By Omar Radwan
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, has come under renewed attack in recent days. Professor Falk’s remit is to monitor Israeli violations of human rights in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the UN Human Rights Council. He submits periodic reports to the UNHRC on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, but his mandate only covers Israel’s human rights record. He was appointed to the position of Special Rapporteur in March 2008. Professor Falk has pulled no punches in his criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, particularly the blockade of Gaza; his appointment was met by furious objections from Israel and the United States. When he first tried to visit the Palestinian territories in his capacity as Special Rapporteur, in December 2008, Israel detained him for 30 hours at Ben Gurion Airport in humiliating conditions before expelling him. This was a flagrant violation of diplomatic protocol and a calculated snub to the United Nations; it was perhaps no coincidence that this happened just two weeks before Israel’s war against Gaza. He has not been allowed to enter the occupied territories since then.
The latest attack on Falk’s work, however, has come not from Israel, but from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Last week, the PA asked the UNHRC to postpone discussion of Falk’s latest report for three months. Falk revealed that in February the PA asked him to resign, saying that he could not do his job effectively because Israel has banned him from entering the occupied territories. However, this was not the only reason according to Falk, who said, "Informally, they say different things, things that are essentially untrue, that my health doesn’t allow me to do the job or that I’m a partisan of Hamas." While Falk may not be able to enter the Palestinian territories, he is in contact with several reliable non-governmental organizations which monitor the human rights situation there; he has, therefore, access to all the information he needs to carry out his role.
On the surface, the Palestinian Authority has little reason to be wary of Richard Falk. Ever since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, the human rights record of the Ramallah-based Authority has worsened – political prisoners from Hamas and other Palestinian factions have been tortured regularly, and some have died under torture but Falk’s remit does not cover the Palestinian Authority’s human rights abuses, only those of Israel. Still, the PA’s systematic violations of the human rights of its own people may cause it to feel threatened by a UN representative whose job it is to protect those rights. In addition, last October Falk criticised the Palestinian Authority publicly for bowing to heavy US and Israeli pressure and asking the UN Human Rights Council to delay consideration of the Goldstone Report into the crimes committed during Israel’s war against Gaza. Faced with so much outrage among its own population that it threatened to destroy any legitimacy the PA may have once had, the Authority was forced to ask the UNHRC to consider the Goldstone Report once again, and the UNHRC endorsed it. But two weeks ago, in a move that has received almost no coverage in the media, Arab countries on the Human Rights Council proposed that Israel and the Palestinians be given five more months to conduct investigations into the accusations contained in the Goldstone Report.
Richard Falk claimed that this latest postponement of its implementation will effectively bury the Goldstone Report. The Arab countries have provided the Palestinian Authority with a cover of legitimacy in the past, as they did last week when they called for "indirect negotiations" between the PA and Israel despite Israel’s continuing settlement activities. Now, the Palestinian Authority can claim that it has Arab backing to resume negotiations with Israel and therefore avoid losing face when it does so. With the Goldstone Report, the PA found itself in a very difficult position. There was no way it could do the bidding of its American and Israeli patrons without arousing the fury of its population and it was caught between a rock and a hard place. However, the Arab countries have allowed it to wash its hands of the whole affair. This latest postponement will allow Israel to get away with the war crimes it committed in Gaza, and it will thus have no more reason to pressure the PA over the Goldstone Report. Simultaneously the PA can tell its people that it was not involved in the postponement, which has hardly been reported in any case.
The Palestinian Authority will naturally be upset by the fact that Richard Falk has drawn attention once again to this issue. In addition, it seems that the charges and recommendations in Professor Falk’s latest report are no less damaging to Israel than those of the Goldstone Report. The difference is that Falk’s report has received much less coverage than Goldstone’s. The Palestinian Authority can in this instance do Israel’s dirty work and have the report postponed without fear of being held to account by its own population.
The PA’s attempt to silence Falk, who has been a steadfast defender of the Palestinian people for many years, and remove him from his position as a Special Rapporteur for the UNHRC, shows how unconcerned it is for the welfare of its own people and how in thrall it is to Israel and the United States. By postponing consideration of – and therefore effectively burying Falk’s report, in the same way they tried to bury the Goldstone Report, the Palestinian Authority’s representatives on the UNHRC have acted like a duplicate Israeli delegation to the UN body.