Why is Palestinian Authority against Richard Falk?

A shocking story: Ma’an News Agency reported from Chicago today that “Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said on Monday the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged him to step down after he criticized the PA’s treatment of a UN war crimes report”.

Ma’an added that Falk “said PA officials formally approached him in February asking him to resign, arguing that he is unable to carry out his responsibilities since Israel detained him at Ben Gurion International Airport and deported him in late 2008. But, he stressed in an interview, ‘what they [the PA] say formally and what they say informally are quite different … Informally they say different things, things that are essentially untrue, that my health doesn’t me allow to do the job or that I’m a partisan of Hamas’, Falk added”.

As Ma’an said in its article, “Falk’s mandate is narrowly defined to include only the human rights record of the occupying power, Israel, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza – he does not report to the UN on the “actions of the PA or the Hamas government in Gaza”.

The Ma’an report noted that “Falk did raise hackles in Ramallah when he publicly criticized the PA for delaying UN action on Judge Richard Goldstone’s report that accused Israel and Palestinian militias of committing war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza war … President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision, under US pressure, to delay a vote in the UN Human Rights Council on Goldstone’s report provoked a political crisis, including calls for Abbas to step down, or even for the dissolution of the PA”.

Falk, a professor emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, was appointed to succeed John Dugard as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 in the late spring of 2008. He made one trip to Israel and the West Bank a few weeks later, and irritated government officials [Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor basically said that one of the main problems was that Falk told Israeli officials he was coming in his personal capacity, then allowed himself to be introduced at a meeting in Ramallah as the UN special rapporteur…] When he returned in mid-December 2008 on an official UN mission, he was denied entry, detained in very uncomfortable conditions overnight at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, and then deported. He has not been allowed to visit Israel or the occupied Palestinian territory since then.

Ma’an also reported that Arabic-language news reports surfaced last week, which Falk confirmed in an interview, that “the Palestine Observer mission to the UN in Geneva also delayed consideration in the UN Human Rights Council of his [Falk’s] most recent report detailing Israeli abuses of Palestinians’ rights … He says the PA-appointed ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khreishah, put forward a resolution in a recent plenary session of the Human Rights Council which delayed a discussion of his own report on Israeli rights violations from March until June. The resolution passed unanimously. Falk, a Princeton international law expert, said he is ‘not happy’ about the PA’s actions, but has no plans to resign. ‘I feel that it’s very important not to succumb to this pressure …We’re supposed to be independent’, he added”.

Ma’an said that its “repeated phone calls to the Palestinian mission at the UN in Geneva were not returned”. The Ma’an story can be read in full here.

The Ma’an story made reference to an article written by Nadia Hijab, an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, in which she said that the PA was more discrete than Israel in its attacks on Falk, and “has quietly suggested to Falk himself that he resign. One reported reason is that Falk can’t do his job because Israel will not allow him into the country”.

Hijab’s also reports in her article, published on the Agence Global website, here that “Palestinian human rights advocates … have acted as a group to support the implementation of the Goldstone Report and to protect Falk and his role … Last month, 11 Palestinian human rights groups wrote to the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressing dismay at the PA actions against Falk … More recently, 19 Palestinian groups wrote to PA president Mahmoud Abbas criticizing Falk’s treatment and pointing out the repercussions for the Palestinians’ internationally recognized human rights”.

Hijab states that “The attacks on Falk and Goldstone are hard for the two men to bear. And they tear at the very fabric of international law and the mechanisms put in place to uphold it. The Human Rights Council has stepped on a slippery slope by agreeing to postpone Falk’s report. Instead of listening to the PA (and Egypt) the Council should have backed its special rapporteur. If it does the unthinkable and relieves Falk of his duties because the PA does not want him, the system of independent special rapporteurs would be undermined … Undermining the Goldstone Report would be an equally harsh blow to the human rights system”.

An informed source at the UN in Geneva clarified today that “1) the Palestine Mission did ask for postponement of consideration of the Fall report about which they had disagreements on certain terminology and methodology etc. In my view this was a mistake since a) the differences are not critical b) they had the option of publicly taking him to task on them c) Palestine should not be making a precedent of governments interfering in UN reports and d) its good for them to have problems with Falk as it makes him all the more credible in his criticism of Israel. 2) They did not ask him to relinquish his post, though making as much fuss about him as they did adds up to the same outcome”.

What were the Palestine Mission’s specific problems with Falk and his report? The source in Geneva explained that “Their ‘formal’ reservations were to do with Falk implying in his report that Hamas was the government authority that should investigate war crimes on their side (which upsets the PA which pretends to be the legitimate government authority), and something about him exceeding his mandate by referring to possible Palestinian violations of human rights (since the report is supposed to be about Israeli practices) and some other relatively inconsequential point. Bottom line, they never liked him, he was never pliable enough for them, he is too independent and outspoken and the REAL reason is of course his Jazeera interview last October”.

Meanwhile, the source in Geneva said that UN Human Rights Council has scheduled a debate on 22 March, in a follow-up to the Special Session on Gaza that was held in October, and four resolutions are to be considered: one on follow-up to the Goldtsone report, one on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, one on self-determination, and one on Israeli practices (which normally would have been shaped by the Falk report) and which will concentrate on Jerusalem, which will be informally distributed later this week — and which will include a paragraph concerning the on-going desecration of the Mamilla Cemetary in West Jerusalem.

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