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Richard Falk, Princeton University professor emeritus of international law and United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, is well-known for his hostility towards Israel. Indeed, this antagonism, and his high-profile involvement in any number of anti-Israel organizations, led to his expulsion from the country in 2008.
A recent lecture at Stanford Law School entitled, “Imagining Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Why International Law Matters,” provided a platform for more of the same vitriol. Approximately 100 people attended, about evenly split between students and local residents. One of the latter, when asking a question, described himself as an “activist” and an elderly couple sporting keffiyehs and political buttons sat in the front row, nodding enthusiastically in agreement throughout the lecture.
Falk’s solution for how to achieve “peace” in the Middle East was to “move from the domain of reason and analysis to the domain of imagination,” which, throughout his lecture, trumped facts, analysis, and history.
For instance, he suggested that policy makers “conceive of a region-wide solution, coupled with the establishment of a nuclear free zone for the Middle East,” which, against all evidence, he claimed Iran would fully support. In Falk’s view, Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities threaten stability in the Middle East, whereas Iran’s push for nuclear armament, constant threats to annihilate Israel, and attempts to destabilize the region count for nothing.
Of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and its effect on the “peace process,” Falk asserted that “Israel could not hope for softer Palestinian leadership” and disparaged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making “Palestinians . . . choose between making peace with Hamas and making peace with [Israel].”
Imagination drifted to fantasy as he argued that, despite the Palestinians’ “extraordinary concessions . . . what Israel is willing to offer is much less than what [they] could afford to accept,” and that the “cycle of tension . . . keeps the region in pre-war conditions” that robs attention from the “ordeal of suffering imposed on Palestinians.”
Falk was encouraged, however, by what he called a “strong shift in tactical emphasis from armed resistance to popular resistance” and chalked up this alleged “shift to non-violent militancy” as the reason for increased global support for the Palestinian cause. He claimed that the public is beginning to see the conflict as “unfinished business from the colonial era” in which the Palestinians are victims who can no longer be consigned to this “intolerable ordeal.” And he lamented Israel’s “unlawful” settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, which he claimed amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”
During the question and answer period following the lecture, Joel Beinin—Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and professor of Middle East history at Stanford University—expressed his admiration for Falk’s work. Beinin, best known for his anti-American and anti-Israel pontificating, was heartened by Falk’s portrayal of the U.S. as a declining world power relative to China and India and asked whether this, “among all the other positive diplomatic and geo-strategic factors [Falk] mentioned, is also likely to change the balance of forces in favor of the Palestinian people?” Falk said he was “grateful for the construction of the issue,” but was less optimistic, given what he sees as America’s ingrained, pro-Israel stance.
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