Horseshoes, hand grenades, atom bombs … and Palestinian independence?

When I was a kid, I had a dorky friend who had a macho cliché for every occasion. It didn’t help his image a bit and it left me with a load of random phraseology floating around in my brain that, if uttered, is guaranteed to make you sound like an awkward, overweight thirteen year-old ...

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images
HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images
HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

When I was a kid, I had a dorky friend who had a macho cliché for every occasion. It didn't help his image a bit and it left me with a load of random phraseology floating around in my brain that, if uttered, is guaranteed to make you sound like an awkward, overweight thirteen year-old with your pants pulled up to your incipient man-boobs

When I was a kid, I had a dorky friend who had a macho cliché for every occasion. It didn’t help his image a bit and it left me with a load of random phraseology floating around in my brain that, if uttered, is guaranteed to make you sound like an awkward, overweight thirteen year-old with your pants pulled up to your incipient man-boobs

One such phrase was invariably uttered whenever someone almost achieved something but fell a little short. He would say, ponderously, "’Almost’ only counts in horse shoes, hand grenades, and atom bombs." It certainly didn’t enhance the guy’s popularity and I’m pretty sure he grew up to be the main character in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground; that or a leading figure in the tea party movement.

In any event, I was thinking about this phrase the other day in light of the on-going concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Because indeed, as President Obama acknowledged in a recent interview with the New York Times‘s David Sanger, were Iran to become "nuclear capable" it would effectively be the same as actually having produced a weapon. Capability is the line you don’t want a proliferator to cross … and were Iran to nudge across that line, it would likely set in motion a wide ranging chain of events that would almost certainly include: heavy incoming rhetorical fireworks, strategic backtracking by countries who resisted sanctions, tactical consternation from the Israelis as they recognize the world is going to do precious little to address what they see as a critical threat and a full scale diplomatic assault from the United States, designed to shape the alliances that will form the containment network/nuclear umbrella club that will be our post-nuclear Iran "strategy." 

However, in recent conversations concerning this possible shift in the situation in the Middle East with diplomats from several countries in Asia, the greater Middle East, and Latin America, another perceived consequence emerged: There was a universal sense that Israel is becoming more isolated and the United States is becoming more dependent for its regional strategy on Arab states. Further, as a result of the likely demands those states will make for action by the United States to help move the Israelis along toward a resolution of their conflict with the Palestinians … and the perception that Obama must make a move in the Muslim world to fulfill the now questioned promise of his Cairo speech … and due to the view that Israel is more isolated than ever in terms of international support (or lack thereof) … there was a sense that the evolving situation is having the added effect of emboldening the Palestinians.

The predicted result offered up in three separate conversations: that the Palestinians will declare independence unilaterally. (I’m not recommending this approach — just reporting what they said.) And, in the words of one diplomat who is in regular contact with the Palestinians, "much sooner than you might think." 

It seems plausible. They have been making noises in this vein for a couple years and the volume has been dialed up recently. And the theory among these close observers of the situation is that right now, perhaps more than at any time in recent history, the likelihood of much global pushback seems low.  

And frankly, reason even some mainstream American foreign policy specialists with whom I discussed this, why not? Edging up to the point of doing this is very nearly the same as having done it — waters have been tested, tides have shifted increasingly in their favor. (The Palestinians seem to be using the same technique White Houses use when they float the names of Supreme Court candidates for a few days to see if anyone attacks.)

If there is support and the likelihood of meaningful pushback from anyone other than the Israelis and the United States seems low, why not proceed? The reality is that the vast majority of the world sees this as the Palestinians’ right and doesn’t care much that the closest recent brushes with a deal on this front involved Israeli concessions and Palestinian intransigence. Some see such a move as a way to move beyond process and to compress and focus negotiations. 

Might this just be one of those diplo-rumors du jour? Yes. If it’s real could it backfire? Sure … in fact, it could lead to a flare up with Israel at precisely the worst moment for U.S. and Israeli concerns about Iran. But one would have to believe that there were Palestinian connections to Iranians to see that as something more than a coincidence.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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