Opinion

US must rejoin international community by recognizing the state of Palestine

More than 100 nations around the world have recognized the state of Palestine. Why won't the United States? President Obama can redeem America's 'rogue' status by supporting Palestine's effort to join the United Nations later this year.

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On Jan. 7, Chile extended diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine as a free, independent, and sovereign state. This comes soon after the recent recognitions by Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. (In each of those cases, the state of Palestine was recognized explicitly within the full pre-1967 borders, encompassing all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.) Chile’s recognition brought to 109 the number of UN member states recognizing the state of Palestine, whose independence was proclaimed on Nov. 15, 1988.

While still under foreign belligerent occupation, the state of Palestine possesses all the customary international law criteria for sovereign statehood. No portion of its territory is recognized by any other country (other than Israel) as any other country’s sovereign territory, and, indeed, Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a small portion of its territory – expanded East Jerusalem – leaving sovereignty over the rest both literally and legally uncontested.

In this context, it is enlightening to consider the quality as well as the quantity of the states extending diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine.

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Of the world’s nine most populous states, eight (all except the United States) recognize the state of Palestine. Of the world’s 20 most populous states, 15 (all except the United States, Japan, Mexico, Germany, and Thailand) recognize the state of Palestine. Even eight EU member states recognize the state of Palestine.

The contrast with Kosovo

By contrast, the 73 UN member states that currently recognize the Republic of Kosovo as an independent state include only one of the nine most populous states (the United States) and only four of the 20 most populous states (the United States, Japan, Germany, and Turkey).

In July 2010, the International Court of Justice held that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law because international law is silent on the subject of the legality of declarations of independence. (This means that no declarations of independence violate international law and all are “legal," albeit subject to the political decisions of sovereign states to recognize or not the independence declared.) The United States responded by calling on all countries that had not already recognized Kosovo to do so promptly. Six months later, only four more have seen fit to do so – Honduras, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Qatar.

If the Arab League were now to call on the minority of UN member states that have not already recognized Palestine to do so promptly, it is certain that the response would be far superior (both in quantity and in quality) to the response to the recent American appeal on behalf of Kosovo. The Arab League should issue such a call for recognition.

States encompassing between 80 percent and 90 percent of the world’s population recognize the state of Palestine, while states encompassing only between 10 percent and 20 percent of the world’s population recognize the Republic of Kosovo. Notwithstanding this, the Western media (and, indeed, much of the non-Western media as well) act as though Kosovo’s independence were an accomplished fact, while Palestine’s independence is treated as an aspiration that can never be realized without Israeli-American consent. Furthermore, much of international public opinion (including, apparently, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) has, at least until recently, permitted itself to be brainwashed into thinking and acting accordingly.

As in most aspects of international relations, it is not the nature of the act (or crime) that matters, but, rather, who is doing it to whom. Palestine was conquered and is still occupied, 43 years later, by the military forces of Israel. What most of the world (including the UN and even five EU member states) still regards as the Serbian province of Kosovo was conquered and is still occupied, 11 years later, by the military forces of NATO. The American flag is flown there at least as widely as the Kosovo flag, and the capital, Pristina, boasts a Bill Clinton Boulevard and a larger-than-life-size statue of the former American president.

Might makes right, at least in the hearts and minds of the mighty, including most Western decision-makers and opinion-formers.

Meanwhile, as a perpetual “peace process” in the Middle East appears suddenly threatened by peaceful recourse to international law and international organizations, the US House of Representatives has adopted by a unanimous voice vote a resolution drafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) calling on President Obama not to recognize the state of Palestine and to veto any effort by Palestine to obtain UN membership.

Western politicians and the Western media customarily apply the term “international community” to the United States and whatever countries are willing to publicly support it on a given issue. They also apply the term “rogue state” to any country that actively resists Israeli-American global domination.

Slavish subservience to Israel

The United States has demonstrated a slavish subservience to Israel, as reflected yet again both in the absence of a single brave voice raised against this new House resolution and in the Obama administration’s recently rejected offer of a huge military and diplomatic bribe to Israel in reward for a mere 90-day suspension of its illegal settlement program. In so doing, the United States has effectively excluded itself from the true international community (properly redefined to refer to the great majority of mankind) and become a true rogue state, properly defined as one acting in consistent and flagrant contempt of both international law and fundamental human rights.

One must hope that the United States can still pull back from the abyss and recover its own independence, even if all signs currently point in the opposite direction. In fact, it may soon reach its moment of truth and have the opportunity to do so.

If Palestine, within its full pre-1967 borders, were a UN member state, not simply "the occupied territories," the end of the occupation and peace with some measure of justice, even if not imminent, would instantly become only a question of "when," no longer of "whether."

When, later this year, the state of Palestine applies for UN membership, Barack Obama must have the courage to assert his own country's independence and to permit it to rejoin the true international community by withholding the traditional American veto of any UN action opposed by Israel and by permitting the state of Palestine and the Palestinian people to assume their full and rightful places in the community of nations.

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck.” Versions of this essay have appeared elsewhere.

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