Israel was again accused of ethnic cleansing yesterday, which is not an uncommon concurrence in the Middle East, but this time, the accusation was made by a widely respected Jewish United Nations official. Prof. Richard Falk, a “rapporteur” for human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, charged that Israel’s policy of continuing to build new settlements in the Occupied Territories and revoking residency permits for Palestinians living in Jerusalem bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”
A “rapporteur” is an unpaid official who is charged with the responsibility for researching and reporting on a subject about which the official is considered an expert. The 82 year-old Falk is a perfect match for that definition. He is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, and hold degrees from Wharton, Yale and Harvard. He has written more than 20 books on international law, has been hypercritical of American involvements in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been a vocal, persistent critic of Jewish nation since he was appointed in 2008.
Falk charges that the 11,000 Palestinians have had their residency permits revoked by the Israeli government since 1996 “is just the tip of the iceberg because many more are faced with possible challenges to their residency rights.” In an earlier report to the United Nations Human Right Commission released in February, Falk wrote that Israel’s policies in the West Bank were tantamount to “apartheid and segregation.” He cited the de facto annexation of Palestinian territory and the denial of the Palestinian’s right to self-determination as proof. “Every increment of enlarging the settlements or every incident of house demolition is a way of worsening the situation confronting the Palestinian people and reducing what prospects they might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations.”
Falk’s accusation comes at a time when tensions are rising again in the region, with daily exchanges of missile attacks and brief, bloody shooting engagements are jeopardizing the efforts of US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to beat an arbitrary April 29 deadline imposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to establish a framework for a peace.
The problem with the proposed deadline is that it has no teeth. No one, least of all Kerry, seems to know what will happen if an agreement is not reached by the deadline, since no consequences have been announced. Kerry has openly admitted that it could take another nine months to reach a deal.
The major stumbling block to a successful agreement is simple: both parties want the same territory, and neither party is willing to budge from their historical positions on that matter. At stake is the future of Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Palestinian approval of a peace plan requires that the Israeli government agree to the establishment of an autonomous Arab state with East Jerusalem as its capital. That is not acceptable to the Israelis for the simple reason that the “Old City” of Jerusalem, the holiest of holies to the Jewish people, lies in the area known as “East Jerusalem, within the sphere that the Palestinians want to claim as their sovereign territory. In addition to keeping Jerusalem, Israel also wants an irrevocable acknowledgement from the Palestinians of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish nation and that is something that the Palestinians are unwilling to grant until the Israelis give up East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Territories take up 2,324 square miles, approximately 29 percent of the 8,019 square miles of territory Israel has held by right of conquest since the 1967 war. Israel relinquished control over much of that territory to the Palestinian Authority under the 1994 Oslo Accords, which set up the Palestinian Authority as a temporary measure to create a negotiating partner that would be empowered to speak for the Palestinian people. The Authority was supposed to transition into an elected government after five years. The Authority has now been in power in Palestine for twenty years.
Professor Falk said that Israel had made a systematic effort to “change the ethnic composition” of East Jerusalem by making it more difficult for Palestinians to reside there while encouraging the spread of settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. It has long been Israel’s policy to encourage emigration to the Occupied Territories by Jewish “settlers” to increase the country’s grip on those lands, even as they negotiate a deal that might force those settlers to leave.
Behind the political posturing there is a stark reality. Israel is losing the population war with its Arab neighbors. The Jewish population in Israel grew by 1.8 percent in 2013. The Arab population of Israel grew by 2.4 percent, which has declined from the 3.4 percent annual growth rate the Arab community enjoyed throughout the 1990s. Eventually, Jews, who now represent 75 percent of the country’s population will become a minority in their own country.
Since the practice was resumed in 2009, most of the forced removals have resulted from the destruction of homes occupied by terrorists or their families as a punishment for harboring people Israel views as terrorists. In this case, the sins of the children are visited upon the parents.
Prof. Falk is nearing the end of his tenure as a U.N. observer. He is scheduled to step down this month after being a thorn in Israel’s side for the past six years. There was no immediate Israeli response to his remarks on Friday, nor has Israel responded officially to Falk’s February report. Israel has repeatedly rejected accusations of persecuting Palestinians, accusing their accusers of inciting anti-Israeli violence.
Accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing by a Jewish UN official links Israel’s actions with “ethnic cleansing” episodes in Bosnia and Darfur, where the “cleansing” that occurred was closer to genocide than it was to forced relocation. Privately, Israelis are incensed that anyone would equate what happened in Bosnia with their relocation policies. Neither accusation, nor the absence of a response, are likely to improve the climate in which the negotiators are struggling to find the elusive common ground.
By Alan M. Milner