Richard Falk, a prominent international law expert, perceives Israel as an entity that embodies colonial statecraft despite the end of colonialism following World War I.
On December 21, 128 countries voted at the UN against the US's recent naming of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The move drew harsh responses from the US and Israel.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, not only threatened to cut off aid to these countries, but also accused them of disrespecting Washington.
The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, described the UN as a collection of "hypocrites" and “puppets.”
The two countries are bashing the same UN which played an instrumental role in establishing Israel on Palestinian land.
In an interview with TRT World, Richard Falk, a law professor at Princeton University, spoke on how the UN supported Israel's foundation seven decades ago — and how the workings of the Jewish state remind him of brute colonial statecraft, which was discredited and discarded by the international community toward the end of World War I.
Why do you think Israel was created in the Middle East in the first place?
Richard Falk: Of course, it’s a long story which goes back a hundred years to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The British Foreign Office, at the time being purely colonial, pledged to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After World War I, Britain was given administrative authority over the entire Palestine as a compromise between their desire to have a Palestinian colony and promise to the Arab countries that they would be independent after WWI, if they joined the fight against the Ottoman Empire.
The origin of Israel is in that pledge at a time when the Jewish population in Palestine was under 5 percent. So the Jews were a very small minority at that point.
It’s also important to remember that the promise was a homeland, not a state. Balfour, himself, in his private papers, indicated that he never anticipated the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine. But then came a very concerted effort by the Zionist movement to purchase land in Palestine to encourage the Jews around the world to emigrate to Palestine.
This process was greatly facilitated by the rise of fascism in Europe and particularly, the Nazi movement in Germany. The occurrence of Holocaust involving genocide against six million Jews created a situation where Europe, in particular, and North America, in general, was reluctant to do anything that was seen to block the Zionist project of establishing the state of Israel.
The UN, then, in its earlier existence, was given the task of deciding what it should be done. After the first founding of its entitlement from the British, the Zionist movement, then, wanted the British to leave Palestine, so they [could] pursue their plan to establish a state. Their campaign was one of the first and most successful terrorist campaigns in history that made the British conclude that Palestine was ungovernable. (Eventually, they got out of Palestine.) They gave the UN this task, and the UN came out with this typical British solution, which is to divide people ethnically when they give up their colonial role which they did in India, Cyprus, Ireland, and wherever they had been.
This idea of partition was not accepted by the people, even after all this Jewish emigration. The Jewish population in the whole of Palestine was less than 30 percent or 33 percent out of the total population. Contrary to the self-determination and contrary to the historical trend against colonialism, Israel was established as a settler-colonial state at the very top when colonialism in the world context was collapsing and losing war after war. It is a kind of paradox that Israel was established at a moment when colonialism was collapsing.
Right to veto: The idea of winners
You talked about the crucial role the UN played in terms of the establishment of Israel and how its decision was motivated and affected by then-powerful states. Does it mean the UN has been subservient to superpowers like the US?
RF: In this context, I think certainly one can say that. The UN was set up in such a way that the five winners of WWII would have permanent membership in the security council, and the right to veto, which in fact meant that nothing could be done without their unanimous approval. This was a reaction to the failure of the League of Nations after WWI where the big countries did not participate. The idea was you cannot get these big countries to participate unless they have the right to veto. Again, this was the idea of winners.
One has to understand that the creation of Israel in Palestine was an exception to the historical trend. The UN by and large opposed colonialists. But it made an exception in the case of Israel for reasons that I expressed earlier. There was a sense that Jews deserved a sanctuary after suffering (at the hands of Nazis) at the expense of people that actually lived in Palestine.
So do you think we can call the emergence of Israel the Western exportation of the Jewish question into Palestine, into the Muslim lands?
RF: Yes. That is, certainly. Even [if] it was not intended, it was the effect of establishing Israel over the will of the resident population and in a manner that all the Arabs neighbours of Palestine opposed. That was definitely the last gasp or twilight of colonial authority imposed on the Muslim world in a way that has fuelled the conflict ever since, for the last seventy years. It has caused great suffering to the Palestine people who were just there [and] had the bad fortune being in this land that has become the object of the Zionist ambition.
Muslim Arab states in the Middle East are not able to address the Palestinian issue. Western nations are not able to address it either. You are saying postcolonial rule exists in the nature of Israel. It probably exists in the nature of Arab states in the Middle East too. How can all parties extract themselves from this equation?
RF: That’s been the challenge ever since. Western states have always said they want a solution that satisfies both parties and both peoples. But they have not come to grips with Israel’s ambition as a state. You see there were stages, first as a homeland, and then as a state within the limits set by the UN. Then, there was a state that was larger after the war in 1948. Now, since 1948, they tried to build up this settlement phenomenon, penetrating that 23 percent of historical Palestine that was left.
The Zionist ambition has always included the whole [of] Jerusalem and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria with the biblical names. They claim essentially that they are entitled to the whole biblical Palestine, which encompasses most of the British-administered and Ottoman Empire-administered (Palestinian territories). It’s a biblical and religious claim, not an international law claim. It has no real stages in the modern world, where almost every state is subject to some kind of historical claim of this sort.
But the military power has given this Israeli-Zionist ambition its realisation. Without US geopolitical support and Israel’s military capabilities, it would not be a viable kind of state. The UN was also complicit because they immediately admitted Israel as a member before they solved the problem of how two people would have shared the land. Even though they keep talking about two states for two peoples, they don’t really do anything to make that happen.
Israel, particularly, under an expressive leadership, clearly does not want that happen. They want one state for one people, with the other people either eliminated or controlled.
Do you think the current Israeli leadership does not recognise the viability of its state in this kind of political direction?
RF: I think they are worried about the security of the state. They know peoples of the Arab world and to some extent the Muslim world as a whole and to a large extent the non-western world, all of them, are on the side of the Palestinian national struggle. They have a sense they are always vulnerable from the security perspective. That’s why, they have placed this huge emphasis on anti-Iran policy.
Then, the other thing is that the leadership manipulates their own population by scaring them about security threats which are not real. At this stage, none of the Arab countries or Iran, (despite) well being hostile to what Israel is doing in many cases, they still don’t want to wage a war against Israel. They don’t want to expel Jews from Israel. They want a Palestinian state as a viable solution to the problem, but it has to be a real state, not a fake state.
What Israel has done now in this period is to establish an apartheid structure where the Jews rule over Palestinians and exploit them in different ways: as a minority within Israel, as an occupied people within West Bank and Gaza, as a refugee population in the Arab world, and as involuntary exiles in the other parts of the world.
Israel describes itself as the only democratic state in the Middle East. What is your take on that?
RF: I think the Palestinian issue is still central to the identity of Israel. There is a sense that Israel has always wanted to be seen as a democratic country as well as a Jewish state. That’s been part of the problem because you can’t be both Jewish and democratic and [then] govern a majority of the non-Jewish population. They won’t accept that as a (democratic) country.
Do you foresee any resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue? What could happen?
RF: I think the only way of achieving sustainable peace between the two peoples is for the global solidarity movement, what is called the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign, to grow strong enough to exert real pressure on Israeli leadership, so they agree to abandon the apartheid structure. That happened in South Africa. It doesn’t seem likely (in Israel). The only alternative to that outcome is the imposition of Israeli rule over the whole historical Palestine.