President Trump made history in naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel, as much of the world watched on with anger and despair. The moment comes as a crucial step backwards for the region’s “peace process.” In the background seemingly, Trump needs to sustain his base of support among Evangelicals and rich Jewish donors, but as for the effects, it seems that as usual, he couldn’t care less.
Liberal US Jews, such as the advocacy group J-Street, are condemning the decision and they’re right, of course, to condemn it. Theirs is a major task to bring about some respect for human rights in the US, at least at the leadership level. The move poses other challenges and questions. Will Trump move the Embassy? Does Trump have any thinking on the matter beyond his own ego? Or is this a further step toward organizing the reactionary bloc of Arab dictatorships as well as hyper-nationalist Israel? Is an alliance against Iran part of the strategy?
In this exclusive Truthout interview, former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights Richard Falk helps to elaborate on these points and more. Falk argues that “what is already evident on the basis of the decision itself is the severe damage done to the global and regional leadership reputation of the United States. As well, the authority of the United Nations has been shown to be no match for geopolitical resolve, and international law and world public opinion have been pushed aside.” Falk goes on to state that, “prospects for a diplomacy based on the equality of rights of Palestinians and Israelis have been reduced to zero, and thus no just end of the Palestinian ordeal can be foreseen.”
This interview is dedicated to the late Edward S. Herman, the author of Manufacturing Consent.
Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how the world is reacting to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital?
Richard Falk: As foolish as the world is about many issues of public policy, there seems to be not a shred of support for Trump’s abrupt move, among foreign leaders or international public opinion, not among European liberal democracies that normally line up with the United States on policies associated with Israel/Palestine, and not even among Arab monarchs currently eager to induce Trump’s further support for an escalating confrontation with Iran.
East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory subject to international humanitarian law, and was unlawfully incorporated by legal decree into Israel’s sovereign territory.
Only in Israel, especially those supportive of the Netanyahu iron-fist approach to Palestinian issues, and among [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] enthusiasts and Christian Zionists does the provocative decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a prelude to moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem win mindless approval. Usually, Trump apologists contend that … everybody knows that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and thus, what Trump has done is nothing more than conform American policy to reality. Or some add the equally weightless argument that Israel has every right, as do all sovereign states, to locate its capital in whatever city it chooses. These arguments fall flat because East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967, is Palestinian territory subject to international humanitarian law, and was unlawfully incorporated by legal decree into Israel’s sovereign territory.
At this point, the unified city of Jerusalem was declared by Israel to be the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Back in 1980, such Israeli unilateral efforts to incorporate and regulate Jerusalem as part of Israel, disregarding the international consensus on these issues, was strongly and unconditionally condemned by the [UN] Security Council in Resolution 478, which was unanimously adopted with the United States refraining from casting a veto, yet still preventing complete unanimity by abstaining.
ABC News and The Washington Post called the move “historic” and a “crucial step in the peace process.” Given that this is largely false and mere rhetoric, what is really transpiring in the background?
Trump, without acknowledgement, is supporting Netanyahu’s approach, [which] is centered upon repudiating the two-state consensus and avoids diplomatic approaches seeking any political compromise between Israel and Palestine that recognizes and implements the rights of both peoples on the basis of equality. In effect, Trump is aligning the US government with a repudiation of the Oslo framework, which depended to some degree on the United States playing the role, or at least pretending to do so, of honest broker. What Netanyahu’s behavior implies is a unilaterally imposed “solution” that denies the Palestinian quest for statehood and any fulfillment of its related right of self-determination.
If unilateralism is blocked or rendered too costly politically, then Netanyahu is prepared to live indefinitely with the present circumstances that enable indefinite territorial expansion by Israel via the settlements, while simultaneously subjugating the Palestinian people by reliance upon a variety of apartheid structures of ethnic control. Territorial expansion has relied on incremental annexation as its principal instrument, exhibiting the Israeli belief that it is winning the end game in its long struggle to frustrate legitimate Palestinian national aspirations in the homeland of the Palestinian people.
It is an extraordinary paradox that Israel seems on the verge of establishing a de facto settler colony in an historical epoch that featured the collapse of colonialism, although any conclusion about Palestinian destiny is premature, especially as the flow of history has a way of reaching its goals, however unlikely such an outcome may presently seem.
Liberal US Jews, such as the advocacy group J-Street, are condemning the decision. What are your thoughts on their position and resistance?
In my view, liberal Zionism is particularly unhappy with the Trump recognition move because it strips away the illusionary commitment to implementing the two-state formula that was the core of liberal Zionist belief that a political compromise could be diplomatically achieved. Trump’s acknowledgement of “reality” seems to accept the extremist views of Daniel Pipes and others that Israel has prevailed, that this is the time to celebrate the Israeli victory, and for the Palestinians to acknowledge defeat. Earlier American presidents have all supported a negotiated solution in which the United States serves as intermediary. With the settlement movement passing the point of no return some years ago and Israel feeling minimal recent pressure to compromise, the continued assertion of the two-state solution as the agreed goal of global policy was a classic example of a “zombie solution” in which public positions are connected with a mission that continues to be proclaimed although understood to be impossible. Such a zombie posture, however misleading, continues to be preferred by many actors, including the Palestinian Authority on one side and J-Street on the other.
The alternatives seemed more unpalatable, either acknowledging Palestinian defeat and admitting the triumph of “illiberal Zionism,” or joining with those who say that since diplomacy has failed, the Palestinians have no choice but to resume armed struggle as their last best hope for securing their fundamental rights. At least by affirming a moribund two-state solution, liberal Zionists can sustain their commitment to Israel without giving up their belief in a political compromise that allows the Jewish state of Israel to coexist with a Palestinian state.
Discuss how this shift makes it more difficult for the Palestinians to attain peace and security.
To some extent, my prior response answers part of this question. I am not sure that the Trump move makes it more difficult for Palestinians to achieve a sustainable peace on the basis of the equality of the two peoples. It is more difficult, undoubtedly, for the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose existence depends upon the repudiation of armed struggle combined with the viability of diplomacy within the Oslo framework. Their future is now more uncertain than ever.
Perhaps by reacting negatively to the Trump initiative, the PA will mobilize greater support for the nonviolent struggles on behalf of the Palestinians now being waged by Palestinian civil society and the global solidarity movement, especially in the [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] campaign, which becomes the only game in town for credible advocates of a nonviolent resolution of the conflict. What becomes more difficult is to pretend that the United States can any longer be a credible intermediary between the parties, or that Israel has any interest whatsoever in a diplomatic solution, other than possibly one that is geopolitically forced fed by some nefarious coalition, perhaps joining Saudi regional muscle to an American insistence.
Previously I’ve discussed with you the notion of the Israeli Embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Will this serve as a first step to the potential moving of the embassy?
Yes, without a doubt, barring an apocalyptic backlash, the US government will begin the process of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The extent of backlash may be directly affected by whether Washington makes the move incrementally and in a low-profile style, or proceeds in a Trumpian flamboyant manner. It is notable, of course, that no country in the world supports recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, except as the outcome of a negotiating process in which Jerusalem also is recognized as the capital of the Palestinian people.
In effect, what Trump has done is to make one more assault upon multilateralism and the benefits of international cooperation that has underpinned world order since 1945… By rejecting the UN consensus with respect to Jerusalem, the US is not only repudiating an internationalist approach, it is also exhibiting disdain for relevant rules of international law and the authority of the UN.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.