating confrontation with Iran, aggravates the disorders and dangers posed by the conflict patterns and irresponsible allegations with regard to terrorism now playing out in the region. I believe that by reflecting on the unreasonableness of the 13 Demands of the coalition it is possible to understand better the maladies affecting the entire region.]



A Normative Evaluation of the Gulf Crisis


The Gulf Crisis erupted on June 5 2017 when a Saudi Arabian led coalition of

four countries broke diplomatic relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia closed its sole land border to Saudi Arabia and refused to allow their national air spaces to be used by flights from or to Qatar.[1] The imposition of a blockade is generally regarded as an act of war in contemporary international law, which is also a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of recourse to international force except in cases of self-defense against a prior armed attack. (UN Charter, Article 2(4), 51) These unilateral moves were then given a more concrete form on June 22 in the shape of ’13 Demands’ that instructed Qatar to comply within ten days, or face indefinite isolation. There followed failed attempts by Kuwait to mediate. From the start the leadership of Qatar expressed its immediate willingness for dialogue as the correct way to resolve the Gulf Crisis; as well, the United States and several principal countries in Europe urged a diplomatic resolution of the dispute as being in the interest of the Gulf region and the Middle East generally.


In this paper the 13 Demands of the Saudi coalition (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt) are considered from the perspective of international law (including the UN Charter), the protocols of international diplomacy, and the framework of cooperation associated with the GCC framework. The paper analyzes these normative dimensions of international relations with special attention to the specific context associated with Qatar and the Coalition. This analysis is supplemented by a consideration of whether there are grounds for making some adjustments in Qatari policy based on its affinities with other states that are member of the GCC, including a large number of shared policy goals. From the outset, it seemed as if all sides in the conflict, at least outwardly, favored a prompt resolution of the crisis, but how this could be achieved given the sovereignty concerns of Qatar remains elusive 8 months later. The formidable obstacles to normalization are evident from the nature of the 13 demands of the Coalition and Qatar’s unshakable resolve to defend its independence and uphold its sovereign rights.


Attention is also given as to whether Coalition grievances have some policy merit if treated as a matter of ‘reasonableness’ within the GCC framework even if the 13 demands do not make the case that Qatar should change its behavior because its policies have been violating international law. Are there ways for the government of Qatar to alter its policies to satisfy the Coalition without sacrificing its fundamental identity as a fully sovereign state and member of the United Nations in good standing? In this regard, the internal values and expectations of the GCC with respect to the degree to which diversity of public order internal to the state is permissible and the extent to which domestic and foreign policy of a GCC member state needs to avoid causing impacts on the security of other GCC members are relevant considerations.



The 2014 Gulf Crisis


It seems important to realize that tensions between GCC members and Qatar have been present since the time of the GCC’s formation, but for reasons of internal cohesion these disagreements were for years kept below the surface. However, as these underlying tensions greatly intensified after the Arab Spring of 2011 it became increasingly difficult to maintain confidentiality as to policy differences. These differences climaxed as a result of the regional growth of influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was regarded as a serious threat by the Coalition states while being viewed rather more favorably by Qatar. It was hardly a secret that this rise of the Brotherhood was perceived as a hostile and potentially dangerous development by several GCC countries, and especially UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain.


In this regard, Qatar’s sympathy for the Arab uprisings and its relatively positive relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood struck a raw nerve in relations within the GCC, raising serious questions about the workability of the GCC as a collaborative alliance in the future. This discord broke into the open in March 2014 when Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in an obviously coordinated move. In response, Qatar sought dialogue and reconciliation, and decided to leave its ambassadors in place rather than engage in reciprocal withdrawal. The Emir, Sheik Tamim, took a diplomatic initiative by seeking reconciliation in the course of several meetings with King Abdullah in Riyadh.


The Qatar position in response was articulated at the time by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Khaled bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, who stressed early in the 2014 crisis that Qatar would not compromise with respect to its insistence on ‘independence’ for itself and other GCC members and in relation to showing support for peoples in the region seeking ‘self-determination, justice, and freedom.’ [Interview, Al-Arabiya, 5 March 2014] Such a position, especially after the MB did better than expected in elections, especially in Egypt, sharpened the tensions, with the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies being determined to do all in their power to promote counter-revolution in the region to the extent of criminalizing the MB as a terrorist organization. Qatar’s refusal to go along with such aggressive moves prompted the rupture in relations, but only temporarily.


With the encouragement of the non-aligned GCC members, Kuwait and Oman, there took place a GCC Summit in November 2014 that agreed to the Riyadh Supplemental Agreement that reaffirmed the GCC norms of non-interference and avoidance of behavior that poses a threat to the political stability of other members. GCC diplomatic relations were restored, and this first Gulf Crisis unrealistically viewed as having been resolved. The GCC was widely praised for surmounting its internal differences, and recognizing the strength of its fraternal bonds. Some optimistic commentators viewed this closing of ranks as a sign that the GCC had attained ‘maturity,’ but in retrospect the conflict was not overcome or compromised, but swept under the rug for the moment. The Riyadh Supplemental Agreement, although not a public document, apparently contains contradictory principles that allow both sides to find support for their positions. The Coalition can take heart from the commitment of participating governments not to adopt policies and engage in behavior that threatens other GCC members. Qatar can feel vindicated by the recognition and affirmation of the sovereign rights of GCC members.


Despite the formal resolution of the 2014 crisis it was evident even at the time that UAE, in particular, continued to be deeply opposed to what it regarded as Qatar’s positive relations with and public support for the MB. It was this rift as filtered through later developments, especially the sectarian and regional geopolitical opposition of the Coalition to Iran even in the face of difference of policy nuance among Coaltion member. The Coalition is not monolithic.. Nevertheless, certain tendencies are evident. Post-2014 Iran replaced the MB as the main adversary of the Coalition, while Qatar for entirely different reasons found itself in an economic and political position that demanded a level of cooperation with Iran, centered on the world’s largest natural gas field being shared by the two countries.




The Onset of the 2017 Crisis


While the American president, Donald Trump, was in Saudi Arabia for a formal state visit in May 2017, there were strong accusations directed at Qatar as funder and supporter of terrorism, not doing its part in the struggle against terrorism in the Middle East, views that were blandly endorsed by Trump without any plausible grounding in evidence. Following Trump’s departure, the Coalition hostile to Qatar was formed with the same GCC alignment of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as antagonists and Kuwait and Oman as non-aligned. A major difference from 2014 was that the GCC initiative this time included the participation of Sisi’s Egypt, the new leader who had in 2013 overthrown the MB elected government and

who received major economic assistance from GCC governments.


On 6 June 2017 the anti-Qatar coalition announced intention to confront Qatar because of alleged support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. This declaration included the announcement that diplomatic relations would be suspended and Qatar’s land border with Saudi Arabia would be closed, air space blocked; in addition, 19,000 Qatari individuals given two weeks to leave Coalition countries, and 11,300 Coalitional nationals living in Qatar were ordered to return home or face serious penalties, an unusual example of ‘forced repatriation.’ Unlike 2014, Qatar withdrew its ambassadors from the three coalition members plus Egypt.


These actions met with strong Qatari objections, although coupled with an offer of dialogue and advocacy of a political solution. Qatar’s initiative did not lead to a favorable response from the Coalition membership. In fact, the Gulf Crisis was actually aggravated when the Coalition tabled its 13 Demands with an ultimatum demanding compliance within ten days.


It should be pointed out that this unilateralism by the Coalition, especially on the part of countries with many shared interests, common undertakings, and overlapping relationships, is directly opposed to the letter and spirit of Article 2(3) of the United Nations Charter: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” Here, the Coalition made no effort whatsoever to resolve the crisis peacefully, either by way of a call for diplomacy prior to taking coercive steps or through agreeing to mediation in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Instead, these Coalition’s coercive moves caused harm to both the public interest of the state of Qatar and to private citizens of Qatar whose professional and personal lives were disrupted in serious ways that constituted violations of international human rights standards.



’13 Demands’ of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE


The explicit focus of the 2017 crisis shifted its main attention to the campaign against terrorism, with a background allegation that Qatar had been funding and supporting terrorism in the Arab world for many years, and was thus an outlier in the GCC context. There were two dubious major assumptions accompanying the Coalition demands: (1) that the MB is correctly identified as a ‘terrorist organization;’ (2) that the members of the GCC Coalition, despite their own extensive funding of radical madrassas throughout the Muslim world, were less guilty than Qatar, of nurturing the terrorist threat in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East. In this respect, playing ‘the terrorist card’ by the Coalition obscured the extent to which the real explanation of the crisis had little to do with suppressing terrorism and much to do with confronting Iran, and thus disciplining Qatar in reaction to its disproportionate influence in the region, and controlling the terrorist discourse in a manner that corresponded with their strategy of considering as ‘terrorist’ any political movement that challenged in any way the legitimacy of Islamic dynastic rule. It is highly relevant that Qatar also is governed by dynastic monarchy, but in a manner that is far more consonant with international law than are its Coalition neighbors. Qatar is also more tolerant of diversity and dissent internally than other Coaltion members, but faces serious human rights challenges with respect to its non-Qatari residents who comprise the majority of the population.


The 13 Demands are set forth in a document released on June 6, 2017, giving a formal character to the Coalition’s disregard of international law and diplomatic protocol in its undertaking to control Qatar’s domestic and foreign policy. These demands can be examined from the perspective of international law and international human rights standards. It should be observed that the 13 demands are not presented in a reasoned way or with any attempt to be reconciled with either international law or diplomatic relations between sovereign states, especially here, where the relations are especially close given the juridical and practical collaborative activities of members of the GCC. As earlier comments make clear, there were clear tensions associated with Qatar’s perceived support for the MB, especially in Egypt, and its relative openness on issues of freedom of expression, which included criticism of Coalition countries.


What follows is brief commentary from the perspectives of international law and international diplomacy on each of the 13 demands:


  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.

This primary demand may be the most important political item on the list of 13, but it has no foundation in international law. Qatar as a sovereign state has complete freedom to establish whatever relationship it chooses to have with Iran.

From a diplomatic perspective this ‘demand’ can be interpreted as a request from the closely aligned states that constitute the Coalition, but if so construed, it is an occasion for discussion, and policy coordination, not coercive threats and actions.

As for the obligations associated with sanctions, there is no legal reason for Qatar to implement U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. Qatar does have a limited obligation to uphold UN sanctions, but the Coalition has no standing, except possibly within a UN setting, to raise such an issue.


  1. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.

Formulating this request in the form of a ‘demand’ seems an inappropriate intrusion on a matter within the sovereign discretion of Qatar. As with the first demand, the call for severance of ties with the MB and Hezbollah are of great importance to the Coalition, but this is a political matter to be discussed either within the GCC or some other forum. For the Islamic State and al-Qaida there is little disagreement about there character as a ‘terrorist organization,’ but for the MB and Hezbollah the assessment is more contested, and thus a demand that they be “formally declared” as a terrorist organization is inappropriate from perspectives of international law and international diplomacy.


  1. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.

Such a demand is in flagrant violation of the right of freedom of expression as embodied in authoritative international law treaties and part of customary international law relating to human rights. In effect, Qatar is put under pressure to commit such a violation. It is especially objectionable as al-Jazeera and its affiliates conform to high standards of journalistic professionalism, and do not open their media outlets to hostile propaganda or hate speech. Demand (3) contravenes Articles 18 & 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


  1. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

The same legal rationale applies as set forth in response to Demand (3). Further, here there is an attempted interference with Qatar’s support for high quality media elsewhere that is a public good, giving the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere exposure to alternative viewpoints on the main public issues of the day.


  1. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.

This demand attempt to intervene in the internal security arrangements of Qatar, and as such challenges its sovereign rights on a matter of prime national concern. It is an attempted violation of the central norms of peaceful relations, as set forth in the influential Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relation and Co-Operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Resolution 2625, 1970, especially principles b-e, stressing sovereignty and non-intervention.

If Turkey was somehow posing an existential threat to Coalition countries, then a diplomatic appeal to a fellow GCC member might be a reasonable initiative. As matters now stand Turkey has a diplomatic presence in all Coalition members, except Egypt where relations are kept at the level of Charges d’Affiares. There is some friction between Turkey and the UAE on various issues, and so tensions exist, including in relation to resolving the Gulf Crisis. On its face, Demand (5) is entirely unreasonable from both the perspective of international law and normal diplomacy.


  1. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.

This may be the most extraordinarily inappropriate demand of all for two reasons. First, it removes from Qatar’s discretion the designation of “individuals, groups or organisations” that are deemed to be “terrorists.” This is an unacceptable intrusion on Qatar’s sovereign rights. And by including the United States it moves the source of Coalition grievance outside the framework of both the GCC and the Coalition. Egypt is also not a member of the GCC but at least a member of the Coalition.

It seems obvious that the effort here is to brand as terrorists those individuals and organizations associated with the MB and Hezbollah as directly targeted in Demand (2).


  1. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

Demand (7) suffers from the same deficiencies as (6) plus the added indignity of such vague and inflammatory designations as “‘terrorist figures’ and ‘wanted individuals.’” Such a demand could be formulated in acceptable diplomatic language as pertaining to those who had been convicted of crimes by courts in Coalition, and were subject to extradition following formal requests made to the Government of Qatar. Extradition would not be available if the person requested was convicted of ‘political crimes’ or if the trial process was not in accord with international standards, or if no extradition treaty or practice exists.


  1. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.


Again as in Demand (7), the demanded action is a clear interference with core sovereign rights pertaining to the grant and withdrawal of citizenship of the State of Qatar, and as such an attempted violation of the norm prohibiting intervention. It seeks such a crude disregard of Qatari sovereignty as to constitute a grave diplomatic insult, which is a breach of protocol, especially inappropriate for countries supposedly collaborating on the basis of shared interests and common values within the GCC framework.


  1. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

As with Demand (8) to make such a demand public is to breach diplomatic protocol, as well as to express in this context of threat and insult issues that are within the sphere of Qatar’s internal security policies and practices. If the context were different, it might be that Coalition could make confidential requests to Doha institutions and officials for cooperation with respect to specific individuals deemed dangerous to one or more GCC member states, and even to Egypt. It might also be observed that reliable reports by the BBC and elsewhere that the UAE was holding a Qatari prince captive as a possible replacement for the Emir of Qatar. Such reports make this demand particularly objectionable and hypocritical.


  1. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

Demand (10) is on its face vague and unacceptable from the perspectives of international law and diplomacy. It is formulated as if “Qatar’s policies in recent yIears” can be assumed to be wrong and unlawful to such an extent as to justify a demand for “reparations and compensation.” This is not only an unlawful demand, it is irresponsibly asserted in a manner that any government would find to be insulting and totally unacceptable.

  1. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

As with the prior demand, Demand (11) seems such a departure from the canons of public diplomacy as to be inserted as a deliberate provocation on a fundamental matter of Qatar sovereign rights. In effect, Demand (11) is seeking a humiliating public surrender of Qatar’s sovereignty, and a basic repudiation of the most fundamental standard of international diplomacy—the equality of sovereign states. Under no conditions, short of terms imposed on a defeated government after a war can such a requirement of “monthly audits” for a period of ten years be deemed reasonable or acceptable.


  1. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.

Unlike other demands, especially Demands (9)-(11), Demand (12) on its face seems relatively unobjectionable, and can be understood as a mere call for greater collaboration. It can also be read as unacceptably putting Qatar in a subordinate position of ‘aligning itself’ on policy matters with Coalition and unspecified other “Arab countries” rather than seeking policy coordination on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect. To the extent that it uses coercive language, it is diplomatically unacceptable.


  1. Agree to all the demands within 10 days Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

Such an ultimatum is an unlawful challenge to the sovereign rights of Qatar and a serious breach of diplomatic protocol in relations between sovereign states, accentuated by common membership in the GCC. There is no rationale or justification given for this kind of hegemonic language or attempted control of Qatar’s lawful and discretionary policies and practices. Although rendered invalid by its language if not accepted within ten days, its renewed assertion by the Coalition makes Demand (13) incoherent, and of ambiguous relevance to efforts to resolve the Gulf Crisis.



The analysis and appraisal of the 13 Demands from the perspective of international law and diplomatic protocol reaches the conclusion that not one of the demands is reasonable, in accord with respect for the sovereignty of Qatar, and respectful of the proper canons of diplomacy governing relations among sovereign states that are based on equality and mutual respect. In summary, the 13 Demands are incompatible with the principles set forth in GA Res. 2625, referenced above, that sets forth the principles for lawful and friendly relations among sovereign states, as well as with Article 2 of the UN Charter. Take as a whole, the demands seem so incompatible with respect for Qatar as a sovereign state as to appear intended to isolate the country or even create an atmosphere that prepared the way for regime-changing coup. Such a scenario, even if not executed, is incompatible with international law and the norms of friendly relations among states, especially, as here, among aligned states.

It might be useful at some point to make public use of this point-by- point analysis of the 13 Demands to underscore Qatar’s strong and unassailable position in refusing to accede to these demands. The fact that the Coalition has recently affirmed their insistence that Qatar accept the 13 Demands as the precondition for resolving the Gulf Crisis suggests the importance of a convincing set of explanations for Qatar’s refusal to respond favorable to the 13 Demands either singly or collectively.

This seeming effort to compel Qatar to except external pressures, including a demand of compliance with U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran sets a precedent that could work against the sovereignty of other GCC members in the future. The diplomatic posture with respect to Qatar seems t0 assert a collective right of GCC members to intervene in internal affairs of another member to a far greater extent that present supernational actors have ever in the past claimed.

It seems doubtful that the 13 Demands have any constructive role to play in a diplomacy of reconciliation among Gulf countries. Indeed, it would seem that a necessary first step toward the initiation of a diplomacy of reconciliation would be for the Coalition to abandon any further reference to the 13 Demands as possessing any relevance whatsoever in shaping future relations between Qatar and the GCC and Coalition.



Annex: The 13 Demands

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iranand close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeeraand its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presencein Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terroristsby Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures”and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policiesin recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11. Consent to monthly audits for the first yearafter agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12. Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13. Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being Agree to all the demands within 10 daysof it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.





















[1] The Gulf countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia, were the UAE and Bahrain; the fourth member of the Coalition was Egypt. This group of four is referred to as ‘the Coalition’ in this text.


A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid

9 Mar

A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid


[Prefatory Note: This post consists of an exchange of views prompted by my talk at a United Methodist Church in Culver City (Los Angeles) published by Tikkun’s online magazine, March 6, 2018. The core disagreement is whether to retain the emphasis on ending occupation as still the best, and some say, the only path to peace, and my view that a sustainable peace can only be obtained by a process of eliminating the apartheid structure by which Israel currently subjugates the Palestinian people as a whole (that is, including those living as a minority in pre-1967 Israel or in refugee camps spread across neighboring countries or as involuntary exiles in the Palestinian global diaspora). I regard this difference of views as of analytical, political, and normative importance, but as always, defer to authoritative Palestinian views as to the attainment of peace and self-determination.]




Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace

By Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen, Feb. 27, 2017, Revised & submitted to Tikkun

Peace has alluded the parties in Israel-Palestine for decades. Israel, the stronger party economically, militarily, and diplomatically, has effectively prevented peace from emerging. That sad fact has not changed, even though Palestinian nationalism is stronger than ever and the Palestinian cause is gaining international recognition. In frustration, some Palestinian solidarity advocates are pursuing desperate but futile paths.

An example was promulgated by Richard Falk in a public speech in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, while discussing his well-researched U.N. report on Israeli apartheid. Falk said that to end the occupation is not good enough; the proper goal should be to end the structure of apartheid.

The Falk-Tilley Report

“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley was published by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in 2017. The report examines the lives of Palestinians who live under four legal domains, and shows that each constitutes apartheid, a crime against humanity, according to the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In summarizing the report in The Nation, Falk wrote (, “that Israel has deliberately fragmented the Palestinian people in relation to these four demographic domains, relying on systematic discrimination, including ‘inhuman acts,’ to maintain its control, while continuing to expand territorially at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

In discussing the report in the above cited speech, Falk went beyond the report’s conclusion that Israel has imposed apartheid on the Palestinian people to discus how, in light of the report’s conclusion, peace must be pursued. He said that the Palestinian side could not fairly negotiate with Israel [when] it was under apartheid. He said that the path to peace starts with ending the structure of apartheid.

That is an idealistic goal, but it is impossible. The only path to end apartheid is through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Falk did not suggest how to end apartheid without negotiations. South Africa provides a counter example—the ANC and the government negotiated while the blacks, who the ANC represented, were still under apartheid [clarify the reference to ending apartheid in SA; it was the signal sent by the release of Mandela from prison that indicated the readiness of the SA elite to give up racist political rule, while receiving reassurances as to rights, including property rights]

When questioned, Falk said that just ending the occupation is not good enough because we (civil society) cannot allow Israel to fragment the Palestinian people.[as Israel divided the Palestinians to impose a structure of subjugation, it must reverse this reality to establish a lasting peace] To understand what Falk meant, we turn to the Falk-Tilley report that examines the condition of the Palestinian people in four demographic groups, each living under a different legal domain: The domains are:

  1. [Israeli] civil law with special restrictions [discrimination] applies to (~1.8 million) Palestinian Israelis.
  2. Permanent residency laws apply to (~320 thousand) Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
  3. Military law applies to (~4.5 million) Palestinian living under belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including those living in refugee camps in those areas.
  4. [Israeli] policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside of Israel control applies to (~3 million) Palestinians mostly in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and others in the world-wide diaspora.

Falk seems to worry that ending the occupation will focus solely on Palestinians living under direct occupation (domain 3), while abandoning the majority of the Palestinians people living under other domains. [‘seems to worry’ it is a near certainty that Israel will deem its security and promised land requirements as limiting its ‘concessions’ to w/drawal from parts of the WB]

The Way Forward

By advocating that position, Falk is rejecting the stated positions of almost all major Palestinian political organizations which is to end the occupation and seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. These include the PLO (the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people), the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Israeli Joint List (representing 87% of Palestinian Israelis in the Knesset), and likely even Hamas (,7340,L-3972646,00.html) if supported by a consensus of the Palestinian people (,7340,L-3972646,00.html). Falk is abandoning the international consensus to end the occupation which includes almost every state in the United Nations and international organizations including the Arab league, the United Nations, and the European Union. Even after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the United States is still part of this international consensus.

While the international consensus has not stopped Israel from deepening its apartheid control over the Palestinian people, it has stopped Israel from annexing large sections of the West Bank. More important, the international consensus, through government sanctions, will surely be the agent that eventually pressures Israel to make peace.

Falk did not specify or even hint at what is required to end the structure of apartheid. Maybe because it is fairly obvious. For Palestinian Israelis (domain 1), it means ending the de jure and de facto discrimination. For Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (domain 2), it means citizenship. For Palestinians under direct occupation (domain 3), it means ending the occupation. And for diaspora Palestinians, mostly refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan (domain 4), it means the right of return.

The most straightforward of the above is ending the occupation. We suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation. [not at all clear, probably the reverse is true]

When the occupation eventually ends, it will be via a formal, bilateral agreement between Israel and the PLO that creates a Palestinian state alongside Israel (2SS). The agreement will be based on the 1967 Green line likely modified by land-swaps. It will specify the pace and extent of the withdrawal of the Israeli army and police, and the future of the Israeli settlements and settlers that will end up in the Palestinian state.

Proponents of a single democratic or bi-nation state (1SS) suggest the occupation would end with an agreement that specifies the characteristics of the unitary government and the pace and character of a transition from separate to unified security and other civic services.

If we thought any of these 1SS were possible, we would work hard to make it happen because they will promote Jewish-Arab cooperation. But considering the strong nationalism of Israelis and Palestinians, the lack of any significant political support for a single democratic state among Palestinians (except in the far diaspora), and the fierce opposition of Israelis (likely even with a guaranteed Jewish homeland rule), a 1SS seems less likely to emerge than a viable Palestinian state.

Michael Lerner proposed ( a type of 1SS he calls the One Person/One Vote strategy (1P/1V). He sees it as a temporary transition from the present intransigent Israel to a 2SS. 1P/1V is similar to the Scottish situation in which Scots are voting citizens of the United Kingdom, up to the time they vote for separation. This has been discussed in the Israel-Palestine context by Tony Klug ( Lerner’s version is based on a constitution that that guarantees the 1P/1V state will be a homeland for any Jew who is under anti-Semitic threat.

1P/1V would require a Knesset vote to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the occupied territory, and that seems impossible given the political positions of the several parties. The Jewish parties, from Meretz on the left to Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, are Zionist and committed to a Jewish state; the Joint List Arab coalition opposes anything that would promote the occupation of annexation. [what is ‘impossible’ now is not a guide to what is ‘necessary’ for real peace to result; without a fundamental recalculation of Israeli mainstream interests, there will only be frustration]

The 2001 Israel-PLO Taba summit ( is instructive in anticipating that an end of occupation agreement will include all aspects of the Israel-Palestine issue, including:

  • Creation of a Palestinian state that will end the structure of apartheid for Palestinians living under direct occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Right of return for Palestinian refugees (who constitute the bulk of the Palestinian diaspora) to the Palestinian state or generous monetary compensation, with a modest to symbolic qualifying for return to their original land now in Israel.
  • Citizenship for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem by incorporating much of East Jerusalem into the Palestinian state.

Such an end of occupation agreement would end apartheid for all Palestinians except Palestinian Israelis. [true, if implemented]

Palestinian Israelis will still have their lives constrained by tens of laws that discriminate against them—what Falk calls apartheid. But the Palestinian Israelis are not abandoned. The Joint List (the united Palestinian political parties that were supported by about 87% of the Palestinian Israeli electorate in the last election) support a 2SS as the first step to a more egalitarian Israeli society. They believe that once there is peace, Palestinian Israelis will no longer be seen as a potential fifth column that is sympathetic to the enemy. They believe that peace will create a different environment in Israel where reforms will be easier to enact. [yes, if real peace, no if a peace that is one-sided in Israel’s favor, including settlers and Jerusalem]

We understand that eliminating the 50 plus Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israelis will take many years. That said, we note that Palestinian Israelis, even under discrimination, are integrating themselves into Israeli’s academic, medical, commercial, technical, and entertainment life, and anticipate that as integration expands, repealing discrimination laws will be easier. [adapting to second-class status is not an assurance that deep discrimination will ever happen]

Can it Happen?

Some might say that assuming that an agreement will be as comprehensive as outlined here is unrealistic. They would say that Palestinian leaders will capitulate to Israeli dictates under pressure from the United States. But the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is that Palestinian leaders have not agreed to sub-standard agreements. Two examples are the 2000 Camp David and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas talks. In neither case, or any other, has a Palestinian leader sold-out the Palestinian people.

Others might say that Israel will act unilaterally, withdrawing its army and police with no coordination with the Palestinians. This is what happened during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza when Israel removed its settlers and army and essentially threw the keys on the ground. [not really; borders hardened, incursions frequent]

But Israel will not unilateral withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem without making arrangements for its 550,000 settlers. Even if Israel annexes the land between the 1967 Green Line and the separation wall, it must still make arrangements for 100,000 settlers living east of the wall, many of whom may want to remain living in the biblical West Bank. [legalizing the settlements is incompatible with real peace; settlements unlawful, and their persistence must not intrude on a Palestinian state]

Another factor is that even though many Israelis blame the post disengagement unrest with Gaza completely on Hamas, there are key Israelis who understand that it was withdrawing from Gaza without coordination, opened the door for Hamas’ takeover. [written from a very Israeli point of view; the corruption & collaboration of Fatah is closer to the explanation of the rise of Hamas  

We think Richard Falk created a strawman when he said that ending the occupation is not enough. In fact, ending the occupation goes a long way to ending the structure of apartheid. By saying ending the occupation is not enough, Falk is destroying the international political movement that unifies world-wide opinion to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians by ending the occupation and promoting a Palestinian state alongside Israel. [we can debate who has created ‘a strawman’; I believe the kind of ss2 that the authors propose is as remote from present credibility as is the kind of integrated dismantling of apartheid that I believe to be the necessary and desirable prelude to a sustainable peace] [I welcome this exchange of views as it helps clarifies the obstacles to real peace and how to overcome them]


Author bios:

Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator for LA Jews for Peace; he visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of four humanitarian missions, most recently the 2017 Jewish Center for Nonviolence 9-day mission to Bethlehem and Hebron.

Yossi Khen is an Israeli-born, long-time citizen of the United States. He was a Refusenik in the 1970s to avoid serving in the occupied territories and has consistently worked for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, first in Israel and for almost 35 years in the United States.



Response to “Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace” by Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen” (5 March 2018)


Richard Falk


Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen have written a sharp critique of a talk that I gave at a United Methodist Church in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, sponsored by several groups including the LA Branch of The Jewish Voice for Peace. They object most strongly to my insistence that the only path to peace between Israel and Palestine involved ‘ending apartheid’ as imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole. It particularly disturbed Warner and Khen that an acceptance of my line of advocacy meant abandoning the international consensus to the effect that the only key to peace remains ending the occupation as the essential feature of any realistic prospect of peace, consisting of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.


Let me say at the outset of my response that debate and discussion of these fundamental issues of peacemaking is constructive, even vital, considering that the Palestinian search for some kind of just and sustainable peace has been stymied for decades, and in fact has lost ground due to settlement expansion, construction of the separation wall, the consolidation of Israeli control over Jerusalem, adverse shifts in regional politics, and the advent of Trump and Trumpism. Despite these developments, Warner and Khen continue to believe that the international two-state consensus on peace diplomacy remains the only realistic approach, offering cogent criticisms of my support for an alternative understanding of a peaceful future based on ending apartheid.


As I read their critique, it does not challenge the allegations of apartheid contained in our controversial ESCWA Report to the effect that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people appear to be a criminal violation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) and an instance of a Crime Against Humanity as delimited in the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court. Their main contention is rather that my views are politically impossible to implement, and for this reason alone, are irrelevant, and hence, an irresponsible from any serious effort to end the conflict.


Warner/Khen believe it fanciful to think that Israel would ever dismantle its apartheid regime prior to engaging in a comprehensive diplomatic process that established peace between these long embattled peoples. In their view, if I understand them correctly, the gradual elimination of apartheid by Israel will occur, if at all, in the aftermath of a carefully coordinated process of ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine in a manner that raises Israeli confidence in their future security as well as their trust in the good faith of Palestine in following through on their acceptance of Israeli sovereignty and legitimacy. Their criticism of my approach also suggests that I misinterpret the way in which apartheid was ended in South Africa, not as a precondition preceding diplomacy, but as the core of what was being negotiated between the two sides.





Acknowledging Political Impossibility


On the issues of ‘political impossibility’ I essentially agree with Warner and Khen, but I would also suggest that their analysis applies as strongly to ending the occupation, a position that they endorse as the best way forward. Ever since 1967, despite the existence of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Israel has given every indication of a deeply embedded refusal to follow the central imperative of withdrawal from the territories occupied. It is hardly news that the settlement phenomenon initiated almost at soon as the occupation began 51 years ago sent a clear message of Israel’s intention to pursue expansionist territorial and security goals that could not be convincingly reconciled with 242. Beyond this, the West Bank and Jerusalem were treated in Zionist ideology as forming an essential part of the promised land, a biblical mandate as to the enlarged scope of Israel that took precedence over contemporary international law for many Israelis and in Zionist thought, and was reflected in the internal discourse in Israel that invariably refers to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria.’ Israel’s political will to withdraw even partially has never been really tested, despite some intimations to the contrary in the course of the peace diplomacy associated with the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles.


My point is this—that political impossibility applies across the board when it comes to peacemaking between Israel and Palestine. But additional to this, I believe that even should conditions drastically change in the future, ending the occupation would not produce peace, but would be much more likely to initiate a new cycle of Palestinian frustration and disappointment. With such a mood, renewed violence and oppositional politics would return, producing a total disillusionment on both sides as to achieving peace. I believe that peace cannot come to either Israelis or Palestinians without dismantling the existing structures of subjugation, and repudiating their ideological infrastructure, that currently affect, and afflict, those Palestinians living in refugee camps, as a minority in Israel, and enduring involuntary exile, as well as those who have endured an oppressive occupation since 1967.


Here, I do have an analytical disagreement with Warner and Khen, assuming that I have understood their position correctly. I read them as arguing that the best way to eliminate the discriminatory structures affecting those Palestinians not living under occupation is to first end the occupation, and then work and hope for a gradual softening of other forms of Israeli control. In their words, “[w]e suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation.” Their underlying belief seems to be that as peace between the two peoples becomes more firmly grounded it will dissipate Israeli fears, and create an atmosphere more conducive to creating conditions of equality and peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians. I find this line of reasoning to be unconvincing for two major reasons: first, any peace diplomacy that achieves an Israeli withdrawal (even if partial) will almost certainly be accompanied by an unconditional Israeli demand that the Palestinians explicitly pledge to give up any further claims as to grievances or rights, that the peace agreement is the absolute end of the conflict, and no subsequent or unresolved grievances will be admissible; secondly, if Israel retains its identity, as would certainly be the case, of being ‘a Jewish state’ it would, in effect, reaffirm the basis for discriminatory laws designed to ensure a permanent Jewish majority population and a dualist regime that grants Jews an unrestricted ‘right of return’ while denying the Palestinians any such right.


What I am arguing is that given the political impossibility of any path to peace at the present time, it is desirable to opt for a solution that is at least capable of removing fundamental grievances. In this regard, ending the occupation does not even pretend to do this. It basically ignores the plight of those millions of Palestinians who are not living under occupation, and thus almost certainly sows the seeds of future conflict. Ending apartheid is, of course, not a guaranteed solution, but at least it purports to address the entire agenda of Palestinian grievances, and is premised on the resolve to reach political outcomes that give expression to the formal and existential equality of the two peoples.


Warner and Khen criticize me for supposing that Israel would ever agree to eliminating apartheid structures as a precondition to peace, and point to the fact that the even ANC in South Africa was forced to negotiate the dismantling of apartheid in the course of their peace diplomacy. I admit to being unclear on this point in my oral presentation. I agree that ending Israeli apartheid, unless undertaken unilaterally, would almost certainly, require extensive negotiations and a phased plan of implementation. To the extent that I implied that ending apartheid was a precondition for credible peace negotiations, I acknowledge that such a formulation is misleading. Nevertheless, I would assert that the question of ending apartheid must be understood by both parties to be at the center of any future credible diplomatic effort that seeks a sustainable peace, likely constituting the most challenging aspect of such a peacemaking process as undertaken by Israelis and Palestinians.


By unexpectedly releasing Nelson Mandela in 1990, the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement led by the ANC, the white governing elite of South Africa sent a clear signal of their readiness to negotiate the end of legalized racism. This is instructive, suggesting that Israel must also signal its change of heart toward the subjugation of the Palestinian people before a real ‘peace process’ can go forward. In this sense, returning to the Warner/Khen criticism, it is the signal of Israel’s altered outlook on peace, not the dissolution of apartheid, which should be regarded as a precondition for an authentic peace process.


A final question seems to be whether ‘ending apartheid’ is more ‘politically impossible’ than ‘ending occupation.’ I believe the honest answer is that we cannot know. Given this circumstance of radical uncertainty my view is that it is preferable to be committed to a path to peace that both ends the conflict and embodies relevant precepts of international law and morality. As should be obvious, I believe ending the occupation would be, at best, nothing more than a somewhat more politically acceptable and inevitably temporary reframing of subjugation and victimization, while ending apartheid would be a decisive move toward adopting a law-based solution to the conflict responsive to contemporary standards of international human rights and consistent with the expectations of global justice.



Debating Solutions


Warner and Khen suggest their own view of political prospects and preferences by their strong endorsement of a two-state solution, and corresponding rejection of a one-state solution. In effect, Zionism can live, in theory at least, with an independent Palestinian sovereign state as a neighbor, but would lose its ideological birthright as a biblically entitled state beholden to the Jewish people, if it accepted to become a single binational state based on the equality of Jews and non-Jews. I appreciate the coherence of their position, but feel that it inscribes an inherently unjust solution based on an unwarranted deference to the underlying Zionist project. The claim to be a Jewish state, however justly and understandably motivated by the Jewish experience, was flawed from the outset due to its disregard of the rights and wellbeing of the majority non-Jewish population residing in Palestine up to the time of the Partition War in 1947-48.


What kind of polity can we expect to emerge if Israel were to dismantle the apartheid structures that now oppress the Palestinian people? It is here that Warner and Khen assume that the outcome would be a single, secular, binational state, and are critical of my failure to offer a clear idea of what such a post-apartheid Palestine and Israel would be.


While we are in the domain of the impossible, it seems more useful to imagine the unimaginable than to project what seems obvious. In this regard, I would not prejudge the political sequel to a process that effectively dismantled Israeli apartheid structures of control. Such a context would be so different than what seems presently plausible that we should indulge visions of the desirable rather than be confined to what seems from the outlook of the moment to be most plausible, which is a single secular state that reestablished Palestine as a state with the borders possessed before the British mandate, although possibly with a new, neutral name.


What if we are daring enough to envision and propose ‘a stateless Middle East’ that involved a reversal of the Sykes/Picot imposition of Westphalian territorial states on the region a hundred years ago to satisfy the anachronistic colonial ambitions of Britain and France? Instead of European style states with arbitrary and artificial boundaries held together by a strongman, the new political framework of the region would be constructed of political communities that better reflect natural ethnic, religious, and historical affinities, resembling in some ways the Ottoman system of governance based on the millet system, in other ways, the idea of ethnic self-determination as envisioned by Woodrow Wilson, and in still other ways the unified Arab nation that the British misled Arab leaders to believe would be allowed to happen in exchange for their support in opposing the Ottoman Empire in World .


The Ottoman political framework was discarded after World War I, Wilson’s vision overridden by European colonial maneuvers, and the wartime pledge to the Arabs cynically broken. As a result the peoples of the region have endured conflict, corruption, chaos, and coercion over the course of the last century, and have been a site of geopolitical rivalry and neoliberal exploitation since 1945. I realize that it must be strain credulity to place any hope whatsoever in a political process that yielded a stateless Middle East.


In contrast, I would suggest that only the articulation of utopian aspirations offer the only constructive refusal to accept the strictures imposed on creative thought when speculating about the future of the politically impossible. That is, we are trapped in the vortex of the impossible, but to yield to its logic is to give up the quest for true peace altogether.


Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson

2 Mar

Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson, Cambridge University Press, 2017.



Why the Legal and Political Debate on the Vietnam War Still Matters



[Prefatory Note: There has been recently a revival of interest in the Vietnam War, perhaps most notably as a result of the quite extraordinary Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s ten-part, eighteen hour documentary film as aired on PBS, which although somewhat ideologically slanted toward an American audience has much illuminating footage, especially bearing on various Vietnamese perceptions of the war experience. I would also call attention to a series of articles by Matthew Stevenson describing his recent visit to Vietnam, which combines acute journalistic observation with impressive commentary on the war experience and the problematics of contemporary Vietnam. Stevenson’s valuable contributions are being serially published in Counterpunch, so far two of a promised eight.


I visited Vietnam in November of 2017 for ten days, and met with some Vietnamese officials I had known during the war, as well as with journalists and friends, seeking, especially, to understand whether the present generally harsh criticisms of suppression of dissent and authoritarian governance were justified, and came to mixed conclusions.


On human rights my suspicions of Western bias seemed entirely vindicated, that is, by reducing the effective scope of international human rights criteria to civil and political rights, and completely ignoring successes or failures in social and economic rights. Vietnam is illustrative of this pattern of claiming the high moral ground for the West in the post-colonial era by pointing to their human rights failings, completely overlooking Vietnam’s remarkable achievements of poverty reduction resulting from the pursuit of a needs based development strategy up to this point. With tens of millions of Americans and Europeans enduring varying degrees of material deprivation relating to food, health care, shelter, and jobs, their boastfulness about human rights has an increasingly hollow, even macabre, sound. Indeed, given the wealth of these societies and the scandalous disparities between rich and poor, it would be more reasonable to single out these countries for censure as notable laggards when it comes to human rights provided that economic and social rights are included in the mix. I am not minimizing the importance of civil and political rights, but for the majority of the population these rights pale in day to day significance if compared to failings in the domain of economic and social rights.


These comments introduce an online launch my own book, Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, published by Cambridge University Press at the end of 2017. In fact, it is not really my book, but as much or more the work of my friend and colleague, Stefan Andersson who edited the text, supervised the production process, arranged for the blurbs, and above all, overcame my own lethargy. I add the newly written preface that I contributed to this collection of my past writings. After the post the back cover containing blurbs is shamelessly included to induce readers to rush to order the book from Amazon or your bookseller of choice.


The preface essentially expresses my view that the wrong lessons have been learned by the United States from its failure in Vietnam, and thus the cycle of regressive violence continues to torment vulnerable peoples in the non-Western world. This geopolitical and normative learning disability is at its core an effort to particularize the Vietnam experience, and allowing policy planners and think tank analysts to propose a series of tactical adjustments that will ensure that future Vietnams result in successful outcomes. Such a (mis) reading of Vietnam has contributed to the more recent counterinsurgency failures as in Afghanistan and Iraq, confirming the my central assessment that the real lessons of post-colonial world order are resisted because their proper interpretation would substantially discredit American reliance on global militarism as the foundation of its grand strategy around the world. Perhaps, most troubling to me, especially in light of this commentary on the evasion of international law throughout the Vietnam War, is the new more drastic set of evasions of international law that have followed ‘the war on terror’ initiated in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


In any event, my book, as well as the current flurry of interest in Vietnam, seeks to encourage citizens pilgrims throughout the world to remember Vietnam as a culmination of the anti-colonial wars and as the basis for a revisionist view of the agency of hard power in the 21st century. I ask indulgence for my miserable attempt to add a photo of the cover below, which is an injustice to the talented Canadian artist, Julianne Allmand. who created it under the title, ‘Sticky Fire.’ I am painfully aware that I could have done far better as a photographer had I entered the digital age twenty years earlier.]







The Harmful Legacy of Lawlessness in Vietnam


More than 40 years after the defeat of the United States in Vietnam the central lessons of that war remain unlearned. Even worse, the mistakes made and crimes committed in Vietnam have been repeated at great human, material, and strategic cost in several subsequent national settings. The central unlearned lesson in Vietnam is that the collapse of the European colonial order fundamentally changed the effective balance of power in a variety of North/South conflict situations that reduce the agency of military superiority in a variety of ways.[1]

What makes this change elusive is that it reflected developments that fall outside the policy parameters influential in the leadership circles of most governments for a cluster of reasons. Most fundamentally, governmental geopolitical calculations relating to world order continue to be based on attributing a decisive causal influence to relative military capabilities, an understanding at the core of ‘realist’ thinking and behavior. Within this paradigm military superiority is regarded as the main driver of conflict resolution, and the winners in wars are thought to reflect the advantages of hard power differentials. The efficiency and rewards of military conquest in the colonial era vindicated this kind of realist thinking. Europe with its dominant military technology was able to control the political life and exploit the resources of populous countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America with a minimum of expenditure and casualties, encountering manageable resistance, while reaping the rewards of empire. The outcomes of World War I and II further vindicated the wider orbit of the realist way of thinking and acting, with military superiority based on technological innovation, quantitative measures, and doctrinal adaptation to new circumstances of conflict receiving most of the credit for achieving political victories.

The Vietnam War was a dramatic and radical challenge to the realist consensus on how the world works, continuing a pattern already evident in nationalist victories in several earlier colonial wars, which were won against earlier expectations by anti-colonial forces. Despite these illuminating results of colonial wars after World War II the American defeat in Vietnam came as a shock. The candid acknowledgement of this defeat has been twisted out of recognition to this day by the interpretive spins placed upon the Vietnam experience by the American political establishment. The main motive of such partisan thinking was to avoid discrediting reliance on military power in the conduct of American foreign policy and to overcome political reluctance in the American public to fund high levels of military spending. Until the deceptive military victory in the First Gulf War of 1991, the policy community in the United States bemoaned what it described as ‘the Vietnam Syndrome,’ which was a shorthand designation for the supposedly unfortunate antipathy among the American citizenry to uses of hard power by the United States to uphold American geopolitical primacy throughout the world.

The quick and decisive desert victory against the imprudently exposed Iraqi armed forces massed on the desert frontier compelled Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, which it had recently conquered and annexed. This result of war making was construed to vindicate and thus restore realist confidence in American war making as a crucial instrument of world order. On closer examination, this enthusiasm for war generated by the almost costless victory in the desert terrain of the First Gulf War involved a category mistake on the part of American leaders, or so it seems. It confused the continuing relevance of military capabilities in conventional war encounters between sovereign states with the declining utility of military supremacy in wars of intervention or counterinsurgency wars, that is, violent conflicts between a foreign adversary and a national resistance movement. It should have been clear to expert commentators that the Vietnam War was an example of a massive foreign intervention being defeated by a skillfully mobilized and efficiently led national movement, and in this respect totally different from First Gulf War with respect to terrain of battle and what was at stake politically for the two sides.

Comprehending why the United States mishandled not only the war in Vietnam but misconstrued its result, is associated with earlier unlearned lessons that involved a misinterpretation of the lost colonial wars, most relevantly, the French defeat in the Indochina War despite the long and deep French presence. In retrospect it was evident to all that the French had failed to grasp the extraordinary resolve that informed the nationalist motivations of the Vietnamese and more than compensated for their military weaknesses, empowering Vietnamese society to endure severe and prolonged suffering to achieve eventual political independence and national sovereignty, and the accompanying collective sense of national pride. Under the inspirational leadership of Gandhi, India achieved independence and recovered sovereignty through a militant nonviolent struggle that by heroic perseverance overcame the grim and unscrupulous determination of 10 Downing Street to retain ‘the jewel’ in the crown of the British Empire whatever the costs of doing so might turn out to be. Whether articulated as the rise of ‘soft power’ or explained by reference to the imbalance between imperial commitments and nationalist perseverance and local knowledge, the story line is the same. The intervening foreign or alien power has lower stakes in such struggles than does an indigenous population effectively mobilized as a movement of national resistance. Colonial powers were slow to recognize that moral and political resistance to their presence was growing more formidable as the ideology of nationalism spread around the world. Resistance become more credible, and withstood a series of prodigious colonial efforts to retain control over colonized peoples, but as these struggles proceeded the former colonial overlords were at varying stages forced to recalculate their interests, and mostly decided that it was better to give up their colonial claims and withdraw militarily than further commit to what had become a lost cause.

We can also interpret this historical turn as reflecting the disparities between the political will of a people fighting for self-determination and a foreign government linked to private sector interests that are trying to retain the benefits of control over a distant country for the sake of resources, prestige, settler pressures, geopolitical rivalry, or a combination of these factors. From the end of World War II onwards, this imbalance of political wills seems to offer the best predictor of the outcome of colonial wars or military interventions in counterinsurgency struggles. In this regard, the French defeat in Indochina should have delivered a cautionary message to the Americans. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the French themselves didn’t learn much from their Indochina defeat, going on to wage and lose an even more damaging colonial war in Algeria eight years later. The noted French journalist, Bernard Fall tried hard to warn the Americans of the great difficulty of achieving a reversal of the French experience in its Indochina War.[2] The French had higher than normal stakes in Indochina. It was to a significant extent ‘a settler colonial’ state, meaning that the French human and cultural presence had sunk deep roots that raised the stakes of withdrawal for France, an experience repeated on a larger scale in Algeria, but producing the same outcome but only after inflicting massive suffering on the native population. The American intervention in Vietnam was primarily motivated by the ideological rivalry of the Cold War, and did not have the high level of material and human interests that led the French to fight so hard to crush the Vietnamese and Algerian challenges to their colonial rule.

The ‘settler colonial’ situation of Algeria, and even more so, South Africa and Israel, complicate the overall analysis. In the event of settler control of the colonial state, the issue of foreign or alien rule becomes blurred, and the question of the identity of ‘the nation’ is itself contested in ways that are very different from the situation of a colonial administration governing on behalf of a European home country or metropole without any pretension of belonging to the occupied nation as if it was one’s own. Each situation has its own originality. For Jews in Israel who claim a biblical and ancestral mandate, and lacking a default homeland option in a distinct territory possess an intense political will to preserve their control of Palestine. The indigenous Arab population of Palestine also has a near absolute will to resist dispossession from their native lands, and are unwelcome elsewhere in the region, having experienced vulnerability to changes in local circumstances and discrimination in neighboring Arab countries. For this reason, as reinforced by the special relationship of Israel with the United States, the Palestinians are waging an uphill battle in which their supposedly inalienable rights of self-determination have been for decades squeezed almost beyond recognition.[3]

Against this background, American reasoning about the Vietnam War displayed what later would be called ‘the arrogance of power,’ that is, the blind faith in the efficacy of its hard power superiority in conflict situations, whether nuclear, conventional, or counterinsurgent.[4] The United States emerged from World War II as the dominant geopolitical actor in the world, having turned the tide of battle against Germany and Japan, as well as developing and using its monopoly over the ultimate weapon against Japan at the end the Pacific war by dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities. If Germany and Japan could not resist the American juggernaut, who could expect a country that Lyndon Johnson and Henry Kissinger called ‘a fourth rate Asian power’ to resist and repel the American military machine? In the end, it was the greater Vietnamese will to persevere and their cultural resilience that overcame American firepower, as well as the unsurpassed anti-colonial legitimacy of the Vietnamese struggle, which contributed to the rise of a robust worldwide anti-war movement of solidarity, including within the United States. By the mid-1960s it had become increasingly evident that the side that won the legitimacy war would prevail politically even if compelled to endure devastating losses on the battlefield and throughout the country.[5]

The most serious blind spot of the realist paradigm is its inability to take account of its weaknesses with respect to legitimacy as a dimension of political life. This became manifest in the Vietnam setting. The American claims with respect to its presence in Vietnam were essentially ideological and geopolitical, the importance of avoiding the spread of Communism and thus containing the expansionist challenge being allegedly mounted by the Soviet Union and China. In opposition to such reasoning were the historically more influential claims in support of nationalism and the right of self-determination, especially in contexts involving struggles of a colonized people against their colonial masters. Vietnamese legitimacy claims with respect to the United States were further validated by the flagrant disregard of international law constraints and the impact of this disregard on world public opinion, which contributed to mounting American domestic opposition to continuing the war.[6]

This collection of essays written in support of the relevance of international law to the shaping of American foreign policy during the Vietnam Era remains instructive as the 21st century unfolds. The United States has continued to pursue a dubious diplomacy punctuated by military interventions in distant countries, fighting a series of losing counterinsurgency wars after Vietnam, remaining unresponsive to the constraints on recourse to war and war fighting embodied in international law and the UN Charter. The realist consensus, regarding law and morality as dispensable and marginal impediments to sustaining geopolitical effectiveness in world politics, continues to govern the policymaking entourage that shapes war/peace decisions, and has produced a string of costly defeats (especially, Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as badly damaged America’s reputation as a global leader, which in the end depends far more on its legitimacy credentials than on its battlefield prowess, but suffers most when it both loses on the battlefield and should lose if law and morality are taken into account. It is the contention of these essays that adherence to international law is vital for world peace and in the national interest of all countries on all occasions, and this includes the United States.

So-called ‘American exceptionalism’ operates as a free pass in Washington to disregard the rules applicable to other sovereign states, but as the recent history of international conflicts reveal, it does no favors to the United States or its people, although it may further the careers of diplomats and enhance the profits of special interests. Further, it seems evident that the continuing exercise of discretion to ignore legal constraints on the use of international force will be accompanied by repeated disappointments in the conduct of foreign policy for this most mighty country in all of world history and will also continue to erode its legitimacy credentials.


The 9/11 attacks gave the United States a chance to start over, undertaking a response to mega-terrorism within the framework of the rule of law that would have been a great contribution to building up the global rule of law and charting a new path toward sustainable global governance. Instead, a ‘war on terror’ was immediately launched that amounted to a declaration of permanent warfare, undermining the authority of international law and the UN, and perversely leading to the spread and intensification of terrorist activities. The defaming scandals of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and ‘enhanced interrogation’ together with the failure to prosecute those responsible for authorizing and perpetrating ‘torture’ during the presidency of George W. Bush confirm the deeply entrenched refusal of the U.S. Government to self-enforce minimum standards of international criminal accountability, and its obvious endorsement of a flawed international criminal law regime that currently rests on the major premise of geopolitical impunity as interpreted by way of American exceptionalism. The emergence of ISIS, as had been prefigured in Afghanistan by the rise of Al Qaeda and occasioned by American occupation policies in Iraq, is the ultimate blowback experience betokening an erroneous hard power opportunism in Washington misleadingly chosen as the best approach to national and global security.

The essays in the volume also explore the failure to abide by the experience after World War II, which included imposing criminal accountability on those surviving German and Japanese military and political leaders responsible for the commission of state crime centering on the recourse to and prosecution of aggressive warfare, as well as the mass atrocities epitomized by the death camps. By now it is confirmed that the Nuremberg and Tokyo Judgments although respectful of defendants’ rights and substantively justified were in a larger sense ‘victors’ justice’ by exempting the crimes of the winners from legal scrutiny.[7] The principles of law applied to the losers at Nuremberg and Tokyo were never intended to be applied to the winners, or to those who would after 1945 control the geopolitical dimensions of world politics and dominate its various episodes of warfare.[8] Criminal accountability in relation to warfare was cynically applied to the losers and those in subordinate positions of state power throughout the world, and still is.

Into this normative vacuum stepped the rising activism of civil society, and this became initially disclosed as part of the rising opposition to the Vietnam War. The great British philosopher and political activist, Bertrand Russell, convened a tribunal of conscience composed of moral and cultural authority figures with international stature to gather the best evidence available of American criminality in the ongoing Vietnam War. This bold initative filled the institutional vacuum created by the lack of political will among governments or at the UN to carry forward the Nuremberg impulse with respect to accountability of individuals.[9] In effect, the project of imposing criminal accountability on the strong has become an exclusive undertaking of global civil society, although with some collaboration from moderate governments that do not enjoy the status of being geopolitical actors. It was this transnational collaboration between governments and civil society actors that generated the momentum leading to the unexpected establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, but as yet this new institution has given little indication that it possesses the capacity and even the mandate to extend the logic of accountability to geopolitical actors, above all the United States and its closest friends.

Reviewing the international law debates that took place during the Vietnam War remains critically relevant to any reform of American foreign policy relating to these war/peace issues. As in Vietnam, adherence to international law would have been consistently beneficial normatively (upholding law, protecting the vulnerable, avoiding casualties), geopolitically (respecting support for the ethos of self-determination and human rights as evidenced by the flow of history since 1945), and ideologically (recognizing that ‘terrorism’ is a law enforcement issue, not an occasion for war making; realizing that nationalist ideology does not translate into neighbors becoming ‘falling dominos’).

The lesson that most needed to be learned in the Vietnam Era, and remains unlearned 40 years after the ending of war, is the practical and principled desirability of adherence to international law in war/peace situations. Systemic violations of international law lead to geopolitical disappointment, human suffering, societal devastation, and a nihilistic atmosphere of international lawlessness. In contrast, habits and policies of adherence to international law, especially with respect to war/peace issues and matters of national and global security, privileges an emphasis on diplomacy, international cooperation, law enforcement, UN authority, as well as generates the self-confidence of political communities to be respectful of prudent restraint and develop greater reliance in pursuit of national goals on international procedures, norms, and institutions. Such a shift away from lawlessness is, of course, by no means a guaranty of peace and justice, but it provides the crucial foundation for creating better prospects for human wellbeing in the 21st Century.

In my preoccupation during the years between 1963 and 1975 I became obsessed with the Vietnam War, and how I might act as a scholar and citizen to bring this imprudent, unlawful, and immoral war to an end. My writing in this period reflects a process of deepening engagement, and an evolving shift of focus and orientation. In my initial articles on the war I was seeking to demonstrate the unlawfulness of the underlying intervention in Vietnam, with a special emphasis on the American expansion of the war from a struggle for control of the state in what was then treated as ‘South Vietnam’ to a conflict that included then ‘North Vietnam,’ which altered the nature of the war from an internal war in the South to a war between the two political communities that comprised Vietnam after the French defeat in 1954, and persisted until the American defeat in 1975. In the early selections represented here, the international law arguments were underpinned by a realist assessment that rested on the informed belief that this was an ill-considered commitment of U.S. military forces for the sake of a very dubious conception of national interests, which centered on an imprudent opposition to the anti-colonial and pro-nationalist flow of history.

My attitudes toward the war, while never losing the central conviction that the United States was engaged in Vietnam in a manner that violated the most fundamental norms of international law, shifted in the direction of viewing the tactical conduct of the war as increasingly raising questions of international criminal accountability. This shift is reflected in the later selections from my writing that emphasize the relevance of the Nuremberg Principles to the American involvement in Vietnam.[10] I became convinced that a one-sided war in which high technology weaponry was deployed against a totally vulnerable peasant society was an intrinsically criminal enterprise, and additionally almost inevitably gave rise to battlefield atrocities as mythified through treating the My Lai massacre as a singular event.[11] I was also struck by the degree to which the geopolitical status of the United States marginalized the United Nations and limited the relevance of international law to a domestic debate within the United States between the government and its critics in Congress and throughout American society.

One enduring effect of this debate was to give the American anti-war movement the confidence to challenge government policy despite the inhibitions of the Cold War that made any seeming sympathy for the Communist side in the Vietnamese struggle grounds for suspicion and media hostility, particularly in the early years of the war. It is only toward the end of the Vietnam War when the government lost the trust of a large portion of the citizenry and split the foreign policy establishment, as well as becoming clear that the sacrifice of young American lives was not going to end in a military victory, that the prudential arguments against continuing the war began to outweigh the ideological case for its prosecution. This development also had the effect of pushing public opinion in an anti-war direction.[12]












[1] In the midst of the Vietnam War I edited a four volume series on the relevance of international law to the policies guiding decision makers and policy advocates on both sides of the debate that raged throughout the war.

[2] See Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1961).

[3] For a range of views see Jeremy R. Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The U.S. Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Worldview Publications, forthcoming 2015); Rashid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013); Peter Bauck & Mohammed Omer, eds., The Oslo Accords, 1993-2013 (Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2013); For the U.S. /Israeli spin on the peace process see Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2004).

[4] J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (New York: Random House, 1966).


[5] As argued in Richard Falk, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (Washington, D.C.: Just World Books, 2014).


[6] In the Name of America (New York: Clergy & Laity Concerned About Vietnam, 1968).

[7] An important early account along these lines in the Japanese context is Richard H. Minear, Victors’ Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971).

[8] Justice Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor, did argue to the tribunal in Nuremberg that the legitimacy of the judgment against the German defendants depended upon the victors in the future accepting the same framework of accountability, but such words fell on deaf ears in the capitals of the world powers.

[9]The proceedings of the Russell Tribunal can be found in John Duffett, ed., Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm-Copenhagen (New York: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 1968).

[10] These issues were fully explored in Richard Falk, Gabriel Kolko, and Robert Jay Lifton, eds., Crimes of War: A legal, political-documentary, and psychological inquiry into the responsibility of leaders, citizens, and soldiers (New York: Random House, 1971).


[11] For the initial expose see Seymour M. Hersh, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath (New York: Random House, 1970). See also Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai Massacre in American history and memory, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006).


[12] The release of the Pentagon Papers was a milestone along the path that led from a pro-war consensus to a rising tide of opposition. See interpretation by Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (New York: Penguin Books, 2002).



America’s ‘Liberalism’ and Other Inhumane Styles of Governance At Home and Internationally  

25 Feb

[Prefatory Note: With apologies for this long post, which attempts to situate the struggle for an ethically and ecologically viable political future for the United States and the world in the overheated preoccupation with Trump and Trumpism, which is itself a distraction from the species challenges confronting the whole of humanity at the present time. Many of us, and I include myself, have allowed the side show to become the main attraction, which is itself a reason for struggle against the enveloping darkness.]


America’s ‘Liberalism’ & Other Inhumane Styles of Governance At Home and Internationally


The Psycho-Politics of Geopolitical Depression


It should not be all about Trump, although his election in 2016 as U.S. president is symptomatic of a menacing national tailspin. This downward political drift in the United States, not only imperils Americans, but threatens the world with multiple catastrophes, the most worrisome of which involves Trump’s double embrace of nuclearism and climate denialism. Unfortunately at present, the U.S. global role cannot be easily replaced, although it always had its serious problematic aspects and should not be sentimentalized, not least of which were associated with its many often crude military and paramilitary efforts to block the tide of progressive empowerment in the post-colonial world: first, as the global guardian of capitalism, and later, as the self-anointed bearer of human rights and democracy for the benefit of the world’s unenlightened and often shackled masses. As disturbing, has been the American leading role in the emergence and evolution of nuclearism and its foot-dragging bipartisan responses to ecological challenges.


During the early post-Cold War presidencies of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, Washington was busy promoting the expansion of ‘market-based constitutionalism’ as supposedly leading the whole world to a bright global future, but such plans backfired badly, especially in the testing grounds of the Middle East, where intervention produced neither democracy nor order, but gave rise to turmoil, violence, and suffering that disrupted the lives of the peoples of the region. These democratizing ‘crusades’ were carried out beneath banners proclaiming ‘enlargement’ (the expansion of democratic forms of governance to additional countries) and ‘democracy promotion’ (induced by regime-changing military interventions and coercive diplomacy). Democracy as a term of art included the affirmation of property rights and market fundamentalism.


Trump comes along, building upon this inherited warrior phase of triumphalist global leadership that was a legacy of the Cold War, dramatized by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting supposed geopolitical vacuum. The United States sought to fill this vacuum, including an ideological arrogance that underpinned its shameless reliance upon the most powerful military machine in history to gets its way all over the planet, thereby forfeiting the opportunity to strengthen international law and UN as well as eliminate nuclear weaponry. Seemingly more benignly the American leadership role also strongly reflected its globally endorsed popular culture in dress, music, and food as well as appreciated for its encouragement of cooperative arrangements, the constitutional atmosphere of diversity and governmental moderation in the American heartland, and consumerist conceptions of human happiness.


Trump’s diplomacy defiantly turns its back on this softer, gentler (albeit nevertheless deficient) profile of American leadership. The United States is now becoming a country that bargains, intimidates, even bullies to gain every possible advantage in its international dealings, whether at the UN, in trade negotiations, or in an array of bilateral and regional dealings concerning global warming and security policy, with almost every international dealing being converted into a demeaning win/lose transaction. Trump’s antiquated bluster about ‘America, First’ has stripped away the earlier more mellow and selectively constructive win/win claims of ‘America, Liberal Global Leader.” By turning away from this earlier brand of self-interested ‘liberal internationalism’ the U.S. is losing many of these benefits that often accrued from international cooperation and win/win understandings of 21st century statecraft, at least as conducted within the structural and ideological boundaries of neoliberal globalization and the geopolitical management of global security.


More concretely, Trump’s presidency has so far meant a record military budget, relaxed rules of military engagement, geopolitical militarism, irresponsible regional coercive diplomacy, a regressive view that the UN is worthless except as an enemy-bashing venue, a negative assessment of multilateral treaties promoting a cooperative approach to climate change and international trade, as well as a hawkish approach to nuclear weaponry that features bravado, exhibits unilateralism, and in the end, employs on hard power and irresponsible threats to achieve goals formerly often pursued by liberal international global leadership. Without exaggerating the benefits and contributions of liberal internationalism, it did give science and rationality their due, was willing to help at the margins those suffering from slow and uneven economic and social development, and relied on international cooperation through lawmaking and the UN to the extent feasible, which was always less than what was necessary and desirable, but at least, not taking such a cynical and materialist view of the feasible as to create a condition of policy paralysis on urgent issues of global scope (e.g. climate change, nuclearism, migration).


Trump’s ideological prism, which is alarmingly similar to that of the many other leaders throughout the world who have recently been leaning further and further rightwards. The internal politics of many states has turned toward chauvinistic and mean-spirited forms of autocratic nationalism, while cooperation in meeting common global challenges has almost disappeared. Instead of hope and progress, the collective consciousness of humanity is mired in despair and denial, and what is more, the dialectics of history seem to be slumbering, with elites and even counter-elites afraid of utopias on the basis of a widespread (mis)reading of 20th century political experience, seemingly entrapped in cages constructed by predatory capitalism and rapacious militarism, designed to render futile visions of change adapted to the realities of present and emergent historical circumstances. Inside these capitalist and militarist boxes there is no oxygen to sustain liberating moral, political, and cultural imaginings. Trump is not only a distasteful and dangerously dysfunctional leader of the most powerful and influential political actor in the world. He is also a terrifying metaphor of an anachronistic world order stuck in the thick mud of mindlessness when it comes to fashioning transformative responses to fundamental challenges to the ways our political, economic, and spiritual life have been organized in the modern era of territorial sovereign states.



America’s ‘Liberalism’ Observed


In American political discourse the word ‘liberal’ denotes someone who is devoted to humane values, supports such civil society actors as Human Rights Watch and Planned Parenthood, hopes that U.S. foreign policy generaly conforms to international law and be quietly respectful of the UN (while coping skillfully with its alleged anti-Israel bias), is rabidly anti-Trump, but considered Sanders either an unrealistic or undesirable alternative to Clinton, and currently hopes for that the 2020 presidential contender will be chosen from familiar, seasoned sources, which means Joe Biden, or if not, then Sherrod Brown or Corey Booker (Senators from Ohio and New Jersey). This kind of ‘liberal’ thinking scoffs at the idea of Oprah or Michelle Obama as credible candidates supposedly because they lack political experience, but actually because they do not project an identity associated with the Democratic Party organizational nexus. Such liberals support Israel, despite some misgivings about the expansion of settlements and Netanyahu’s style of leadership, and continue to believe that America occupies the high moral ground in international relations due to its support of ‘human rights’ (as understood as limited to social and political rights) and its constitutionalism and relatively open society at home.


In my view, such a conception of liberalism if more correctly understood as ‘illiberal’ in its essence under present world historical circumstances, at least in its American usage. The European usage of ‘liberal’ is centered on affirming a market-based economy of capitalism as preferable to the sort of state-managed economy attributed to socialism, and little else. In this sense, the U.S. remains truly liberal, but this is not the main valence of the term in its American usage, which is as a term of opprobrium in the hands of Republicans who brand their Democratic opponents as ‘liberals,’ which is then falsely conflated with ‘left’ politics, and even ‘socialism.’ Remember that George H.W. Bush resorted to villifying his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, by identifying him with the American Civil Liberties Union, which he associated with being ‘in left field.’


More recently, the Trump base characterizes the Obama presidency as ‘leftist’ and ‘socialist,’ which is inaccurate and confusing. At most, on issue of domestic concern its policies could be characterized as ‘liberal’ or centrist, with no structural critique of capitalism or the American global imperial role. ‘Conservative,’ ‘American,’ ‘Nationalist,’ and ‘Patriotic’ are asserted as alternatives to what is being opposed. Part of this word game is to conflate ‘liberal’ with ‘left’ or ‘socialist,’ thereby depriving either term of any kind of usable meaning.


Such ideological and polemical labeling practices are confusing and wrong, muddling political categories. To be genuinely left in American politics means to care for the poor and homeless, and not be primarily preoccupied with the setbacks endured by the middle classes. It means to be skeptical of the Democratic Party establishment, and to favor ‘outliers’ as challengers on the national level at least as radical as Bernie Sanders or at least as humane and amateurish as Oprah Winfrey. Above all it means to be a harsh critic of Wall Street at home and neoliberal globalization as structurally predatory and ecologically hazardous. It also means anti-militarism, opposition to Washington’s ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and a rejection of America’s role as the prime guardian of the established global order on the basis of its military prowess, specifically, its worldwide naval, space, and paramilitary and covert ‘full-spectrum dominance’ as deployed so as to project devastating destructive capabilities throughout the entire planet.


In effect, by this critique, the American liberal is more accurately regarded and sensitively perceived as mainly ‘illiberal.’ Why? Because insisting on swimming in the mainstream when it comes to political choices, reluctant to criticize Wall Street or world trade and investment arrangements, and above all else, reducing ‘human rights’ to civil and political rights, while disregarding ‘economic, social, and cultural rights,’ is to endorse, at least tacitly, an illegitimate status quo if assessed on the basis of widely shared ethical principles.


Such self-induced partial blindness allows ‘liberals’ to view Israel as ‘the only democratic state’ in the Middle East or to regard the United States to be the embodiment of democracy (with Trump and Trumpism viewed as a pathological and temporary deviation) despite millions mired in extreme poverty and homelessness, that is, by treating economic, social, and cultural rights as if they do not exist. Such ‘liberals’ continue to complain invidiously about the lack of freedom of expression and dissent in such countries as China, Vietnam, and Turkey while overlooking the extraordinary achievements of these countries if social and economic rights are taken into account, especially with respect to lifting tens of millions from poverty by deliberate action and in a short time. In other words, addressing the needs of the poor is excluded from relevance when viewing the human rights record of a country, which makes a country likeTurkey that has done a great deal to alleviate mass poverty of its bottom 30% no different from Egypt than has next to nothing when it comes to human rights. It is not a matter of ignoring failures with regard to political and civil rights, but rather of disregarding success and failure when it comes to economic, social, and cultural rights. It might also be noted that the practical benefits of achievements in civil and political rights are of primary benefit to no more that 10% of the population, while economic, social, and cultural rights, even in the most affluent countries, are of relevance to at least a majority of the population, and generally an even larger proportion.


Even if this discriminatory treatment of human rights were to be overcome, and the economic deprivations endured by the poor were to be included in templates of appraisal, I would still not be willing to join the ranks of American liberals, at least not ideologically, although lots of opportunity for common cause might exist on matters of race, gender, and governmental abridgement of citizen rights. Liberalism is structure-blind when it comes to transformative change for either of two reasons: the conviction that the American political system can only get things done by working within the established order or the firm belief that the established order in the country (and the world) is to be preferred over any plausible alternative. This reminds me of the person who drops a diamond ring in the middle of a dark street and then confines his search to the irrelevant corner where there the light happens to be shining brightly.


In my view, we cannot hope to address challenges of class, militarism, and sustainability without structural change, and the emergence of a truly radical humanism dedicated to the emergence of an ecological civilization that evolves on the basis of the equal dignity and entitlement of individuals and groups throughout the entire world. In other words, given the historical situation, the alternative to this kind of planetary radicalism is denial and despair. That is why I would not be an America liberal even if liberals were to shed their current ‘illiberal’ ways of seeing and being. At the same time, such a refocusing of political outlook entails the replacement of balance of power or Westphalian realism with some version of what Jerry Brown decades ago called ‘planetary realism.’


Yet progressives have their own blind spots. To denote the rise of Trump and Trumpism as ‘fascism’ is premature, at best, and alarmist at worst. There are plenty of reasons to complain about the failure of the leadership to denounce white supremists or to show respect for dissenting views, but to equate such behavior with fascism is not too much different from branding the Obama presidency as ‘socialist.’ There are tendencies on the right and left that if continued and intensified, could lead in these feared directions, but there are many reasons to doubt that such political extremism is the real objective of the varying forces vying for political control in the United States at the present time. The two sets of concerns are not symmetrical. A socialist future for the country seems desirable, if feasible, while for fascism, even its current glimmerings are undesirable. Of course, this is an expression of opinion reflecting an acceptance of a humanist ethos of being-in-the-world.



The End of American Democracy


There is a rather prescient article in the current issue of The Atlantic (March 2018, 80-87) written by Yascha Mounk, bearing the provocative title “America is Not a Democracy.” Mounk relies on recent empirical surveys of political effectiveness in political arenas to suggest results that are ‘shocking’ if appraised by reference to democratic myths about government of, by, and for the people of the country. What counts, according to Mounk, are “economic elites and special interest groups” (82) that can get what they want at least half of the time and stop what they don’t want nearly always. In contrast, the people, including mass-based public interest groups, have virtually zero influence on the policy process, and hence the conclusion, America is no longer democratic.


In Mounk’s words: ”across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.”(82) All in all, such a listing of issues does make the case, especially if combined with the commodification of the electoral process, that America should no longer be considered a democratic states even if it maintains the rituals, and some of the practices of a genuine democracy—elections, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression.


Many, including Mounk, acknowledge that from the beginning the distinctive American undertaking was to establish a ‘republic,’ not a ‘democracy.’ As we all know, the founders were protective of slavery and property holders, opposed to women’s suffrage, and fearful of political majorities and special interests, degraded as ‘the mob’ and ‘factionalism.’ Yet little by little, with the American Civil War as one turning point and the New Deal as another, the legitimating foundation of the American system changed its foundational identity, increasingly resting its credibility on the quality of its ‘democractic’ credentials. Reforms associated with ending slavery and later challenging ‘Jim Crow’ racisim, through the support of civil rights, by giving women the vote and more recently validating claims to equality and accepting the need for adequate protection against harassment, and moving toward a safety net for the very poor and vulnerable were undertaken in the spirit of fulfilling the democratic mandate.


When it comes to social, economic, and cultural concerns, the U.S. leadership, personified by Trump and reinforced by the Trumpism of the Republican Party, the situation is even more grim than frustrating what Rousseau called ‘the general will.’ Anti-immigrant and anit-Muslim policies are openly espoused and enacted by the Executive Branch and Congress to the outer limits of what the courts, themselves being transformed to endorse the agenda of the right-leaning authoritarian state. Perhaps, even more revealing is the resolve of the Trump administration to save federal monies by cutting programs associated with the very poor. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), lending necessary food assistance to as many as 49 million Americans, known popularly as ‘food stamps’ is illustrative.

Although the government spent about $70 billion on SNAP in 2017 this was less than 2% of the $4 trillion federal budget on SNAP, and yet the Trump administration wants to cut coverage by nearly 30% over the course of the next decade and reconstitute the program in ways that harm the self-esteem and dignity of recipients.


The overseas record of the United States has inflicted death on millions of vulnerable people since the end of World War II, as well as sacrificed hundreds of thousands American on various foreign killing fields, including those maimed, inwardly militarized and suicidal, and otherwise damaged mentally and physically. And for what? The Vietnam War experience should have enabled the Pentagon planners to learn from failure and defeat that military intervention in the non-Western world has lost most of its agency in the post-colonial world. This American learning disability is exhibited by the repetition of failure and defeat, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the human losses were great and the strategic outcome eroded further American legitimacy as global leader and manager of global security.


In a notable article, Matthew Stevenson summarizes the persisting significance of the Vietnam War in the period since 1945: “The Vietnam War and the history that followed exposed the myth of America’s persistent claim to unique power and virtue. Despite our awesome military, we are not invincible. Despite our vast wealth, we have gaping inequalities. Despite our professed desire for global peace and human rights, since World War II we have aggressively intervened with armed force far more than any nation on earth. Despite our claim to have the highest regard for human life, we have killed, wounded, and uprooted many millions of people, and unnecessarily sacrificed many of our own.” [“Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning,” Counterpunch, Feb. 23, 2018, the first of an eight-part article, highly recommended.]


Where Next?

For those seeking justice, a hopeful future, humane governance, and the cultural worldview of an ecological civilization globally, nationally, and locally, it is vital to acknowledge and recognize that we currently living in a lamentable period in human history with storm clouds hovering over every horizon in sight.

The American scene has hardly ever been worse. A president that bluffs about engaging in nuclear war and seems never more comfortable than busy bullying yesterday’s associate or getting high on a string of belligerent tweets. And if Trump would mercifully move on, we are left with Pence, a sober evangelical who will walk the plank to enact the Republican miscreant agenda. And if Pence would also favor us with disappearance, the stage is left free for Paul Ryan to walk upon, a dour architect of a meanly reconstituted American reality along the dystopian lines of hierarchy and domination that Ayn Rand depicted in Fountainhead. There is a there there where angels fear to tread.

Maybe there is enough wakefulness in the country that the Republicans will suffer a humbling defeat in the 2018 midterm elections. Maybe the youth of the country will march and issue demands, and not get tired, insisting on a Democratic Party that can be trusted with the nation’s future, and is not beholden to Wall Street, the Pentagon, and Israel. Symbolically and substantively this means a rejection of Joe Biden and Corey Booker as Democratic standard bearers. If fresh faces with fresh ideas do not take over the reins of power in Washington, we will do not better that gain a brief respite from Trump and Trumpish but the Doomsday Clock will keep clicking!

And even if the miraculous happened, and the Republican menace was somehow superseded, we would likely be left with the problems posed by the liberal establishment once reinstated in control of governmental practice. There would be no political energy directed toward nuclear disarmament, transforming predatory capitalism, and creating conditions whereby everyone residing in this richest of countries could look forward to a life where health care, education, shelter, and food were universally available, where international law genuinely guided foreign policy on matters of war and peace, and where ecological sensitivity was treated as the essence of 21st sovereignty. To address global migration patterns, walls and harsh exclusion would be replaced by direct attention to the removal of root causes explaining why people take the drastic step of uprooting themselves from what is familiar and usually deeply cherished for reasons of familiarity, memory, and sacred tradition.





































Why the Experience of Ahed Tamimi Matters

13 Feb


It is now known by virtually everyone who follows the Palestinian struggle that a 16 year old girl, now 17, named Ahed Tamimi, confronted Israeli soldiers on her family’s land shortly after her cousin, Mohammed, was shot in the face with a rubber bullet, causing a coma. The video of her actions has gone viral, showing the world a courageous young woman engaging in nonviolent acts of resistance, and then a day later in the middle of the night being arrested in her home and then charged with a series of crimes; as is standard Israeli practice in the arrest of children, Ahen was hauled off to an Israeli prison facility out of reach of her family and then denied bail.


As has been widely noted, Ahed Tamimi is a heroic victim for those in Palestine and elsewhere who approve of the Palestinian national struggle, and commend such symbolic acts of nonviolent resistance. Ahed has also been often called ‘iconic’ because her story, now and before, is so emblematic of the extraordinary perseverance of the Palestinian people who having endured fifty years of occupation, and seventy years since the mass dispossession of 1948 known to Palestinians as the Nakba. This prolonged ordeal continues to unfold without a decent ending in sight. The fact that Ahed is a child and a girl reinforces the double image of courage, stubborn resistance, and victimization. It is also notable that as early as 2013 Ahed gained prominence when given The Handala Courage Award by a Turkish municipality in Istanbul, an occurrence given great attention due to a breakfast in her honor arranged by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While only 13, Ahed opened an art exhibit in Istanbul aptly titled “Being a Child in Palestine.”


The Israeli reaction, as might be expected, was as negative and denigrating as the Palestinian response was affirmative, maybe more so. Israel’s Minister of Culture, no less, Mira Regev referred to Ahed this way: “She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist. It about time they will understand that people like her have to be in jail and not allowed to incite racism and subversion against the state of Israel.” The internationally known Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, was more precise in describing the punishment that fit Ahed’s supposed crime: “Ahed Tamimi should serve a life sentence for her crime.” More luridly, Ben Caspit, a prominent journalist, made a rather shocking assertion of how Ahed’s type of defiant behavior shockingly deserves to be addressed outside the framework of law: “In the case of girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark without witnesses or cameras.” Some critics have read this statement as advocacy of sexual abuse, even rape, but whatever its intention, the fact that such language can be used openly at the higher levels of Israeli discourse, without arousing an Israeli backlash is suggestive of a terroristic style of governance relied upon to break the will of Palestinian resistance.


Mira Regev’s reaction to the Tamimi video clip situates the Israeli reaction to Ahed Tamimi’s in ways that seem to reflect the dominant mood in the country that perversely reverses the realities of oppressor and oppressed, victimizers and victims: “When I watched that I felt humiliated. I felt crushed,” finding the incident “damaging to the honor of the military and the state of Israel.” It is this strange sense that it is Israelis, not Palestinians, that experience humiliation in the current situation, despite Israel being in total control of every aspect of the Palestinian life experience, which for Palestinians involves a daily encounter with oppressive policies designed to frighten, humiliate, and subjugate. In contrast, Israelis enjoy the benefit of urban freedom and prosperity in an atmosphere of normalcy with relatively high levels of security in recent years that has greatly diminished the security threat, and in the process, effectively erased Palestinian grievances and aspirations from public consciousness. When Palestinians are noticed, as in this incident, it tends to be with derision, and expressions of a domineering Israeli political will that considers it entirely fitting to impose punishments on Palestinian children of a severity totally disproportionate to the gravity of the supposed crime. It is this disparity between the reality of Palestinian resistance and the rhetoric of Israeli oppressive options that gives Ahed Tamimi’s story such symbolic poignancy.


Of course, there are more sophisticated Israeli responses to Ahed’s challenge. Some commentators claim that what is disproportionate is the global attention devoted to the incident, even suggesting that it was a cynical ploy meant to distract world public opinion due to the failure of Hamas to deliver on its call for a third intifada in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and so move the U.S. Embassy.


Other critics insist that the incident was staged by the Palestinians, with cameras at the ready, and not as spontaneous as the video wants us to believe. Such a contention seems irrelevant, even if correct, as Ahed’s defiance was prompted by the shooting and wounding of her cousin a short time before, which was certainly not staged, but rather a reflection of oppressive and violent Israeli responses to Palestinian demonstrations of resistance. To belittle her acts as instruments of ‘infowar’ is also to ignore the uncertainty she faced when so strongly confronting Israeli soldiers and challenging their authority. She could not have known that these soldiers would not violently retaliate, as indeed some Israelis wished had happened to avoid ‘humiliation’ on the Israeli side. Ahed’s bravery and dignified reaction seem to be authentic given the wider context, as does the resistance of the Tamimi family in the town of Nabi Saleh that undoubtedly socialized Ahed into a culture of nonviolent practice.


I think these polarized responses to the incident offer a defining metaphor for the current phase of Israel/Palestine relations. The metaphor is given a special vividness because Ahed Tamimi as a child epitomizes the mentality and tactics of an oppressive state. The prospect of Ahed’s case being heard by a military court that finds that more than 99% of defendants are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. This is reminiscent of South African administration of criminal justice at the height of apartheid racism.

Beyond the legal fate of Ahed’s case is the unspeakable inhumanity of holding a civilian population captive generation after generation. Ahed Tamimi’s act and fate should matter greatly to all of us, and inspire increased commitment to solidarity with the Palestinian national struggle.   


Israel’s Claim tol be a Jewish State and a Democratic State: Legalism versus Justice

11 Feb

Israel Claim to be a Jewish State and a Democratic State: Legalism versus Justice



[Prefatory Note: This post is a somewhat revised version of a book review that was published by the Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 2 (Winter 2018), p. 81. The book is an important contribution to an understanding of two dimensions of the Palestinian experience within the state of Israel: first, the reliance on law to ‘legalize’ discrimination, and the accompanying denial of fundamental rights that has resulted; secondly, to develop a distinct Israeli jurisprudence that seeks to legitimize ‘ethnocracy,’ yet disguise this reality by claiming that the nationality laws and regulations distinguishing Jews and non-Jews do not invalidate Israeli claims to be a democracy.]



The Dynamic of Exclusionary Constitutionalism: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, by Mazen Masri. Oxford, UK & Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2017. 256 pages. $99.00 cloth.



This book is an odd scholarly achievement. It relies on a sophisticated analysis to reach conclusions long obvious to close observers of the manner in which Israeli judges and jurists manipulate law to maintain the Zionist claim that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state. The author explores the various ways by which Israel has kept this delicate balance between core goals in obvious tension, if not outright conflict. What makes Mazen Masri’s scholarship worthwhile is his scrupulous analysis of precisely how Israeli scholars and jurists have squared this legal circle. Mazri, a Senior Lecturer in Law at the City Law School, University of London, also demonstrates how members of the Knesset, jurists, and judges have adapted the rule of law so that it has become a sharp instrument of pervasive injustice at the expense of the Palestinian people.


Masri is more cautious than I would be in drawing broader policy conclusions. He asserts “[p]rimie facie, the Jewish and democratic elements are at odds, or at least at tension, with each other” (p.4). I would not hesitate to conclude these elements flagrantly contradict one another throughout the evolving Israeli narrative in practice as well as in theory. I would argue that the ideological role of Israeli law is to camouflage this contradiction to soothe the conscience of liberal Zionists and project an international image of democratic legitimacy. Up until recently, this Zionist enterprise has been largely successful, highlighted by the uncritical recitation of the mantra that ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.’


Although Masri acknowledges the relevance of the settler colonial origins of Israel, the focus of his book is limited to the internal workings of the Israeli legal system as a complex operational reality. The scope of Masri’s critique makes no effort to encompass the Palestinian national movement. It is confined to the juridical treatment of the Palestinian minority within the Israeli state. The book is at its best when depicting the legalistic acrobatics of Arahon Barak, former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, and Ruth Gavison, an influential professor, who do their utmost to resolve the contradictions in practice between sustaining the Jewish identity of the state and its central legitimating claim to be a democracy.’ This is not to say that the democratic torch should be handed to one of Israel’s Arab neighbors, but rather that it has become increasingly clear to anyone willing to look closely at the Israeli reality that it has long forfeited the democratic side of its defining identity, except as a figment of the public-relations imagination of the Zionist movement and its geopolitical support structure.


What the author skillfully shows, with an impressive exposition of Israeli legal rationalizations, is how Israeli demographic concerns exerted a structural influence on lawmaking, especially, with respect to the differential rights of return enjoyed by Jews and Palestinians, as expressed in immigration laws and interpretations of citizen rights. For instance, Masri shows how Gavison cleverly argues, and the courts follow along, that it is permissible for a democratic state to sustain the ethnographic identity of its existing political community by favoring one ethnicity over another. In practical terms this meant it was legally acceptable for the Knesset to discriminate between Jews and others in the context of immigration so as to maintain the Jewish identity of Israel. There is an Orwellian trope here. In order to preserve the Jewish state as ‘democratic’ it was necessary, and hence permissible, to discriminate against the Palestinian minority, thereby violating ‘the spirit of equality’ that has been understood as vital for true democracies since the time of the French Revolution.


This green light given to ethnic discrimination included a legal endorsement of an unlimited right of return for Jews anywhere in the world no matter how tenuous their connection with the land and its history of Israel. The demographic impacts of this dual treatment of immigration rights as between Jews and non-Jews was accentuated by intense efforts to induce Jewish immigration through a reliance on a variety of economic incentives and subsidies, as well as on appeals to diaspora Jews to fulfill their identity as Jews by emigrating to Israel. In contrast, Palestinians, even those with the deepest conceivable roots in the territory, now occupied by the Israeli state could be and were legally excluded, even if exclusion resulted in permanent family separation or other hardships. As Masri persuasively shows, it was vitally important to the Zionist Project that their discriminatory treatment of Palestinians be made to seem consistent with Israeli applications of the rule of law. It was also important to rely on law to identify who was entitled to be considered ‘a Jew.’ In effect, law was useful in implementing ethnocracy, especially its features that discriminated against non-Jews.


Masri has written an admirably scholarly account of the way Israeli legal thought and governmental institutions have produced this outcome by his meticulous examination of the internal workings of the Israeli legal system. He labels the overall phenomenon as “exclusionary constitutionalism.” This emphasis on constitutional foundational verities of Israel is important and persuasive, and is most authoritatively set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (14 May 1948), which not only prefigures the Jewish/democratic problematique that is the concern of Masri, but also helps us understand that an apartheid future for Israel seemed inevitable from the moment of its inception as a state. As Masri notes, “the logic of elimination” (p.125) virtually compels a settler colonial political community, which aspires to achieve sovereign statehood and international legitimacy, to suppress and discredit resistance challenges mounted by the natives. Although the point is not directly made, I finished Masri’s book with the realization from its Zionist origins in the late 19th century that the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine could never be credibly reconciled with achieving a democracy based on the substantive equality of its citizens unless their ethnicity were to be disregarded. An ethnocracy was within the realm of the Zionist attainability, and that is what Israel has always been from the day of its establishment, however much elaborate legal cosmetics were applied to hide the blemishes and nurture more benign visions of the Israeli reality.


Masri’s contribution extends beyond its immediate relevance to the Palestinian experience in Israel. It offers a frightening template for how law can serve the purposes of injustice if deployed even by individuals endowed with subjectivities of good will yet pursued for the sake of unworthy goals. In this regard, the creativity of the jurist becomes the subservient handmaiden of an oppressive state, and likely unknowingly assists in the dirty work of fashioning an apartheid state. Of course, the problems of the Palestinian minority is but the tip of the bloodied iceberg of Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole, an apartheid structure of ethnic victimization that extends to those living under occupation, in refugee camps and involuntary exile, as well as Gazan captivity. In effect, the torments of Palestinians in Israel, which Masri so usefully depicts, is a relatively small piece in the larger Israeli matrix of control that comprises the entire Palestinian ordeal.


In this respect, those that rally for peace beneath the slogan ‘End the Occupation’ are missing the point that the Zionist bottom line has always required the fragmentation and subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole. To achieve peace, a precondition for constructive negotiations, must be a clear commitment by Israel to ‘End Apartheid’ as it now applied to the Palestinian people, whether they live under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as a subordinated minority in Israel. When Israel produced the Nabka in 1948, it dispossessed Palestinians so as to ensure a Jewish majority population in Israel, a coherent catastrophe afflicting all Palestinians. It has been a destructive tactic by Israel and its supporters to treat the Palestinian struggle as primarily about territory rather than about people. Shifting the discourse on peace and struggle to apartheid corrects this fundamental mistake of perception and peace strategy.



Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a Conversation

4 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified text of an interview conversation with Khourosh Ziabari, initially published on the website of the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence on February 4, 2018, <>] </>



Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a conversation


Khourosh Ziabari: Humanitarian crisis in Gaza has entered its 11th year as the crippling siege by Israel is making the living conditions of Palestinians more complicated with time. 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 should never been accepted at face value, and are patently insincere, public relations gestures seeking to influence international public opinion, and convey the false impression that Israel is seeking a political compromise with Palestine.


Secondly, this Zionist ambition is now strongly supported by the United States despite not being clearly articulated by the government of Israel. This obscurity, essentially a deception, allows the international community to act as if a peace process is capable of producing a solution for the conflict even though Israel’s actions on the ground point ever more clearly toward an imposed unilateral outcome, which essentially is a unilateral insistence that the conflict has been resolved in favor of Israel.


Thirdly, the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the U.S. translates into a geopolitical protection arrangement encompassing security issues and even extending to insulating Israel from censure at the UN, especially by the Security Council, and making sanctions impossible to impose. 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 whatever fragile basis existed 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 only through negotiations between the parties. This understanding was broken by the Trump initiative for no apparent reasons 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 deeply matters symbolically and substantively, not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims everywhere, and even for Christians, damaged beyond repair the credibility of the United States to act an acceptable intermediary in any future peace process.


American credibility was at a low level anyway, but this latest step relating to Jerusalem, removed, at least for the foreseeable future, any doubt about the American partisan approach, and more dramatically, made it evident that diplomacy based on the two-state solution had reached a point of no return.


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 size 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 partisan 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, in any event, 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 militant nonviolent forms of Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement, with a special recognition of the contributions of the BDS campaign. It may be relevant to note that the BDS Campaign has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.


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 recognize 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 for world public opinion. It also reveals the impotence of the UN to do anything effective to impose its will that is any more consequential than the issuance of complaints. When geopolitical realities shield the behavior 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 organization of states, and limited in its capacity to shape behavior, especially by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, the UN was never expected to have the constitutional 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 in the UN Charter. The Security Council is the only organ of the UN System with clear authority to reach and implement decisions, as distinct from advisory opinions and recommendations. The Israel/Palestine conflict is an extreme version of the Faustian Bargain struck between the geopolitical power structure and global justice, which was written into the UN Charter and the constitutional framework of the UN, as well as exhibited in UN 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 organizations 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 comprehend accurately the Israeli approach to Gaza as its motivations are very different from its stated justifications. Israeli policy often appears cruel and vindictive, with security rationales sounding more like pretexts than explanations. Excessive force has been repeatedly used by Israel in Gaza, 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 once again toward the brink of a humanitarian disaster the ordeal of the nearly two million Palestinians entrapped and utterly vulnerable. The situation in Gaza is once again a matter of grave concern, with humanitarian alarms being sounded by those with knowledge of the precarious health and subsistence crisis facing the population.


It is unclear what Israel actually wants to have happen in Gaza. Unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not part of the Zionist territorial game plan, and is not considered 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, and supposed ‘democratic’ control of this ethnocratic polity.


The Zionist project has long resorted to extreme measures to achieve and then sustain the democratic pretension of its governing process, initially dispossessing as many as 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel in 1948. This coerced dispossession during combat was combined with a post-conflict refusal to allow those who left their homes and villages during wartime any right of return. Such ethnic cleansing was reinforce by completely destroying hundreds of Palestinian villages with bulldozers. This pattern of controlling the population ratio between Jews and non-Jews has been a persistent issue ever 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 subsidizing 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, security responsibility, and sovereign authority. So far neither Arab government wants to assume control over Gaza. With these considerations in mind, Israel seems determined to maintain instense pressure on Gaza, allowing the population to hover around the subsistence threshold, and to signal Israeli aggressiveness to the rest of the region, 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 causing devastation and heavy casualties, including imposing a condition of enduring despair on the civilian population.