When I met Richard Falk shortly before the turn of 2017 into 2018, I found the scholar, lawyer, activist, advocate, adviser, and writer as kinetically thoughtful and plugged-in as his many books and blogs suggested. In the first half of our lengthy exchange, we ranged over a variety of topics having to do mostly with policy, politics, and—this very prominently—the Middle East and the genealogy of its various crises. Part 2 follows.
Our talk took a different turn as we continued, as if a movie camera we operated dollied out. After discussing his views on Israel and Palestine—he has been intimately involved in the conflict for many years—we took up Falk’s concept of “legitimacy struggle” and the drift of history away from “hard power” to the power conferred by legal and moral superiority. Falk surprised me with his examples. Vietnam, South Africa: Not since the colonial era has military force decisively prevailed over fundamentally just fights for rights and liberation. We also found our way into anti-Semitism (real and conjured), cosmopolitanism, the UN’s chronic deficiencies, and the fate of the nation-state.
I wanted to hear something of Falk’s personal story, too, and he readily obliged. He spoke of his two moments of transformation—his experiences in Vietnam and more recently among Palestinians—and the influence of his long friendship with the late Edward Said. What was it in his early life, I asked in the end, that led him into so varied, active, and committed a career? This kind of question nearly always yields interesting answers. I will leave Falk’s where it is, at the conclusion of our rewarding exchange.
Patrick Lawrence: Let’s turn to Israel and Palestine, given your long engagement and expertise. Where do you think the conflict now stands? I was quite struck by the clarity of your thinking on this in various blogs and publications. You trace a progression of stages, for example, from armed struggle to diplomacy and now to civil-society action, nonviolence, and international support. Please talk about where the conflict is now in your assessment, maybe in the context of those stages.
Richard Falk: Well, I think from the Israeli point of view, they are trying to sell the world on the proposition that they’ve won and the Palestinians have lost, and the world should move on. People like Daniel Pipes [the conservative scholar], and the Middle East Forum, which is his vehicle, they have what they call now a “victory caucus,” and they’re trying to organize Congress and the Knesset in Israel behind this idea that Palestinians themselves would be better off if they surrender and admit their defeat. So that’s one side of the effort. Netanyahu has encouraged this kind of initiative.