Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is your reaction to the statement by Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, who is attacking you personally about the report you made on Israel?
Prof. Richard Falk: Ambassador Nikki Haley references to her use of American geopolitical muscle to undermine the integrity of the UN as an Organization responsive to international law and to the principles of non-discrimination with respect to its internal operations should be an occasion of shame, not boastful pride. To block the appointment of a qualified civil servant to a UN position just because he is Palestinian represents unacceptable job discrimination in the workplace that should never have been tolerated at the UN. With regard to the report of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) on Israel as an apartheid state with respect to the Palestinian people, of which I am a co-author, it is again a sign of UN weakness that Haley's crude intervention led to the removal of the report from the ESCWA website. There is no evidence whatsoever that this carefully researched report has been read. Rather than address the analysis and evidence supporting the conclusion that Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinian people constitute the international crime of apartheid Haley chooses to attack me, again without any particulars. It seems easier for Israel's defenders to attack the messenger rather than to address the message. Haley complains that the UN is responsible for Israel-bashing, but the larger and more damaging reality is that the U.S. engages in vicious UN-bashing.
What do you think of the announcement of the transfer of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem by the Trump administration?
The Trump initiative that followed from the formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to be followed by the movement of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, is in most respects an unacceptable disruption of settled international expectations about how to determine the future of the city. In this regard it is not surprising that the U.S. Government initiative was condemned first in the UN Security Council by a 14-1 vote, with the U.S. relying on its veto power to block a decision, and then by a vote of 128-9 (with 35 absent members) in the General Assembly. It is worth noting that every important government in the world voted to condemn the decision, including the closest allies of the U.S. (France, UK, and Japan).
This overwhelming opposition arose because there had been an operational consensus that Israel and Palestine should resolve the future of Jerusalem by direct diplomatic negotiations between the parties, and not by action by other states. As matters now stand, East Jerusalem is considered to be subject to 'occupation,' and from the perspective of international law is not part of Israeli territory. The fact that Israel and the American recognition treat Jerusalem as a unified rather than a divided city evades this reality. Israel as a sovereign state is free to establish its capital where it wishes within its internationally recognized territory, but not beyond as would is the case if East Jerusalem is not treated as beyond Israel's sovereign reach. Israel has long violated this norm, and now the United States has sides with Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and the concerns of the Islamic World.
Another effect of the Jerusalem move is to discredit the United States, once and for all, as a credible intermediary government that can preside over any future 'peace process.' Of course, the U.S. Government was never credible in this role, but the one-sidedness of the Jerusalem move lifts the scales from the eyes of the world community, and has led the Palestinian Authority to act more independently and realistically as it now longer needs to avoid annoying Washington. The expansion of the settlements and Zionist expansionism had doomed the two-state solution years ago, but now it exposes Israeli intentions to seize one of two options: keep the existing situation that has allowed the de facto annexation of increasing territory in the West Bank and consolidation of control in Jerusalem.
A final effect of the Jerusalem provocation is to ignore the concerns of Islam to protect their interest in maintaining access to a city that controls the third most holy site of the Muslim religion. Israel has not had a good record, as skirmishes with UNESCO have revealed, of protecting the cultural interests of Islam or of Christianity in Jerusalem since occupation commenced in 1967.
What is your opinion about President Trump's threat to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal?
The Nuclear Program Agreement negotiated in 2015 was a major achievement in the effort to set limits on the turbulence that has brought so much suffering to the Middle East in recent decades. It was supported by all leading countries, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), and is still regarded as a major contribution to regional order by these governments with the exception of the United States since Donald Trump took over the presidency in 2017, and proceeded to call the agreement the worst deal ever for the West and refused to certify its renewal. Such a threatened withdrawal from a major diplomatic success is consistent with Trump opposition to international arrangements. It can be seen as related to the high profile withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, previously regarded as the most impressive success of multilateral lawmaking diplomacy under UN auspices.
There are several serious risks raised by this Trump approach. It obviously raises war risks as it Is coupled with calls for increased pressure on Iran by way of punitive sanctions. Further, the Trump diplomacy contributes to the reckless efforts of Saudi Arabia and Israel to destabilize the government of Iran, and attain their goal of regime change in violation of international law and morality. Finally, to exert pressure on this agreement, even if it is not repudiated, strengthen the position of hardline elements in Iran, and weakens the prestige and leverage of the moderate forces surrounding President Rouhani that had working toward less strict forms of internal governance and a less provocative foreign policy.
Both the Jerusalem initiative and the nihilistic approach to relations with Iran disclose the inability of the Trump presidency to act responsibly in the Middle East. What seems to be the case is that American foreign policy even more than in the past is shaped by doing what Israel and Saudi Arabia favor regardless of its negative impact on law and morality, and even on the pursuit of U.S. strategic interests in the region. Such an approach combined with a militarist approach to the challenge of political extremism, the aggravation of the Kurdish struggle, and the roiling of relations with Turkey is producing a dangerously dysfunctional turn in American foreign policy that seems unlikely to change so long as Donald Trump is in the White House. Trump is erratic and inconsistent in other contexts, but so far he is unwavering in pursuing policies that please his most ardent political donors at home, and the wily politicians who set policy in Tel Aviv and Riyadh.