By Jeremy Ritter-Wiseman, Contributing Writer It is time for the United States to recognize a Palestinian state. The deadly summer conflict in Gaza, which killed nearly 2200 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis, highlights the urgent need to resume negotiations in hopes of achieving a comprehensive solution. To achieve this however, both sides need to be equally recognized and legitimized. How can the U.S. hope to negotiate a “two-state solution,” when it only recognizes the sovereignty of one of the proposed states?
In international law, state sovereignty is largely determined by four prerequisites agreed to by signatories at the Montevideo Convention in 1933. Signed by the U.S., the Convention stipulates that to achieve statehood, a proposed country must have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the ability to enter into diplomatic relations with other countries. Palestine certainly fulfills the first two requirements. Even the CIA World Factbook has exact numbers for the populations of Gaza and the West Bank, and most of the world recognizes established Palestinian borders, hence the outcry following each set of new Israel settlements built within those borders. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority unquestionably exhibits a legitimate parliamentary government that holds elections and has demonstrated the ability to enter into diplomatic relations with other sovereign nations, having established embassies and missions worldwide. If Montevideo is the precedent, there should be no reason Palestinian sovereignty should not be legitimated.
Standing in the way of wholesale recognition of the State of Palestine is most of the Western world. Recently though, there have been movements towards Western recognition of Palestine. Last month Sweden became the third country in Western Europe (next to Malta and Cyprus) to recognize Palestine after the Prime Minister was moved to action by the conflict in Gaza over the summer. The formal recognition followed remarks made by newly elected PM, Stefan Lofven in his inaugural address, in which he noted that any two-state solution “requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence.” Added, a symbolic vote was recently cast in the British House of Commons on whether to recognize a Palestinian state. Following debate, 274 MPs voted for recognition while a mere 12 voted against. Although the vote was purely symbolic and therefore non-binding, it represents growing support for Palestinian statehood among Westerners and increasing resentment towards Israel’s brutal tactics in Gaza and ongoing occupation of the West Bank; Chairman of the U.K.’s select committee on foreign affairs Sir Richard Ottaway lamented that the last straw for him was Israel’s recent September annexation of 950 acres in the Etzion Bloc of the West Bank.
Despite these recent advancements, the U.S. unwaveringly remains Israel’s most crucial ally. Although relations became somewhat strained during the summer conflict, the U.S.’s promised $3.1 billion dollars in annual military aid to Israel is consistently renewed. This near unconditional support proves problematic when trying to mediate negotiations.
The U.S. provides foreign aid in form of economic assistance for the Palestinian government too, although it is highly conditional. The conditions on Palestinian aid reflect the U.S.’s obstinate position towards Palestinian statehood and its consequential inability to be an impartial mediator. For instance, the Senate draft version of appropriations for State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs for fiscal year 2015 stipulates that no “Economic Support Funds” be released to the Palestinian government, if the Palestinians “obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations,” or initiate a International Criminal Court-sanctioned or any other authorized investigation “that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.” How can the U.S. expect respect as a mediator when it has foreign aid laws that wholly discourage Palestinians from pursuing justice or gaining international legitimacy? The UN has already moved to recognize Palestine’s sovereignty by upgrading its UN status from “non-member” to “observer,” and there have been legitimate claims that Israel is guilty of war crimes and should be subjected to international investigation and prosecution. To deny aid based on the perusal of these national rights is unethical and undoubtedly affects the ability of the U.S. to be an unbiased arbiter in any negotiations.
Moreover, whether it is due to a sincere passion to unconditionally support the state of Israel, or whether it is at least partially due to the undeniably influential Israel lobby in D.C., Congress continues to unyieldingly support Israel and is thus utterly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Therefore it would be naïve to expect the U.S. to recognize a Palestinian state anytime in the near future. Nevertheless, progress can be made in reforming biased laws like those in the appropriations bills, especially if the U.S. retains any hope in being the primary mediator in negotiations.
The U.S. needs to play a more prominent role in holding Israel accountable. Shelling of UN schools, continued settlements that violate international law, and collective punishment that goes against the Geneva Conventions, must all be condemned by the U.S. Further, aid to Israel must be used as leverage, instead of providing an annual allowance with no strings attached and that is void of any accountability or oversight. Lastly, the U.S. must begin to respect the notion of a Palestinian state that has more than legitimate claims to sovereignty, and thus the right to pursue justice in the International Criminal Court. Negotiations thus far have been depressingly fruitless. If the U.S. is to mediate a resolution, it must become impartial and recognize the mutual sovereignty of both countries. Otherwise, a peaceful two-state solution will be improbable, and conflicts like this summer’s will only continue.