Now is the time for Obama to Recognize Palestine

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I’d like to return today to an argument I made two years ago in The Nation, which is that President Obama should recognize Palestine before he goes out of office. For different but related reasons, Jimmy Carter made a similar plea last month.

One of the arguments often heard is that Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state if it annexes all of the West Bank, since it will ultimately acquire 4 million Palestinians (West Bank & Gaza residents) as citizens in that case.

I don’t really care whether Israel has a Jewish majority, just as I don’t care if Egypt has a Sunni Muslim one or if Germany has a German one. In the tradition of the French revolution, I think states should be civil states, for the people of the Republic, whoever they may be. The United States in 1789 was mostly British and had a population of 4 million. Now it is 80 times as big, and has large Italian, Latino, German and Irish populations, not to mention over three million Muslims. So what? All those groups have brought gifts to enrich the nation. In an age of globalization, trying artificially to maintain one ethnic group as a majority is probably a fool’s errand, anyway. (Not to mention that “ethnic groups” are fluid and change definition over time). Israel is importing Thai agricultural workers and initially was welcoming African refugees.

So what is called a “one-state” solution would be fine with me, as long as all the citizens of that one state had equal rights and it was a genuine democracy.

It just would be very difficult to get to that outcome, whereas it would be fairly easy to set up two states, since the basic framework of the two states already exists.

Moreover, it is entirely possible that the Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank will at some point engineer a civil war, and try to expel the Palestinians, making them stateless refugees all over again.

What is wrong with the present arrangement is that the Palestinians do not have citizenship in a real state. A state controls the water, air and land of a territory. The Palestine Authority controls none of those things. A state has a judicial system that can protect the basic property and human rights of a citizen. Palestine has none of those things. Important cases are kicked to the Israeli judiciary, which with a few exceptions tends to rule in favor of Israelis. And, a lot of decisions are made for Palestinians by the Israeli army or by colonial administrators.

People who are stateless, in the phrase of Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, do not have the right to have rights. It is unacceptable that millions of Palestinians should be kept stateless at the insistence of Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has even vowed that he will not allow a Palestinian state as long as he is in power (a violation of the Oslo Peace Accords).

The reason that all these decades of negotiations have proved fruitless is that the Palestinians, as stateless, don’t really have standing to negotiate. You can renege on agreements with stateless people at will, as Netanyahu has repeatedly done, without fearing any consequences and without the stateless having recourse. So you can’t start with negotiations. You have to start by addressing Palestinians’ lack of citizenship.

It should be noted that the National Socialists in Germany stripped German Jews of their citizenship, in preparation for committing a Holocaust against them or driving them out of their homes as refugees. (Let’s see, sniffed Goebbels, if any of their liberal champions will want them then.) The Nazis understood very well that you can do with Stateless people what you will, and that no one will effectively so much as object. For the Zionist right wing, Israel comes as a solution to the problem that Jews are always in danger of losing their citizenship rights when they are citizens of other states. (This was a problem of the 1930s; it is not clear that it is perennial or universal– contrast with the US). Moreover, in a nuclear-armed world, the idea that a state can protect you from another holocaust is a false messiah; ask the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In any case, solving the artificially created problem of Jewish statelessness cannot come at the price of creating Palestinian statelessness.

One way or another, I insist on the problem of Palestinian statelessness being solved. I don’t care how it is solved. They can become Israeli citizens, or Palestinian citizens. But they have to be citizens of something. Otherwise, we will continue to see serial disasters befalling them, and the injustice being perpetrated on them will continue to generate security risks to the US.

The chair of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, said Monday that the Palestinian leadership was invigorated by the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. As a result, it would redouble its efforts to achieve full membership in the United Nations for the State of Palestine.

Likewise, he said, the Palestinians would take their case to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, charging Israeli officials with various crimes against the international law of occupation, chief among them flooding their own citizens as colonizers into the Occupied Territory.

Erekat recognizes that the Palestinian cause will go nowhere until Palestine has some of the perquisites of a state, such as UN membership and ability to take cases to the International Criminal Court.

So here we come to President Obama. Just as he established diplomatic relations with Cuba, so he could do the same with regard to Palestine. It would be one step toward resolving the decades-old problem of Palestinian statelessness.


Related video:

The Star: “Palestinians hail UN Security Council vote”

22 Responses

  1. It will be a miracle if Obama recognizes a State of Palestine.
    Morally and for democratic reasons he should, but one can see the flak he is getting from both party leaders, not a single brave soul seems to be supporting his actions in the UN – the right action when you consider this passed overwhelmingly. The Palestinians have endured too much for too long, and deserves a State of their own, and to live with independence and dignity, something their occupier has deprived them of, while stealing so much from them. It would be very brave of Obama to push for a Palestinian states, the rest of the nations can take advantage of that and support him, which they will.
    Netanyahu and the zionist nation have no choice.

    • Not sure why my comment keeps getting deleted. Just trying to point out that Mr. Drum’s article is inaccurate and tinged with racism. Read with caution.

    • There is a problem with Kevin Drum’s analysis. He may rightly dislike Hamas and the PLO, but this dislike does not justify the continued and future statelessness of the Palestinians. Nothing in his arguments abrogates the reality that Palestinians are stateless. Under international law, Israel is bound to safeguard Palestinian lives as the occupying power. It is also bound to work towards extricating itself as an occupying power. It does neither. As member countries of the United Nations, all these countries are bound by international law; human feelings of dislike or antipathy towards international actors or authorities is secondary to just application of the law.

      In this case, Kevin Drum is just plain wrong.

  2. I can’t really see the point of Obama recognizing Palestine. Couldn’t Trump de-recognize it in weeks?
    Recognition by the UN would be something that could not be reversed unilaterally. However Obama has left this abstention until his last month, ensuring there is very little chance of more progress. If the abstaining was back in 2011 when the last settlement vote was held, things could have been different.
    Obama is the best US President the world has ever had. Depressing how little he has achieved and what will follow.

    • “Couldn’t Trump de-recognize it in weeks?”

      Yes, however he could concurrently authorize his UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution vote that would impose sanctions upon Israel, who has ramped up settlement activity in defiance of the recent UNSC resolution declaring the settlements to be illegal.

      Trump could conceivably “de-recognize” the State of Palestine, but that course of action would be largely symbolic if Trump was unable to also obtain rescission of a UNSC sanctions resolution against Israel. A UNSC sanctions resolution could inflict substantial economic injury upon Israel.

      About 40% of the current members of the 120-seat Knesset would support the implementation of a 2-state solution. Labor MK Stav Shaffir, praised by VP Biden, has indicated that such an implementation would prevent BDS from being imposed on the Israeli economy and the Meretz and Hadash parties – who hold a significant number of seats in the Knesset – have already voiced approval to a two-state solution.

      Zionist Camp chairman Isaac Herzog – the Leader of the Opposition – while opposing the UNSC resolution, is relishing the fact that PM Netanyahu’s foreign policy stance against the Obama administration has now backfired.

  3. Juan, please lets stop this talk of two states. Ponder for a moment the meaning of the word “viable” when describing the Palestinian state. Would such a Palestinian state have secure borders? Would it have a military that could stand up to Israel? Would Palestinian Israelis have equal rights?

    The two states talk was just a method of getting rid of the “wrong” type of people. That is the “liberal” solution? A disgrace! That is just as morally bankrupt as the rightist position.

    By going along with the two state ploy we have allowed an actual solution to be pushed off by how many years: 10, 20, 70? The solution is an Israel of equal rights, nothing else. Lets stop being useful idiots.

  4. So what is called a “one-state” solution would be fine with me, as long as all the citizens of that one state had equal rights and it was a genuine democracy.

    One of the problems for Palestinians in a one-state arrangement would be the intense racism ingrained in a large segment of the Israeli population. In this regard, Israel is to some degree similar to the Deep South in the US where racism remains a problem after generations of gradual improvement.

  5. I doubt this will happen and it looks to me like a two state solution is dead. Thus, the issue is whether Israel will be a democracy and not a Jewish state in the future, or if it will be an apartheid Jewish state in the future. If it chooses the latter, will it engage in a type of Trail of Tears ethnic cleansing to remove the Arab population from within its boundaries? And will the AIPAC financed politicians still support it when that happens? The US public is way ahead of the bought and paid for politicians of both parties on this issue, but it is not considered a top issue for non supporters of Israel, so I am pessimistic that we will see any change from either Israel or the US government.

  6. The Obama administration, by abstaining from the UN National Security vote whose resolution was explicit in condemning Israel for illegal settlements, rings hollow.

    For in September 2016 it was announced that Israel would be given $38 billion in aid over the next decade, the largest increase ever. link to

    So, when placed in context, essentially Obama is engaged in political theater though he has legitimate reasons for disliking disliking Israeli PM Netanyahu who has excoriated Obama in public on several occasions that violates diplomatic protocol.

    Essentially, the U.S. has maintained for decades that Israel’s expansion into the West Bank through the increase in building illegal settlements violates inetrnational law. Yet, with the billions in aid given to Israel by the Pentagon (funded by American taxes), has inexorably funded Israel’s stated objective to annex the West Bank. Indeed, when one examines the how difficult it is for Palestinians to pass through Israeli checkpoints to function, land-grabbing from the Palestinians, there is no possibility for a one state solution and the objective of Netanyahu has largely succeeded in making it impossible for there to be a contiguous Palestinian state with control over its own resources (especially water, electricity and all agriculture) that are necessary to sustain an independent state.

    I think though unlikely Israeli’s senior politicians could eventually be summoned to the International Criminal Court which now is considering initiating a legal inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Netanyahu (which Netanyahu considers “preposterous”).
    link to

    Prof. Cole is probably correct that there is now a legal basis for recognizing a Palestinian state, but given how unstable the regions from West Asia (Afghanistan to Western Pakistan) to the Middle East continuing through to North Africa and the Horn of Africa plus Turkey, the creation of a Palestinian state could very precipitate greater destabilization. How likely would international recognition of a Palestinian state reduce the extreme violence in the regions mentioned earlier?

    Certainly Russia could use its new status as a political power in the Middle East to support a Palestinian state with a possible alliance with China and Turkey. But that might prove political dangerous for Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel. (It would be surreal if Iran, with political cover from Russia developed formal relations with Palestine in such a scenario).

    Given “facts on the ground,” opportunities for a Palestinian state seem almost impossible. Still, Obama managed to use the UN Security Council to humiliate Netanyahu while he departs office with the world more unstable than he inherited.

  7. To recognize a Country you need a Treaty.
    The Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur” .
    Therefore, no recognition of a Palestinian State ever.

  8. A day late and a dollar short. If Obama wanted to do this he would have eight years ago. Doing it a month before he leaves office is just a symbolic gesture to pad his legacy. It’s like a retiring CEO making a difficult decision a week before he leaves; he doesn’t have to worry about the consequences.

    • … and any decision is easy for his successor to reverse, preferably with great fanfare and adulation. This is what happened in the Bill Clinton/Gw Bush transition.

  9. The US response to Israel’s actions is less relevant now than perhaps it was before Russia entered the Syrian conflict so recognising Palestine statehood might actually be counterproductive since it might look like pique from the departing Obama and in that sense it might even taint the recent UNSC abstention which more or less signalled the end of the US role as leader in this matter thus leaving it open to others, particularly Europeans, to take it up, and I think they will. This has to be built in to any attempt to anticipate the future. No one could or would have dared usurp that role hitherto but handing it to the UN changes everything. Netanyahu claims Obama orchestrated the resolution, the White House denies that but there is a sense of pernickety verbal exactitude in the wording of the denial.

    The United States did not draft this resolution, nor did it put it forward. It was drafted and initially introduced, as we all know, by Egypt, in coordination with the Palestinians and others. When it was clear that the Egyptians and the Palestinians would insist on bringing this resolution to a vote and that every other country on the council would, in fact, support it, we made clear to others, including those on the Security Council, that further changes were needed to make the text more balanced. And that’s a standard practice on – with regard to resolutions at the Security Council. So there’s nothing new to this.

    link to

    It is pretty obvious the US was indeed behind it and it is entirely consistent with it being an abrogation of further responsibility that it would do just that and no more.

  10. A far better long term solution is for the USA to admit defeat with respect to two-state and tell the world that Israel has successfully controlled all the land west of the Jordan river and the “new” borders of Israel are the existing borders on the north with Lebanon and Syria, the Jordan river border with Jordan and the southern border with Egypt. That is force Israel to agree with their new “official” borders.

    Then the USA should tell the world it now has to ensure that Israel treats ALL of its citizens, including all its new Arab citizens in the west bank, with fairness.

    In other word, force Israel into a one-state situation where Israel would have responsibility for everyone.

    Initially the settlers will cheer their “win,” then discover that they have actually lost because Israel can not economically sustain apartheid.

  11. In paraphrase one of the rules of statutory construction is that piece of legislation may not be interpreted in a fashion which renders it absurd or useless. The legislature will be presumed to not have intended such frivolity.

    In this case it was the UNSC which functioned as a legislature. The statute or law it produced is the Egypt/Palestine Resolution in question which everyone here has by now read.

    It is also understood here that “the Europeans” are receiving the Palestine/Israel baton from the U.S., and so the issue is how the new Resolution is to be construed and put to work so that the result is not absurd, useless or frivolous.

    The intent of the Legislature which drafted and introduced it into the Law of Nations was obviously that it be enforced. The alternative, that it was to be a dead letter at the moment of passage, can not be entertained as it is violative of the applicable rule of construction which has been with us for centuries. So, how is it to be implemented?

    The answer as obvious: as Israel refuses to cooperate it is the promulgation of powerful economic sanctions upon the entirety of the Israeli economy until all of the requirements of the Resolution have been met. the vehicle should obviously be the E.U. And there is no good reason for further delay. As I say above, the baton has passed. And that’s to the great relief of the American people.

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