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It's time to recognize the State of Palestine, Mr. President

How Barack Obama can save the two-state solution before he leaves office.

By Sam Bahour

U.S. President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

U.S. President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama promised that as soon as the Iran nuclear deal is closed he will refocus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Given this shift of focus is now in sight, Obama should grant U.S. recognition of Palestine as an independent state, albeit a militarily occupied one. Such an elementary step is long overdue and may be the sole act that saves the two-state solution.

Palestine will never be a complete nation state if required to negotiate its statehood with its military occupier Israel. Without the immediate altering of the dynamics of the conflict, extremism is almost guaranteed to begin pouring into the Palestinian community and Israel. Any further deterioration of the situation on the ground could lead a future Republican president to send U.S. boots to protect Israel. That would be a colossal mistake.

Recognizing Palestine would not be such a groundbreaking move. In 2013, 138 countries recognized Palestine as a non-member state in the United Nations. Only the United States and eight others have not. Over 130 states have already bilaterally recognized Palestine, including the Vatican. The United States has been on the wrong side of history for so long on this issue it has lost strategic standing in the Middle East and across the globe. It will continue to do so unless it makes an abrupt about-face.

Obama started his presidency with a clear focus on reviving the peace process. One of his first acts as president was to appoint former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East. Then Obama traveled to Cairo to deliver a policy speech where he said, “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” Next, Obama took on Israel’s non-stop illegal settlement building in the West Bank and in that debate he made clear that “to ensure that Israel is safe and secure” efforts must be made to “set the stage for a Palestinian state.”

All of these initial overtures to restart the peace process were noble ones, but they all failed. Mitchell resigned in utter frustration, America turned its back on Palestine and focused on Iran, and illegal Israeli settlement building picked up its pace.

More recently, in the fall of 2013, Obama deployed Secretary of State John Kerry to make one more attempt to salvage the failed peace process and gave him nine months to make progress. Kerry launched his mission with a bold assessment, stating, “I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting, I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.” Well, we are now entering year three and Kerry was spot on. The two-state solution door is closing, if not already shut completely.
So in the limited time left in his presidency Obama can save his administration’s and his legacy in the Middle East by simply recognizing Palestine, an act in total alignment with the historic U.S. foreign policy principle of two states for two peoples.

Some may think this would be too risky a move for the Democratic Party, given the elections. I disagree.

For starters, and as Obama has repeated publicly, his administration has done more for Israel than any other president. Among other things, he increased financial aid; used the almighty U.S. veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from a growing global frustration with its refusal to end its military occupation of Palestine; and armed Israel to the greatest extent possible. So when segments of the Jewish American establishment cry foul when the United States recognizes Palestine, Obama can make note of which side of the conflict he and the United States have consistently engaged. Other segments of the Jewish American community, possible the silent majority, will support such a move.

When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu takes to the airwaves, as he surely will, to decry U.S. recognition of Palestine as tantamount to betrayal of Israel’s security, Obama can quote Netanyahu himself supporting the emergence of a Palestinian state to safeguard Israel’s existence.

Then when the Republican Party attempts to make the recognition of Palestine a partisan issue to better its hand in the presidential race, Democratic candidates can point to President George W. Bush as the first U.S. president to call Palestine by its name, for it was he who instilled in his administration’s policy calls for the state of Palestine to finally emerge in order to realize the two-state solution to the conflict.

Why is Obama ideal for this historic task?

First and foremost, as we witnessed in the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal debate, Obama has a gift of oration. A move to recognize Palestine would need a simple but emboldened argument to be undertaken in the public square and no one is better equipped for such a task.

Secondly, Obama’s administration has done serious damage in the Middle East. By focusing on Palestine, Obama would be taking a corrective step in the direction of getting America realigned with the region’s peoples, not the dictators the United States has propped up to date.

Thirdly, Obama was wronged by Israel so many times during his presidency, one would have to be naive not to think he is not itching to place Netanyahu in a checkmate position before he leaves office. However, he can’t do so haphazardly. Thus, recognizing Palestine would be the ideal game-changing move that would bring peace one step closer.

Every act of U.S. support to make the State of Palestine an actuality on the ground, one that will ultimately be free of Israeli occupation, would be a clarion show of support for those in the region and elsewhere who support freedom from oppression, occupation, and extremism. The United States could also leverage this political act by demanding better governance of Palestinians, too, an important ingredient to successful statehood.

There is a window of opportunity for Obama to complete his administration on a high note. If the opportunity for the United States to recognize Palestine is missed, no one should be surprised when the younger generation of Palestinians finally close the door on the two-state solution, once and for all. U.S. inaction now, when needed most, will only feed the breeding ground for regional extremism to continue to grow. 

Sam Bahour serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at ePalestine.com. This article was first published on Talking Points Memo. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

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    1. Tomas

      “… the two-state solution is among the most irrational, unsuccessful policies the United States has ever adopt-ed. For the past ninety years, the two-state solution has been tried more than a dozen times, and every time it has failed, abysmally. Between 1970 and 2013, the United States presented nine different peace plans for Israel and the Palestini-ans, all based on the two-state solution— and for the past twenty years, the two-state solution has been the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. But despite this laser focus, American efforts to imple-ment the two-state solution have all been dismal failures. Moreover, these abortive efforts have weakened the U.S. position.” Caroline Glick

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Caroline Glick! LoL! Talk about trying to pass off bullying right wing extremism as normal. This passage epitomizes it.

        ” the two-state solution has been tried”.

        Um, no, it hasn’t actually. Because Israel has spent its energies continually thwarting it. On both Palestinian and American territory. Reminds me of what Chesterton said about Christianity. To paraphrase: “nice idea, never been tried.”

        “despite this laser focus” by America.


        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Yep, Israel was the one to say no to Ehud Barak’s peace offer in 2000/2001 which involved the two state solution. Yes, Israel started the bloody Intifada as a response…

          Yes, Benny, Israel was the one to intensify rocket fire from Gaza onto the heads of Israeli civilians after Sharon unilaterally uprooted 10,000 settlers as a gesture of good will, yes Benny…

          Yes and Israel was the one which ignored Olmert’s year 2008 peace offer which again involved the two state solution…

          And yes, Benny, Israel is the party which since Obama came to power, continually refuses to sit down and negotiate with Abbas…

          Yes, Benny and the earth is flat.

          Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        Well, yes, and the reason for that failure is crystal-clear: the USA (and Israel, of course) conflate these two issues:
        1) the end of the occupation and
        2) the creation of a State of Palestine.

        They are, in Washington-speak, one and indivisible and as such *both* require Israel’s agreement.

        And….. Israel will not agree to the creation of a viable, independent State of Palestine, ever.

        If the USA wants to REALLY solve this problem then it needs to start with first principles i.e. what are the issues that requires Israel’s permission-slip, and what are the issues that the Palestinians are entitled to decide for themselves.

        Ending the Israeli occupation?

        Sure, that requires Israel to agree. Nobody is going to go to war with the IDF and force it to leave the West Bank.

        Create a State of Palestine?

        No, Israel doesn’t get a vote on that. That’s entirely for the Palestinians to declare, and for the USA and the rest of the international community to recognize.

        After all, by DEFINITION a declaration of statehood is a unilateral act.

        It would be a state under belligerent occupation (see above), sure.

        Sure, it would be. But there is nothing unusual about that.

        Certainly the USA knows all about belligerent occupations, and I don’t believe the USA ever claimed that “Iraq” wasn’t a state merely because the US Army occupied it.

        Glick is being disingenuous, as she always is.

        The author of this article is quite correct: the USA should *first* officially recognize the State of Palestine, and *then* – and only then – the USA should turn to Israel and say: we occupied Iraq for a decade, and then we left. But you have occupied the West Bank for nearly half a century now. Outstay your welcome much, guys?

        Because that’s the honest truth: Israel doesn’t get a vote on whether Palestine is a state. It only gets a vote on when it ends its military occupation of that state.

        Outstay your welcome much, guys?

        Reply to Comment
        • Jason Kidd

          These two issues:
          1) the end of the occupation and
          2) the creation of a State of Palestine.
          Yes! You are right. They are events that will happen simultaneously weather you like it or not.
          And they both will happen after an agreement that includes:
          1) An end of conflict
          2) An end to the collective pRoR.

          You don’t like it? Tough boogers. You will find in life that you can’t always get what you want
          Nothing you can do about it,
          But please, boycott all the soda streams you want. Lol. That will help I’m sure.

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Just curious, kiddie: can you name another case where a declaration of statehood was dependent upon first gaining the permission-slip of a 3rd party i.e. another state that *isn’t* already the sovereign?

            I can understand a declaration of statehood being regarded as null and void when the existing sovereign objects. Sure, that would be “rebellion”, and it only succeeds when the rebels win and can then coerce that concession from their reluctant sovereign.

            But that’s not the case here.

            In this case the state of Israel *isn’t* their sovereign, it is merely their occupying power.


            Israel’s permission-slip is not required, and the USA is under no legal obligation to wait for that permission-slip before recognizing the state of Palestine.

            Don’t get me wrong: unlike the author I don’t expect Obama to do that, but the constraints upon him are political, there are no legal obstacles in international law.

            He could, indeed, recognize the state of Palestine today. Right now. This very instant.

            And if he did do so then the number of states who would refuse to rush to join the USA would be counted on the single digit of one hand: Israel.

            You really don’t get it, do you?

            Israel is playing a game that is entirely dependent upon the USA agreeing to play along with them.

            And, sure, so far the USA has been willing.

            But the author of this article is perfectly correct: the USA can change its mind in an instant, and if it does so then Israel will have no reason to complain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            Yes I can.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            That would be Namibia, not Nambinia.

            And, bzzzzzt, sorry, wrong answer.

            South Africa was, of course, a Mandatory Power, and therefore could claim a legal right to administered that territory under the terms of a League of Nations Mandate.

            And the legal rights and responsibilities of a LoN Mandatory Power was – of course – defined under the terms of Mandate.

            Which included, inter alia, the right to decide the terms and the timing by which that mandated territory would achieve independence.

            In that respect a Mandatory Power was no different than a sovereign i.e. it was in possession of sovereignty over the territory (albeit it had agreed to take possession of that sovereignty as a “sacred trust”).

            That’s very definitely not the case here, where Israel most emphatically is not and never has been a Mandatory Power.

            Am I to assume that you really had to wrack your brains for your answer?

            And all you could come up with was a country whose history you were so ignorant of that you couldn’t even spell its name correctly?

            Perhaps it was a particularly crackly phone line between you and Hasbara Central? Or did you just crib down your laughable “answer” incorrectly?

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            I know!

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            No. Bolivia gained its independence by militarily defeating its sovereign power i.e. Spain.

            Gaining statehood by successfully rebelling against your sovereign is hardly unique, kiddie.

            And, so sorry for you, not appropriate here, since Israel is not the sovereign power.

            It is merely the occupying power.

            Nothing more.
            No less.

            The central issue that requires Israeli assent is therefore exactly as I described it: When Do You Plan To End This Endless Occupation.

            But Israeli assent is not required for this issue to be resolved: Palestine, is it a territory or is it a state?

            The USA has just as much (or as little) say in that matter as does Israel. Or any other 3rd party, for that matter.

            As in: the Palestinians have already declared their state, and every other state on Planet Earth either recognizes that declaration or refuses to recognize it.

            But either way, Israel’s permission-slip is not required.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            How about Belgium?

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Occupied by the Germans in WW2.

            And they didn’t pretend that said occupation gave Germany the “right” to decide if Belgium was or wasn’t “a state”.

            Well, actually, the Germans did make that argument (not with respect to Belgium, but certainly in some of the other places they occupied) and as a result quite a few Germans ended up swinging from the end of a gibbet.

            Maybe there is a lesson there that you might like to ponder.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Panama

      On the photo that accompanies this article, Obama looks like he is pinching a sidewinder.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jason Kidd

      I like when Yeah Right posts. While I barely agree with him politically, he has a signature style that includes patience, comedy, and a passion for what be believes, He seems to be a competent fact checker as well; unique for a propaganda blog,such as this.

      Unfortunately, Ben likes his style as well. And Ben being a mimic (copycat) more than an original thinker, tries to copy YRs unique style and this just makes Ben that much more annoying. Expect to see [chortle] and play style narrations (ironically as in Steinbecks Mice and Men) pepper Bens comments for the next couple of weeks.

      By the way, Bem is like,his namesake in that play. Similar intelligence and success in life and all.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jason Kidd

        What about Panama?

        By the way do you really think that most regular white people even heard about Nambibia let alone care if it is misspelled?

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, Right

          “What about Panama?”

          Oh, please, give it a rest. What next? Tibet?

          Panama was a part of Columbia. It staged many a rebellion, and in 1903 it unilaterally-declared itself to be a state.

          The USA (who, no doubt about it, was behind all this) recognized that breakaway state a week later.

          Columbia refused to recognize that breakaway state until 1921.


          It wasn’t the USA’s recognition that “created” the state of Panama: the Panamanians did that themselves when they declared independence.

          Once that declaration was made then the only issue as far as the USA (or France, or the UK, or anyone else for that matter) was concerned was this: do we or do we not formally recognize that declaration?

          Yes? Or No?

          The only country that could claim that it could do anything more than that (i.e. to claim a right to stomp on Panamanian statehood) was Columbia, precisely because there was no question that Columbia was the existing sovereign against whom the Panamanians had just rebelled.

          And Columbia didn’t have the stomach for it.

          It grumbled and sulked, sure, at least until the USA coughed up a big enough bribe after which it accepted the fate accompli.

          But, again, you have nothing: Columbia was the existing sovereign, Panama staged a rebellion, and however much the Columbian govt grumbled eventually it recognized that declaration of independence.

          But (have I mentioned this before? I think I have) a successful rebellion against your existing sovereign is one of the time-honoured ways of gaining your own state. There is nothing wrong with it: provided, of course, that you win.

          But (again, did I mention this?) Israel is not the sovereign power. It is merely the occupying power.

          The issue is therefore quite different i.e. it is this:
          “when will you end your occupation?”, it is not this:
          “will you agree that I can cede from you?”

          “By the way do you really think that most regular white people even heard about Nambibia let alone care if it is misspelled?”

          Okaaaaaaaay. This is now the third time I’ve pointed out to you that you haven’t spelt it correctly.

          Yet you still keep spelling it incorrectly, even though you know that you are spelling it in error.


          Honestly, beyond bizarre.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Jason Kidd

      By the way, your history of Nambibia is incomplete. You missed the part about the mandate being taken away from SA prior to independence. Oops. Perhaps your tact is to bs people enough so they don’t fact check.

      And believe in shadowy, secret, nonexistent cabals of Jews the run the world is antisemitic. It’s not like you to bring up such things. I must have given you too,much credit; last time you were here you did not,resort,to,such cheap tricks or low blows and you focussed on facts only. I think you are somewhat retarded yourself.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        “By the way, your history of Nambibia is incomplete. You missed the part about the mandate being taken away from SA prior to independence.”

        No, I didn’t “miss” that part at all.

        It was not central to my argument, which is that the “right” that South Africa claimed to possess to have a say in Namibia’s statehood derived entirely from its role as a Mandatory Power (and, of course, its insistence that the UN did not have the authority to “take away” that mandate).


        Oops indeed, though I will now invite you to look in the mirror.

        Once the International Court of Justice decided that the UN had indeed stripped South Africa of its Mandate then Pretoria’s argument became untenable i.e. absent that Mandate then South Africa authority over that territory was nothing more – nor less – than that of an occupying power.

        And what “rights” does that status grant to South Africa?

        Ending its many-decades-long occupation of Namibia?
        Sure, South Africa had to agree to that, which it did very, very reluctantly.

        Namibia: is it a state or is it a territory?
        Nope, South Africa’s permission-slip was neither sought nor required, precisely because if sovereignty over this territory did not reside with South Africa (and it didn’t) then that wasn’t something that Pretoria had the “right” to either gift nor to withhold.

        This is axiomatic: South Africa did not have the “right” to decide upon the disposition of something that it don’t own.

        The same is true of Israel; it doesn’t “own” the West Bank, it has merely seized it at the point of a gun.

        QED: the disposition of that territory isn’t for Israel to decide, only its dispossession.

        This isn’t rocket science: if there is an existing sovereign then that sovereign has to agree to your statehood (“state succession”). But if there is no existing sovereign then the people who live in that stateless territory can decide for themselves (“self-determination”).

        They have. They decided that they are a state, and that state is called “Palestine”.

        Recognize that decision, or refuse to recognize it.
        But either way, you don’t actually get a vote in the decision itself.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jason Kidd

          “Recognize that decision, or refuse to recognize it.
          But either way, you don’t actually get a vote in the decision”

          If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

            And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the very dictionary-definition of gibberish.

            This is a land without a state, inhabited by a stateless people.

            You might want to think long and hard before arguing that there is anyone other than those stateless people who are entitled to decide the fate of that stateless territory.

            And if you want to quibble with that statement then I suggest you take your disagreement up with The Ghost Of Ben Gurion, who will most definitely beg to differ.

            The only people who have a right to decide the status of the West Bank are the Palestinians.

            Attempting the verbal equivalent of a loose bowel movement (“choose not to decide”) can’t hide that essential truth.

            Israel only gets to choose whether (or not) it will recognize the decision that they make i.e. Israel gets to choose if it will (or won’t) recognize that state.

            Nothing special in that: Israel had to “choose” to recognize the state of Peru (which it did) or the state of Jordan (ditto), just as it had to “choose” to recognize the state of Taiwan (err, no) or the state of Kosovo (again, nope).

            But either way, neither Peru nor Jordan nor Taiwan nor Kosovo ever claimed that Littl’ Ol’ Israel possesses a say over their statehood, nor did Israel claim that it possessed such a right.

            States don’t possess that right, unless they claim to be the sovereign of the territory upon which that statehood is declared.

            And (apart from East Jerusalem) Israel makes no claim to be the sovereign over any of the West Bank.

            It can’t make such a claim, because it knows perfectly well that such a claim is “null and void” under international law.

            Just as it knows perfectly well that what “claim” it does advance amounts to nothing more than extortion i.e. unless the Palestinians cede the settlements to Israel then the IDF will never, ever end this occupation.

            Israel, standover merchant.

            I know that’s not how you see Israel. But, so sorry, that’s the racket that Israel is running here, and has been since 1967.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “Israel, standover merchant.”

            Really? Ya mean like the allies were at the end of WW2 when they took German lands?

            Or like the Arabs were in their glory days when they robbed lands from all and sundry?

            And here I was thinking that all we are doing is taking back part of our ancestral homeland.

            What next? Will you be objecting if one day the Australian Aborigines decide to take some of their lands back from you guys, YR? Nah surely you wouldn’t object? After all you are a self professed anti colonialist, aren’t ya?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Why, gee, Gustav, I had no idea that Poland had flooded Germany with refugees at the end of a world war, and based on an ideology comprising one part Polish ethnicity and one part Catholicism and deriving from a complex history of Poles sharing parts of that land with others millennia ago and on and off since and then tried to claim as much of Germany as possible and in greater percentage than the proportion of Poles to Germans would justify and told themselves Germany was “a land without a people for a people without a land” and then when the Germans, not faultless themselves, reacted poorly and two wars broke out over all this the Poles got the better hand and proceeded along the way to take 78% of Germany and all of Berlin amidst what historians have identified as the “cleaning” of areas of indigenous Germans and then refused to be satisfied with that and engaged in 48 years of never ending grasping for the remaining 22% of Germany because god told them to while occupying all of Germany and establishing Polish settlements all over eastern and western Germany in defiance of several UN resolutions and much international law while ruthlessly suppressing the indigenous Germans with the backing of a massive superpower over which it had garnered remarkable influence and while pretending to negotiate but secretly operating according to a strategy of managing the conflict endlessly and maintaining the status quo as the least bad option for them while its legislature was increasingly filled with racist right wing Polish nationalists and while a Polish Breaking the Silence was providing alarming reports of the Poles’ behavior in the territories on behalf of the occupation. Ain’t that something. I just had no idea. Thanks for the revisionist history. One learns something new every day. Perhaps you could write a book….

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You can bluster all you like Benny but you cannot deny the facts.

            Germany lost the war and they were forced to give up German lands.

            As for your fairy tales about our land thefts, come down to earth. Our “settlements” are on a narrow corridor around the green lines. They represent about 10% of the WB and for the sake of peace, previous Israeli governments offered land swaps. But they said Nyet coz they don’t want a Jewish state on even one inch of land even within the green lines.

            In reality, one could argue that they never had sovereignity over a single inch of Palestine. They were just migrants and descendants of conquerors themselves. And since they did not want to divy up the land with us as per the UN vote, they were the ones to create a situation where it is a free for all. You can bet your sweet bippy that had they won the war, there would not be a single Jew left in Israel/Palestine.

            Reply to Comment
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