Is Jimmy Carter right that Obama should Recognize Palestine?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Jimmy Carter wrote and NYT op-ed yesterday in which he called on Barack Obama to arrange for the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine and pass resolutions reaffirming the illegality of Israeli squatting on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Carter points out that there are 600,000 such Israeli squatters on stolen Palestinian land. He knows that likely Trump’s election marks the end of the US cover story that it is working toward a two-state solution.

With all due respect to Carter, who deserves a lot of respect, there is no evidence whatsoever that the US has done anything at all to implement a two-state solution. Washington has occasionally hosted Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but when the Israeli side insulted the US Secretary of State and the president and refused to cease aggressively colonizing Palestine even while they supposedly were parlaying over it, the US just acquiesced in Israeli intransigence. The Wikileaks cables from 2006 and 2007 show US embassy officials slavishly following Israeli policy initiatives like the boycott on Gaza.

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Carter is speaking out because a Trump policy on Israel-Palestine puts in doubt the legacy of his Camp David accords of 1978-79. Indeed, if the occupied Palestinians end up living in the hell of a decades-long Apartheid under the Israeli jackboot, then Camp David looks more and more like just a separate peace in which Egypt extricated itself from further confrontations with expansionist Israel, receiving back the Sinai, and leaving the poor weak Palestinians and Lebanese to their oppressive fate.

Not only is it right to rescue millions of Palestinians from statelessness, but resolving this issue would resolve 70% of America’s terrorism problem in the region.

So how plausible is Carter’s proposal to Obama? Oh, it could easily be done. The other members besides the US of the UN Security Council (Britain, France, Russia, and China) would be perfectly happy to pass a resolution condemning the Israeli squatting on Palestinian territory, if they were sure the US would not simply veto it, as it almost always does. The US itself could present a resolution, and I’ve heard that Obama’s team have crafted one as a contingency.

The trick is political will. The US would have to avoid exercising its veto. It always vetoes resolutions sanctioning or criticizing Israeli aggression and colonization.

Each president behaves in this way because the Israel lobbies have traditionaly helped fund political campaigns (John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt estimated that these lobbies provide as much as a third of the campaign funding for the Democratic Party.) You wonder if all this will change with the new Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump models– crowdfunding a campaign on the one hand and just having a billionaire buy the presidency with his own money. Sanders could take a more even-handed stance on the occupation of the stateless Palestinians precisely because he did not owe any big donors anything. In contrast, Hillary Clinton was deeply indebted to fanatical Israel-firsters like Haim Saban, and her speeches on the Mideast might as well have just been written by the Netanyahu government of Israel. Trump took a little money from Sheldon Adelson toward the end but not much, I think it was like $3 mn., which presumably did not buy much.

So the danger is that if Obama lifts his standing veto on UNSC resolutions on the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Israeli colonization policy, single-issue pro-Israel lobbies will decline to support the Democratic Party in 2020. Obama, as the leader of the Democratic Party, can’t very well chase away a third of the party’s funding for the next presidential race. (Even though, as I said, Sanders and Trump have introduced new models that could allow the sidestepping of single-issue lobbies like AIPAC).

But this juncture is special, and Carter is right that Obama could take the lead here. First of all, where are the pro-Israel donors going to go? To Trump? Can they really trust someone who is openly appointing known Neofascists and white supremacists?

So this is the one time where Obama could probably cross the Likud Party without harming Democratic Party fundraising down the line. Of course there is also the issue of the pro-Israel vote in Florida and elsewhere, but they couldn’t stop Trump in Florida or Pennsylvania so they are not as crucial as AIPAC keeps proclaiming.

So it seems to me that Obama can indeed act, and what I hear is that he is actively contemplating this step. Trump would not easily be able to reverse a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Israel for breaking international law by its galactic theft of Palestinian territory and its demotion of the Palestinian people to stateless objects of foreign military rule. He could go back to vetoing new resolutions, but was done would be done.

In fact, if Obama does not do what Carter is calling for, he could end up having no legacy at all. The Iran deal is fragile, as is Obamacare, and those were his only real achievements aside from a slew of executive orders that can be reversed by the incoming administration.

But of course the fate of 12 million Palestinians is rather more important than whether one politician is remembered for anything in the history books.

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35 Responses

  1. “Trump would not easily be able to reverse a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Israel”….

    Whoah there! That’s an unwarranted leap of faith.

    While I could – just – envision Obama allowing a declarative resolution to pass, there is no way on earth that any American politician is going to support a punitive resolution.

    A UNSC Resolution that declares that:
    a) The Palestinians are under a belligerent occupation
    b) The occupying power is prohibited from colonizing an occupied territory, therefore
    c) The settlements are illegal, which must mean that
    d) Israel can not lay any claim to any territory merely because there happens to be an Israeli “settlement” squatting on that territory.

    Yeah, that is possible.

    Maybe.

    But a resolution that then continues on to:
    e) If Israel doesn’t dismantle those “settlements” then
    f) Bad Things Will Be Imposed On Israel
    has absolutely no chance of getting past a US veto.

    • It is the last part that give it teeth; if the sanctions were international, Trump could not undo them.

      • I agree that sanctions would give a unsc resolution “teeth”.

        I don’t agree that any POTUS would ever back such a resolution, least of all Obama.

        The best you can possibly hope for is a declarative resolution, which will leave Israel exposed to what it calls “lawfare” and what everyone else would regard as “law”.

        Not what you might wish for, but way better than nothing.

      • “So it seems to me that Obama can indeed act, and what I hear is that he is actively contemplating this step. Trump would not easily be able to reverse a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Israel for breaking international law by its galactic theft of Palestinian territory and its demotion of the Palestinian people to stateless objects of foreign military rule. He could go back to vetoing new resolutions, but was done would be done.”

        Yes, Obama can act, but very little action is needed immediately, only a refusal to veto the French initiative brought on for decision in the form of a U.N.S.C Resolution. International recognition of Palestine as a state is implicit in the French position which is spread across her foreign ministry website. Though an international recognition clause could be inserted for good measure, right now it’s peripheral.

        It’s the French Resolution itself which is about to become the final basis in international law for economic sanctions against Israel. And it is the Europeans who will lead on implementing them through the European Union and other international institutions.

    • It’s a fine article which will be read widely. I’m convinced that we are at a critical moment in our history and believe that President Obama will rise to the occasion.

  2. I wonder if there are examples of what that might look like. How it would be most likely to play out. Two small states right next to each other with the history of hatred for one another that Palestine and Israel have.

      • It just seems to me that a single state, even with apartheid, restrains the Israelis more than the two state solution does. I fear a failed two state solution would end in slaughter.

    • They don’t have a history of hatred Billy. One of these countries is built upon another. The crushed people have a right to resist but not to be told that they have a history of hatred. After all Jews, Muslims and Christians lived peacefully in one land until this century.

  3. We’ve been telling ourselves how great we are for so long (and now we’re going to be great again) while groveling before Israeli whims that the idea of performing one principled act of genuine leadership such as recognizing Palestine would spark a collective self-exposure of abject fealty, Left and Right, to our handlers, and reveal the root of our “greatness” in the maintenance of unjust power.
    That knowledge would be a start.
    Dare to lead, President Obama. Grateful for your courage, President Carter.

    • Why would he want to do that?
      He can come & live in New Zealand & we’ll give him “the medal of freedom” here, ho ho.
      We’re pretty cool on race relations too – altho Trump’s angst is rubbing off on our right-wing types somewhat.
      I certainly can’t think of another legacy Obomber could achieve to wipe out the one that nickname implies!
      But while the US FINANCES Israel nothing will improve even with recognition.
      It is the ultimate US hyprocrisy & war crime.

      • “But while the US FINANCES Israel nothing will improve even with recognition.”

        Scroll down on IRmep. Our federal court system is in the early stages of determining whether the aid to Israel is legally legitimate. It appears to conflict with an important statute passed through the efforts of the great Senator Symington a half century ago.

        • How I hope you are right… But they’ll probably just change the law or ignore it…
          Think how many international laws the US just ignores – while pontificating to others for the same thing! The Israel situation is just the longest & clearest example.
          Now perhaps if Bernie Sanders…
          (& yes I do know many Jewish people in the US are against the Israeli regime. I’m a Jewish Voice for Peace supporter.)

    • The DC community is an oppressed minority. If that’s what you mean you are certainly correct. But if Professor Cole is on track our President will be seen as an exceptionally courageous statesman.

  4. Should he? I’m not sure ‘should’ comes into it. Morally, doubtless, but this is foreign policy and it has nothing to do with morality, which simply provides a feel nice factor when the cards happen to fall that way. Tactically it strikes me as a good move, not because of the feedback that would hit Netanyahu, which would, mea maxima culpa, be nice to watch, but because the status quo is unsustainable, a thorn in the bosom of the ME, and damaging to the US which is facing an uncertain period internationally. Such action now would enable Obama to kick the next stages into play without having personally to face the unfolding consequences. It would also be a fine gift to Trump and future presidents since it would hand over a fait accompli for which Israel will be unable to take retributive vengeance.

  5. Sadly, the first thing that is needed for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace is for the Israelis to realize that the present course of occupation and oppression will lead nowhere. It is naïve to imagine that the occupation of millions of stateless people and the imposition of apartheid laws can continue in perpetuity just because Israel enjoys the support of a powerful lobby that forces various US administrations to give in to Israeli demands and to close its eyes to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

    If apartheid and oppression could be successful forever, the South African regime would not have collapsed under the weight of world opinion, even though it enjoyed the support of some Western countries. Both Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan referred to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist but they could not save the apartheid regime. The sooner the Israelis grasp that fact the sooner they will be able to reach a just and viable solution with the Palestinians who were the original inhabitants of the land that the Israelis have occupied for the past few decades.

    Contrary to the views of some Israelis and their foreign backers, Israel is in a very precarious position. It is becoming more and more isolated in the world. The weight of opinion in Europe is turning against her. The events in the Middle East move fast and in unexpected ways. The Israelis can reach an honorable settlement with the Palestinians, either on the basis of two states living side-by-side or one unitary state for all its Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants free from discrimination and apartheid laws, but the longer they postpone the inevitable the more difficult will be the outcome for them.

    If reliance upon god who would come to the rescue of his “chosen people” were enough, the Jews would not have lived 2000 years in diaspora. Waiting for the Messiah to return to redeem his people is as promising as the Shi’ites belief in the return of the Hidden Imam to usher in an age of justice and pace. The sooner both groups give up this fantasy and deal with reality the better it would be for them and for the world.

  6. The trick is political will.

    And, as Goethe informed us, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” But where is the will?

    Obama may be a lame duck capable of ignoring political consequences, but he is probably still dialing for dollars for his presidential library and will be loath to offend pro-Israel moneybags who might forget Obama’s $38.5 BILLION gift of more weapons for Israel’s oppressors.

  7. Obama has never given much deference to Jimmy Carter or his ideas, and especially to Carter’s ideas on Israeli-Palestine which represents a deeper level of understanding than that with which Obama is comfortable.

    Unlike every previous president, Obama never consulted Carter related to any diplomatic initiatives.

    And Obama did not allow Carter to speak at either of the two National Democratic Conventions at which Obama was nominated – this past US President and Nobel Peace laureate (who actually earned it).

    According to Carter’s most recent book, ” A Full Life”, David Axilrod told Carter that Obama’s Jewish financial supporters did not want Carter to speak.

    Do not look for Obama to do anything except continues his string of vetoes of UN resolutions which would constrain Israel.

  8. I don’t think Obama has the courage to do this, as it will fly in the face of the majority in his party. Yes, Adelson and the like will turn to Trump. Netanyahu likes him already – and Trump’s actually thinking of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Hopefully he might be realistic enough to refrain from inflaming the Arab (and Muslim) world even more. Unless other allies, like the EU, UK, perhaps the Saudi’s and Egypt, make waves, I unfortunately don’t see progress on this front. I do appreciate Carter’s advice; he’s our best ex-president by far!

  9. It’s a too late for that, but if he was serious, he would have an off the record talk with Trump. Does he want to be next, kicking this can down the road, maybe he rather Obama take it out of his hair. Does he know he be labeled anti Semite and African American might face the backlash.

    • One of the key criticisms of the Camp David Accords was that the Palestinian question was not resolved – but deferred to a status that exists to this day.

      There is no question that both Sadat and Begin – as well as Jimmy Carter – were courageous in making the concessions to attempt peace:

      (A) Sadat, who had enjoyed praise in the Arab world for his handling of the Yom Kippur War, would be labeled a traitor for recognizing Israel and be killed by extremists in 1981;

      (B) Begin, who had been riding a wave of popularity as a right-wing leader, had his limousine egged by fellow Likud Party members upon his return from Camp David;

      (C) Carter, on behalf of the U.S., would extend billions of dollars in foreign aid guarantees to Egypt at a time when the U.S. economy was tanking and he was already grossly unpopular even among Democrats in America.

      However, Anwar Sadat’s and Jimmy Carter’s failure to achieve a final status agreement on the Palestinian question at Camp David or any time thereafter did not endear either of then to the Arab community at that time. I can recall Arab-Americans in Dearborn being interviewed by newsmen for their reactions to Sadat’s death immediately after his October 6, 1981 assassination and their general response was unsympathetic.

  10. The leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett, claimed a Trump presidency allows Israel to fully dismiss the notion of a Palestinian state. “This is the position of the President-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
    President Carter: Right when he put solar panels on the White House and right about what Nobel Peace prize winner Obama can do – immediately – to help prevent the eventual extermination of the Palestinian people.
    But I really doubt Obama will do anything. He’s not doing much for the Indians in North Dakota, either. I’d have to say, IMHO he’s turned out to be a bit of a dick.

  11. If Carter had been re-elected in 1980 I believe he might have been able to finalize the peace between Israel and the Palestinians…. and there likely would never have been a ‘9/11’.

    • And maybe we might not have had to witness Israel’ 1982 invasion of Lebanon with 20,000 Lebanese killed, the destruction of half of Beirut, the Sabre and Chatila refugee camp massacres, and the killing of 241 US marines.

      Carter had halted and reversed and earlier Israeli invasion into Lebanon by standing up to Israel, the last president to have done so,

  12. I honestly think the Democrats lost the house in 2010 in part because of the pro-Israel lobby, and later the senate. Obama was never considered sufficiently pro-Israel, consequently, much of the Democratic party insiders such as Debbie Wasserman (pretty much an Israel-firster) didn’t get behind him in that election and instead distanced themselves. Obama is a great campaigner! At a time when they should have united, they didn’t, and lost elections as a result.

    Yes, Obama should recognize Palestine. And, the lockhold of the Israel lobby on both parties needs to be broken, in the interest of fairness.

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