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UN Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, Talks About Palestine's Bid for Statehood (Part 2)

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Kathleen Wells: If I remember correctly, didn't President Bush, the father, at one point make an appeal to the American people on television?

Prof. Falk: Yes, that was the last time there was some effort to, I wouldn't say be balanced, but less unbalanced. It was a period where the elder Bush withheld some credits from Israel that were used to expand the settlements and that was seen as a slap at Israel that had quite a bit of negative effect domestically.

One thing that I didn't mention is that Israel itself has an extremely sophisticated and well-funded public relations campaign that is worldwide in its scope, but devotes particular attention to public opinion here in the United States.

So this combination of Congress, the media, the lobby groups and Israel's own initiatives to a great part...

Kathleen Wells: When you say Israel's own initiatives, can you be specific?

Prof. Falk: Yes, they have what they call in Israeli circles: brand Israel. A promotional campaign, which is something that I don't know a great deal about but they are constantly inviting Congressmen for trips, they invite community leaders, students, all kinds of people.

They devote a lot of resources to trying to create this image of Israel as the only democratic country in the region and as a country that deserves this unconditional support from the United States.

Kathleen Wells: This is interesting because the GOP contenders are now stating that President Obama has not been a friend of Israel.

Prof. Falk: Which is really absurd unless friendship counts only if you are 150% behind Israel; 100% is no longer good enough.

It's the irony of American politics that this should be the case.

I haven't mentioned the role of evangelical Christianity that has contributed this perspective of what's called Christian Zionism -- which is again ultra-supportive of Israel even though part of its religious prophecy is that Jews should all return to Israel because part of their belief structure is that Jesus will return only when all Jews have returned to Israel and then the Day of Judgment can come and most of them won't get into the Promised Land in any event.

It's a funny combination of extreme pro-Israeli and anti-Semitism all wrapped in the same bundle.

Kathleen Wells: So it's all so confusing, isn't it? And it's interesting... It's complicated.

It's interesting that you raised that because Palestine's membership in UNESCO would allow it to apply to classify its monuments as World Heritage Sites and this is at a time when many of these sites in the region are under dispute.

So in 2010, Netanyahu announced that two Jewish holy sites in Israel occupied West Bank, Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs and Bethlehem's Tomb of Rachel, are to be Israeli national monuments.

However, Muslims call the Cave of the Patriarch the Mosque of Ibrahim, the name for Prophet Abraham. And they also call the historical site of Jesus Christ's birth, Bethlehem as their historical site. So how will this play out, I wonder?

Prof. Falk: Well, this is a problem not only between the Jews and Muslims but also you find it in India between Hindus and Muslims that have multiple claims to sacred sites and safeguarding the heritage of both religions is certainly the best way to proceed -- not to allow any one religion to claim these kinds of sites that have genuine religious significance for more than one tradition.

The best way to handle it would be to create a Cooperative Preservation Commission that would assure that both traditions were respected and that these places that are so important to more than one religion are not preempted by one or the other.

Kathleen Wells: Oh, that sounds really complicated. The whole notion is that we're trying to get cooperation between Palestine and Israel. And that has been going on for decades, to find this cooperation. And yet, it hasn't happened.

Prof. Falk: But the alternative is to have a bitterness and an open wound that won't be healed by time. And so, it is very difficult. And as I've indicated, just briefly, India has had the same problem in trying to deal with sites that are sacred to both Hindus and Muslims.

Kathleen Wells: They've had the same problem and have they resolved it? No.

Prof. Falk: No, no, and it's caused death and rioting and terribly bad feelings in both communities.

Kathleen Wells: And this is unfortunate. I spoke about the Occupy Wall Street that's taking place here, but there are also protests taking place in Israel itself. Do these protests have anything to do with the occupation/ settlements?

Prof. Falk: Well, so far the protesting groups and their leaders have tried to make a point that they do not touch those raw nerve issues. And that they are trying to build unity in this protest movement around the economic injustices that they feel exist within Israel itself particularly the absence of affordable housing.

But there is an inevitable spillover because one of the proposals that's being made to increase the amount of affordable housing is to greatly expand the West Bank Settlement -- which would just severely aggravate an already aggravated situation.

Kathleen Wells: And there hasn't been a halting to settlement building, has there?

Prof. Falk: No. In fact, Israel just after the September 23rd speeches by Netanyahu and Abbas, announced an expansion of 1100 housing units in a settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem which was even called by Hillary Clinton as counter productive -- which is a euphemism for saying unlawful and undermining any possibility that what Obama proposed -- the resumption of direct negotiation.

Kathleen Wells: So, how is this even justifiable? How can they continue to build settlements when they are violating international law?

Prof. Falk: It's really a matter of Israel being insulated from international law by the geo-political protection that is extended to it by the United States. I think without that protection it couldn't continue in this course and one would hope that it wouldn't do that because it would be very destructive of its own security and basic interest.

One of the things that troubles me in looking at this conflict is that the Israeli leadership seems to have lost the capacity to protect their own interests which is very disturbing.

In some ways, I feel the same thing is true sometimes about US foreign policy, but the US isn't as vulnerable as Israel is.

Kathleen Wells: What do you mean they're not protecting their own interest?

Prof. Falk: Well for instance, with all these developments in the region, the so called Arab awakening or Arab spring, the change in the outlook toward Israel that has taken place in Egypt particularly -- they've allowed their relationship with Turkey to needlessly become a new source of tension.

Whereas, Turkey is the most influential and popular country in the region now, and that just is completely unnecessary additional burden for them in pursuing their own security.

One can say in a more realistic way, they should have ceased this opportunity, before these Arab governments become more active on behalf of the Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution, to the conflict. It's in their interest to do that.

Kathleen Wells: A common refrain from Netanyahu is that he is surrounded by all enemies.

Prof. Falk: Yes. The more Israel behaves as it has the more that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy because what has happened prior to this is that authoritarian Arab governments with strong US diplomatic backing have allowed Israel to more or less have a free pass in the region.

Whereas their public opinion has always been intensely hostile to the way in which Israel has denied basic rights to the Palestinians. So that issue is undoubtedly going to emerge now that you have more democratic leadership in many of these Arab countries, and the more democratic the overall relationship between society and the state becomes, the more active that government will be in promoting the Palestinian agenda.

Kathleen Wells: And we can see that even now with Egypt relaxing some of the restrictions on the Gaza border...

Prof. Falk: Yes. Egypt is still an unresolved situation and so it seems more open at certain times than other times. It's not clear how the army will end up rethinking the Israel relationship with respect to its own role within this new Egyptian political scene.

Kathleen Wells: It's not clear yet. If you had a crystal ball what do you see in that?

Prof. Falk: Well I see the problems of these countries particularly Egypt being essentially economic reform along with political democratization -- but those are very difficult, particularly the economic reform. And because of that, the easy way for these countries to gain more positive relationship with their own citizens is to be more active in support of Palestine.

So I see that as a short-term political effect of the way in which these new movements are emerging and positioning themselves within the Arab countries that have experienced this political turbulence the last several months.

Part 1 of my interview with Richard Falk can be seen: here.

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