Palestinians should continue to pursue self-empowerment, legal justice and peaceful resistance in their ongoing territorial conflict with Israel, international law professor emeritus Richard Falk said during the 11th annual Edward W. Said ’57 Memorial Lecture.
Falk, a two-time United Nations appointee on Palestinian territory issues who is stepping down this year, is a controversial figure in the United States, not only for his views on the territorial dispute, but also because of allegations that he condemned the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an internal conspiracy.
“I never made such a statement,” he responded when asked about the incident by an audience member. “What I have said is there are unanswered questions that the American people deserve answers about. I do not pretend to have the knowledge to either refute or support the official version of what happened on 9/11.”
Falk was a close friend of Said, who was both a renowned literary scholar and a leading voice on Middle Eastern conflicts. Falk’s lecture focused primarily on Palestine’s role in the territorial conflict and its ideological evolution.
Order was called in the packed lecture hall when an audience member criticized Falk’s comparison of engaged citizenship between Said and Noam Chomsky, whom the audience member said denied the Cambodian holocaust. Falk responded that opinions are often misinterpreted when taken out of context and that those who voice these criticisms usually do not reject the “Henry Kissingers” and “George Bushes” of this world.
Although Palestine rejected the U.N.’s 1947 proposition to accept 45 percent of the disputed land, it made a proposal in 1988 to take less than half of the U.N.’s originally suggested territory, Falk explained.
“These terms should have been acceptable to Israel and certainly offered a promising basis for negotiations, and yet neither Israel nor the United States, nor even the United Nations responded,” Falk said. “In contrast, it turns out Israeli proposals are routinely praised in the West as generous and courageous, although they encroach in major ways on minimal Palestinian expectations,” he added.
Falk said that Israeli proposals have all included territorial claims that go beyond the “green line,” the pre 1967 border between Israel and its neighbors, and do not acknowledge Palestinian rights under international law, which condemns the construction of the West Bank barrier in the Palestinian-populated territory.
He also said that instead of responding with a conciliatory attitude, the Israeli government responded with numerous armed settlements, an elaborate and expensive network of settlers and the West Bank barrier. This, Falk argued, sent a clear message to the Palestinian people: if they ever wanted peace, they would have to accept a compromise with less than 22 percent of land ownership and a range of military demands that would drastically increase their vulnerability.
This turn of events, combined with repeated military defeats and growing Israeli support from the United States, Falk explained, led the Palestinian people to become severely disenchanted and consider the impossibility of peace. Falk said he agreed with Said that it is too late for a viable two-state solution, and it seems far too early for a one-state solution in which the conflicting parties would merge as one land.
Instead, Falk said that Palestinians should adopt a legitimacy war strategy analogous to the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Although he noted that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is not the same scenario, he agreed with Said that Palestine can adopt a similar solution by considering the soft power of economic motivators.
Just as the South African government suffered from international alienation, several countries, including countries that have historically supported Israel such as Germany and the Netherlands, are breaking off business transactions with Israel until it complies with international law.
Although Said had a “love-hate relationship” with the University according to Falk, who often invited him to speak at his graduate lectures, he embodied the intellectual ideal of standing for a controversial moral cause regardless of popular disagreement.
“In Said’s words, there’s only one way to anchor oneself, and that is by affiliation with cause and political movement,” he explained.
Falk’s annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council was published online on the same Tuesday, providing his assessment of the conflict as an “independent witness.”
Falk thanked the lecture’s sponsors for being “brave enough” to invite him despite campus criticism.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this status misstated the meaning of the “green line.” The “green line” refers to the pre 1967 border between Israel and its neighbors.