David Rothkopf

On Palestine: Sometimes accepting the glaringly obvious is the best strategy

One of the best reasons to recognize Palestine as an independent state is that it is an independent state. It has an independent government, its own institutions, a flag, a diplomatic corps, a people that seek and deserve independence and its own borders. Some of those borders are disputed but that’s the case with many ...

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

One of the best reasons to recognize Palestine as an independent state is that it is an independent state. It has an independent government, its own institutions, a flag, a diplomatic corps, a people that seek and deserve independence and its own borders. Some of those borders are disputed but that’s the case with many other states around the world.

This could be the reason that 126 U.N. member states already grant formal diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian state. Or to put it another way, this could be why fully three-quarters of the world’s countries, according to an analysis by the Britains’s Guardian newspaper, have concluded that Palestine has enough of the attributes of a state to be treated like one.

It is certainly no small obstacle that the Palestinian’s immediate neighbor with whom it shares most of those disputed borders, Israel, does not yet recognize it as a state. Having said that, Israel itself has managed to function pretty well for the past six or so decades and still today only 105 countries acknowledge its statehood.  

This is not to minimize the very real and vitally important issues associated with reaching agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians to assure their successful co-existence. Direct negotiations are the only way to achieve this. It is however, to say that on the one hand, the Palestinian statehood debate in the United Nations is a superfluous sideshow and on the other that opposing statehood should not have been made such a big deal by the United States and Israel because they appear deeply out-of-touch with reality.

Wouldn’t it have been much easier and smarter for the Israelis and the U.S. to embrace rather than fighting the obvious and to attempt to use that stance to advance negotiations rather than, as they have, take a strong stand against and indisputable reality and thus appear out of touch and on the wrong side of history while doing absolutely nothing to advance their own position or standing? Hasn’t this been especially damaging for the Israelis since in so doing, they have given the Palestinians greater leverage in the equation?

For President Obama, the position with regard to Palestinian statehood also undercuts the efforts of his administration to date to move the United States away from the tired old formulations of the past that have clearly not worked. From his Cairo speech onward there was a sense he could find a different approach, reposition the United States in a way that was both still supportive of Israel and that recognized both the shifts on the ground in the Middle East and America’s evolving interests in the region. But that sense is now gone or unrecognizably muddled by this stance on this fake issue.

Once again, the transformational Obama has been sold out by the political Obama. The fact that the President is unlikely to receive credit for his stance with Jewish voters might be seen as a bitter irony associated with the calculated shift. But it’s not. It’s a recognition that Jewish voters … like healthcare reform advocates and those hoping for a break from Washington business as usual and those seeking true financial services reform and those seeking economic policies that can produce growth for all segments of American society … are not suckers. They recognize when they are being played and pandered to and they distrust leaders whose most dependable trait is their willingness to shift their positions to suit their momentary political needs.

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