Believe it or not, Palestinian Statehood is now in the US interest

Mahmoud Abdou Middle East/North Africa

For nearly 25 years, the U.S. has endorsed the land-for-peace formula and the two-state solution as the only practical resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But as the region undergoes seismic changes as a result of the Arab Spring, and in particular, the Syrian Civil War, the United States is now in a position where, to protect its interests, it must act firmly and decisively to support the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders of Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

1967 Borders and 2011 Borders

When the Peace Process collapsed and the Palestinians subsequently began to pursue international recognition as a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the US Administration sought to scupper these efforts and applied punitive economic measures against the Palestinians and any international organization that granted them full-membership as a State, including the likes of UNESCO. At the same time, the US turned a blind eye to the flagrant violations of international law by Israel in its implementation of settlement-building policies on Palestinian land, as well as Israeli treatment of Palestinians in general. In essence, by opposing Palestinian efforts at state-recognition, the US administration deviated from its commitment to multilateralism and the settlement of international disputes through the different avenues granted by the United Nations. It is worth mentioning here that 140 UN member states have already recognized Palestine as an independent state.

However, over time, the US has found its influence in the Middle East waning. The Middle East Peace Process, the original access point for US presence in the region, has been undermined as a result of US inaction in preventing Israeli expansion. Moreover, the Iraq project has failed miserably with the country practically becoming an extension of Iranian influence and the war in Syria has not only strengthened Iran, but empowered Russia and given the latter the perfect opportunity to re-emerge as a dominant player in the region after attempts at isolating it following events in Ukraine. Moreover, the US is at risk of losing its Gulf allies who have already sought to sound out other superpowers, including Russia.

As a result, now more than ever before, supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank is in the U.S. best interests. Doing so would once again restore the hope and optimism that seized the region following Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009. Doing so would sway the Arabs once more, embolden resistance to Iranian influence that has been a key driving factor behind the chaos in Iraq and Syria, and intercept any opportunity for Russia to once again become a dominant regional player. Moreover, providing a window for a Palestinian state and curbing Israeli expansions would also damage the ISIS recruitment process who often play on sympathies to the Palestinian cause in their propaganda.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian authority

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian authority

While the European Union has already adopted measures in a bid to put pressure on Israel through boycotting settlement goods and stating that it will not be “held complicit in the situation created by the internationally wrongful act” of building settlements on Palestinian land, the U.S. has paradoxically chosen to reward Israel with a generous package of economic and military aid. This grotesque support of Israeli policies is damaging and is contributing to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the nucleus of any future Palestinian state, which in essence would mean the collapse of the two-state solution.

Applying pressure is even more paramount as a result of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu already making it clear to the international community that it will not cease construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In fact, Netanyahu built his last election campaign almost entirely on a pledge to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in any shape of form. Rewarding such a government can do nothing but further damage the Peace Process.

Pro-Israel U.S. special interest groups have succeeded in convincing the last three U.S. Administrations that Israel’s interest in building settlements on Palestinian land accords with US national interests. However, the tables are turning in the region and the Palestinians now find themselves in an unusual position whereby their bid for statehood coincides in realpolitik terms with US interests in the region. Vladimir Putin has recently mentioned taking firm and economic measures in support of Palestinian statehood which is likely to give him a marked boost in popularity, even in light of his actions in Syria, and this is something the US will seek to prevent at all costs.

netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu built his last election campaign on a promise to prevent any form of a Palestinian state from emerging

The US still has time to prevent such a situation. By using its political and economic leverage, the US is capable of applying pressure on Israel to cease constructing settlements and uphold international law. The U.S. has been the leader of the liberal world and its call for the protection of human rights, human dignity, and international law. It will continue to be such a leader in the Middle East only if the Palestinians are given their independence. The next U.S. administration will need to demonstrate that it has learnt from over 25 years of failed U.S. diplomacy in the region. This however will not be possible under the Islamophobe and foreign-policy illiterate Donald Trump, nor under the inconsistent track record of Hillary Clinton. The only U.S. presidential candidate that is seemingly capable of re-calibrating the U.S. moral compass in relation to Israel, or at least has demonstrated an intention to, is a candidate who has a moral compass of his own: Bernie Sanders.

The time has come for the US to support Palestinian statehood. Whether it likes it or not, it is now in its interests to do so.

 

All views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the International Interest.

 

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Mahmoud M.A. Abdou was born in Gaza Strip, Palestine. He holds a BA in Political Science from Middlebury College in Vermont, USA, a MA in American Studies from Heidelberg University in Germany, a MA in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica, and a MSc in International Relations from the LSE. He has published a book on the Middle East Peace Process and U.S. Special Interest Groups as well as a number of academic articles and book chapters on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian domestic politics, Turkey, Egypt and international human rights law.