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.
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As H.L. Mencken might have observed, no one ever went broke underestimating the abilities of the current Israeli or Palestinian leadership. But in the competition for the region's top cluelessness prize, one has to give Bibi Netanyahu the edge. After all, he has done the near impossible and edged out Mahmoud Abbas.
That's no small feat. Over the weekend a keen, very experienced observer of the region who has what would be generally viewed as a pronounced a pro-Palestinian tilt to his views called Abbas, "hopelessly incompetent, corrupt and obsessed primarily with where his next dollar is coming from." As I noted, this was a supporter. He was struggling with why Abbas might seek to take his statehood resolution to the U.N. Security Council where it will certainly be vetoed rather than bring it to the U.N. General Assembly where he is equal assured of a resounding victory when the votes are tallied. Yes, the latter path grants only observer status, but the former grants nothing at all except the chance to give a few more indignant speeches.
My friend speculated on a few reasons. Foolishness was one. A second, not much more charitable, was that he wanted center stage, a last hurrah, that might propel him into his post-political life well. If it did and that also helped the overall cause by getting some supporters on the record and highlighting divisions among the great powers, all the better. It also might be that he recognizes that actually winning in the General Assembly might then shift the focus to the hollowness of his victory if it comes, as it will, for a nation without borders its most nearest neighbor will agree upon?
Whatever the outcome and whatever Abbas' motives however, he has done one thing that his Israeli counterpart and the wise foreign policy heads within The Quartet have been unable to do. He has taken the initiative and redefined the debate. He has attempted to break out of the box of negotiations that have been going nowhere for years and in so doing he has, for the moment anyway, got everyone else scurrying around reactively to his gambit.
He has been able to do this because he has recognized that global sentiment is now so squarely behind the idea of Palestinian state and so deeply frustrated not only with the stasis in the "peace process" but with the inflammatory and counter-productive Israeli settlements policy that old rules of conduct no longer applied. In the worst case, he will cast a bright light on how many major and emerging powers support a Palestinian state, how deep the support is around the world and, by doing so in a way that flies in the face of the desires of the traditional maestros of the peace process, that registers growing global frustration with their ineffectiveness.
This is at least, partially attuned to reality.
The same cannot be said of the Israeli response or the policies that got them to that place. This fact has been driven home in the past couple days by several developments. First and least, has been the steady drumbeat of states that have said they would support the Palestinians.
More importantly, you have the evidence that the strategic ground is shifting under Israel's feet and not to that country's advantage. Some of it can be found coming from Washington. Oh sure, the Obama Administration is actively trying to forestall the U.N. vote and demonstrate its support for Israel -- although interestingly, as the recent NY Congressional election suggested, they may not get much credit for whatever they do from voters who don't believe that Obama is, in his heart, truly supportive of Israel. But the big signal this week that Netanyahu ought to take into account actually comes from an unlikely place. It comes from the President's budget deficit cutting plan announced today.
In the plan, Obama produces big "savings" by winding down the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Admittedly, to my view, this is a bit like one's spouse producing "savings" by agreeing not to buy a new Bentley, but that's a subject for another day. The salient point is that this announcement is the latest sign of the end of America's "war on terror" and a foreign policy built around containing Islamic extremism. It means that for the second time in two decades, the bogeyman that made Israel strategically important to America is being relegated to dramatically less significant status. It also means that America itself is planning on playing a role in the region that is dramatically reduced compared to that of recent years-one that is likely to be constrained further once deficit hawks have their way with aid budgets.
The impact of these shifts has been compounded by the corresponding rise of the promise of moderate, democratic, more secular states in the region. The recent statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu concerning the desirability of developing a partnership between Turkey and Egypt should drive this message home to Israel and to all with interests in the region. While Davutoglu said "this will not be an axis against any other country", surely the Israelis were not comforted (nor, one hopes, were the Iranians). These two powers could, should such a relationship develop and their own internal evolution continue, become far more important to the U.S. in promoting its interests in the region than Israel ever could. That might well lead to some trade-offs and a shift in U.S. policies even were America not pulling back from the region (as it will, protests from the Administration and the Congress notwithstanding). But if we do pull back, these large regional powers will have more sway and suffice it to say, Israel's relationship with neither is improving.
So the situation on the ground includes the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the growing recognition that stability in the Middle East will turn more on the rise of moderates than it will on balance of power formulas of the past, the coming withdrawal and shifting priorities of the U.S., the rise of regional forces inclined to be more activist (like the Turks), the massive global support for the Palestinians...and Netanyahu and company are embracing policies as though it were June 1967.
They have managed to alienate their friends and make their otherwise feckless enemies look stronger. When simply accepting the Palestinians right to statehood would have given them the high ground and a better position to demand clear recognition of their own right to exist as a Jewish state in return, they have opted for an intemperate, unconstructive, anachronistic approach that has placed their country at greater risk than it has been at any time in roughly four decades. Inadvertently, Netanyahu is doing all he can to turn Abbas' swan song into his own.
Of course, that may not be such a bad thing when what the world and both countries need is new leaders who are more in tune with the new reality in the region and who see that the issue is less political than economic -- who both recognize that there is a deal to be done in which the world helps fund the transformation of Palestine into the economically thriving partner that Israel needs and should want at her borders and who are competent to bringing that deal to fruition. That's why the votes that will really matter re: Israeli and Palestinian peace will come not at the UN but at the ballot boxes in both countries...and hopefully they will come soon.
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A voice of reason and leadership has emerged in recent days among those addressing the economic crisis in Europe, currently the most urgent and dire challenge facing the international community.
Unlike in the past, that voice is not however, the president of the United States, who has remained strangely quiet on this subject despite its direct implications for virtually all of the core U.S. economic issues that are his stated top priorities. Nor is it that of his secretary of the treasury who, though more visible on this issue recently, has not instilled confidence with statements that have, for example, asserting that under no circumstances would European leaders let their institutions fail, even though that has been precisely what they have been doing for years now.
Instead, the new voice comes from rather unlikely roots -- a scandal-rocked organization whose future value to the international community had, in the not-so-distant past, been questioned and a prior post that can only be seen as a potential drag on her credibility.
That voice however, belongs to IMF chief Christine Lagarde, and it has been so direct and crystal clear, so unafraid and so thoughtful, that within mere weeks of assuming office she has quickly gained recognition as one of the most important of the world's leaders.
Take her most recent remarks on the euro crisis and its international implications. In the first instance, she has crisply and accurately warned that a "vicious circle is gaining momentum" that could not only upset european efforts at bailing out its weakest economies but that also poses a threat to the world's financial system and to many of its so-called strongest economies, such as those that are the engines of european growth and that of the United States. At the center of that vicious circle she placed "political dysfunction" that had produced what has amounted to policy paralysis and may have us on the verge of a "dangerous new phase" of this on-going economic calamity.
Further, even as Central Banks agreed to pump in more money to prop up faltering banks, she suggested more might be needed. "Balance sheet uncertainty" was the immediate culprit, she observed, noting it existed at the government, bank and household levels. She accurately cited this as the core risk we face but then, with wisdom greater than most European and American political leaders, noted that debt solutions should not be so severe that they undermine the equally crucial issue of growth in Western economies.
She specifically and directly assailed "fiscal austerity that chips away at social protections; perceptions of unfairness in Wall Street being given priority over Main Street; and legacies of growth in many countries that predominantly benefited the top echelons of society." One can only hope her remarks resonated with all her new neighbors in Washington.
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I think I am pregnant. It's not that I am putting on weight. It's the morning sickness.
Every day this week I have awakened and within minutes have been overwhelmed by nausea. Of course, I'm a bit past my prime child-bearing years. So, it might be something else. I'm pretty sure it's not something I ate. But it may well be things that I have read.
In fact, now that I think about it, what with being a middle-aged male and all, that's probably it. I'm suffering from news poisoning.
Daily newspapers ought to come with a warning label these days. "The Surgeon General has determined that reading the following newspaper could cause loss of appetite, mood swings, uncontrollable weeping, suicidal tendencies, rage, dizziness, chain-smoking, alcoholism, agoraphobia, uncontrollable nostalgia, and a strong impulse to live on a desert island."
Every day the relentless drumbeat of negative stories has seemed to grow more insistent, ominous, louder. Economic bad news in the United States, Europe, Japan, and the emerging world. Continuing instability in the Middle East. Violence in Syria. Qaddafi at large. Al Qaeda in Nigeria. Pipeline explosions in Kenya. Starvation. Disappearing ice caps. Futility in Afghanistan. Political dysfunction.
What's more, each day there are a handful of stories or opinion pieces that are so odious that they seem to challenge every bile duct in my body to act up and start my internal organs to churn.
For example, at the start of the week, in the New York Times, there was that op-ed by Turki al-Faisal titled "Veto a State, Lose an Ally." In it, the author, one of Saudi Arabia's most influential foreign-policy voices, demanded that the United States support Palestine's bid for statehood or else. Or else what? "If it does not," he wrote, "American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region. Moreover, Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has."
Gak. Blerg. There is so much in that to offend the digestion of even those, like myself, with both a strong constitution and a predisposition to support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state at the earliest reasonable moment. First, there is the snide assertion that U.S. "influence will decline further." In other words, you guys in America are already on the ropes; we know it and we will try to play it to our advantage. Next, there is the feigned concern for Israeli security. Then, there is the notion that somehow Iran will be empowered more by resisting the Palestinian state than by further elevating and empowering its clients like Hamas.
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One of the primary ways the attacks of September 11, 2001 were supposed to have changed the United States was by revealing to us our vulnerability within our own borders to terrorist attacks. But of course, we had seen many terrorist attacks before then.
We had seen them throughout American history -- shootings and hijackings and bombings. The destruction of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 remains an open wound today. The 1995 Bojinka plot of Ramzi Yousef and his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to blow up 12 airliners en route to the United States and possibly kill as many as 4,000 people was a contributing factor leading to a major heightening of airport security by the Clinton Administration a year later. The Oklahoma City bombing, also in 1995, is still regularly invoked as a sign of our vulnerability to domestic terrorists. Indeed, it was in 1995 that I first remember Richard Clarke, then a colleague in the Clinton Administration and a man who had been both prophetic and evangelical in his warnings of the al Qaeda threat, first describing to me what he sensed that threat to be.
Even just two years before 9/11 we went on high alert on the eve of the millennium, stopping a well-formed, multi-pronged terror threat aimed at our West Coast.
The 9/11 attacks were not even the first attack on the World Trade Center, that having taken place in 1993, also having involved Yousef, Mohammed and a half dozen or so others. In fact, several years before 9/11, I participated in a conference co-sponsored by the Naval War College that was entirely focused on terrorist threats on Wall Street. It took place on the top floor of the World Trade Center. Among those helping to support the event was Howard Lutnick, the chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald. Many of his team from the company attended the event which considered a variety of potential ways terrorists might target the U.S. financial community including bombings using trucks or aircraft. And a few years later, some of those from Cantor Fitzgerald who attended the event would die when their offices in the World Trade Center were consumed in the attacks we have spent much of the past few weeks commemorating.
The morning of Sept. 11, I was to have met with an admiral whose office was adjacent to the wing of the building that was destroyed. But at six o'clock the night before my office received a call saying that he would have to reschedule the meeting. I was pretty put-off. For almost 15 hours.
As a consequence of the postponement of that meeting, I was in my office on the morning of Sept. 11. I was on the phone with a friend who lived in Lower Manhattan a little before 9 a.m. Suddenly, he became agitated and said, "Oh my God, oh my God." I asked what was wrong and he described for me what he had just seen, a plane flying into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He suggested that I turn on the television in my office, which I did.
Soon after, I walked into the office next door which was occupied by my business partner at the time, former U.S. National Security Advisor Tony Lake. We were joined by another colleague, former Deputy CIA Director John Gannon. It was there that we saw the second plane hit the tower. At that moment, Tony said, "Al Qaeda" softly to himself. John nodded. It was, at that point, only a well-informed guess. But again, both men had been involved for most of the past decade in a growing effort to understand and contain the threat posed by al Qaeda and other similar groups.
Al Qaeda had officially "declared war" on the United States in 1996 and that the Clinton Administration, that had been tracking Bin Laden and his associates since almost its very first days had made him a principle target of its intelligence and counter-terror efforts years before 9/11. In 1998, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency had reported that al Qaeda was planning attacks on the United States and that personnel were being trained to hijack aircraft. In August of that year, our embassies in East Africa were attacked.
We went to lunch that day at an outdoor café near our offices, joined by another colleague, Susan Rice, today the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. I remember a meandering, vaguely surreal conversation touching upon what that day's events might mean and semi-deserted streets over which periodically could be heard jet fighters rushing overhead through the bright blue skies. There was a sense that threats which had been underestimated by many in Washington might now be taken more seriously, but even then there was also a sense that we would need to be careful to succumb to the temptation to over-reaction. As John Gannon would later often say, "the terrorists are not twelve feet tall," meaning that we should not succumb to the temptation to overstate the threat from them. And yet, of course, he was at the vanguard of those who also worked tirelessly to identify and contain the very real threats that existed.
As profound and horrifying a tragedy as it was therefore, 9/11 was not new but part of a pattern, not the beginning of a threat but in fact, one of the few instances in which the threat was realized by a small hate group with limited, sporadic capability to successfully follow-through on its grandiose, malevolent plans.
Nonetheless, due to the gravity of what happened a decade ago, we have had a tendency to set aside the historical context. It helped with the healing and indeed, it seemed respectful to those who were lost to frame the attacks as though they were something new, the act of a great enemy, a piece of a much grander struggle akin to past conflicts that took a high toll. I know when I think of those that were lost, personalizing it as we all do to the stories closest to us -- the kid who grew up across the street from me who was killed in Tower Two or my tennis partner whose sister in law was a flight attendant on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon -- there is some comfort from such an approach.
But comfort aside -- and it's no small thing, comfort, in the face of such grief -- the view is wrong. 9/11 was one of the few realized plots of a small band of outcast criminals. Such plots and such groups will always exist and we are within our rights and indeed, it is our responsibility to civilization, to eradicate such groups and take all reasonable steps to minimize such threats. But it does no one any good to overstate the risks and indeed, as we have seen, it has done us great damage to do so ... even as it has done service to the goals of al Qaeda and other radical extremists.
A decade later the attack has changed us because it touched us and altered irrevocably millions of lives here and across the Middle East. But if you look at the great issues before the United States in 2011, terror is no greater a threat nor any greater an issue today than it was throughout the 1990s. It is important, but our great challenges are the reinvention of our economy, the education of our children, the protection of our environment, the rise of new great powers and a rapidly changing global order, and the implications of participating in an interconnected, risk-filled, under-regulated, untransparent global economy.
9/11 was a heartbreaking event, an important chapter, but it was neither a beginning nor an end, not redefining nor an appropriate lodestar for future policies. As a consequence, tributes having been appropriately paid, memories having been rekindled, it is time to realize that the biggest threat posed that day comes from misunderstanding it and that the best way to contain the risks posed by the men who orchestrated it is to put them and their actions in the right historical context.
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President Obama's jobs speech was only a start and a late one at that. But let's not quibble. At its core, the most important address the president has delivered in months was heartily encouraging.
First and foremost, the president, for whom aloofness and diffidence seemingly come almost reflexively, was clearly engaged. More than that, he was passionate. More than that, he himself promised that the speech was only the beginning, that he was going to take his message to every corner of the country.
An energized and articulate president will take to the bully pulpit and seek to actually lead the people. He will not cede the debate about the role and size of government to those who perversely think the only way you can get government to help more is by having it do less. He will underscore where government can help and go to the people who need the assistance and ask them to do their part to be heard, to let Washington know that in a time of crisis like this they want and indeed expect an activist government.
Further, the president is suggesting he will no longer be a passive player in the economic debate. No more rope-a-dope. He has put together a package that while much too small was bigger than expected. He has done it with an eye toward balance and reason that should win bi-partisan support for some of its elements. And he has pledged to push for it until it or something like it gets passed.
While vague, it contained useful elements. The tax cuts, the elements most likely to pass, will be welcomed by workers and small business owners. The infrastructure bank is an important idea that we can only hope actually grows between the time the president submits his formal recommendations and the Congress offers a bill to sign. It too has bi-partisan support and should pass. It's only the tip of the iceberg, of course. The United States should be investing vastly more in infrastructure ... not just to get out of this crisis but to restore our competitiveness. We should be talking ultimately about hundreds of billions on that alone. More. A new national commitment to having the world's best roads, airports, ports, bridges, IT and energy infrastructure, a program of redevelopment that should last a decade or more.
Should the trade deals pass? Of course. They are mostly symbolic but symbols are important too. The president should submit the deals to the Hill as soon as he can.
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So the president, on the ropes in the polls, is going to take to speak to a joint session of Congress about the most important issue confronting the nation ... the economy. So who does the White House offer up to support and elaborate upon and spin his message? Why the White House, of course. Not a cabinet member in sight.
According to Politico's Mike Allen, the political brain trust around the president can think of no one better to drive their message home than themselves. We will get Bill Daley, Jay Carney, Valerie Jarrett, Dan Pfeiffer, Melody Barnes, and maybe a soupçon of one actual economic policy advisor, albeit one from within the White House, Gene Sperling. The treasury secretary? The labor secretary ... given that it is a jobs speech? Whoever is running Commerce (at last check, that would be the acting deputy secretary)? The sub cabinet? Nowhere to be seen.
At this moment of great challenge, it appears the White House is circling the wagons ... in a way that is keeping out, failing to utilize and undermining the standing of the rest of its team.
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You have to give George W. Bush and Dick Cheney credit. While the two wars they unleashed on the Middle East have not brought stability to either Iraq or Afghanistan, they have managed to pacify one group of extremists. Last night's Republican Party presidential debate was notable for the fact that a decade after 9/11, the would be successors to the Bush-Cheney legacy seemed to have very little appetite for the kind of military adventurism for which their party had become known during the first years of this century.
In fact, the rest of the world should sit up and take notice that on the eve of an anniversary that still resonates deeply with all Americans and with U.S. troops still on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the "war on terror" was one recent Republican favorite that effectively did not show up at the Reagan Library for last night's gabfest. Neither did "with us or against us" unilateralism or even much militaristic jingoism -- except when the conversation turned to the needs for "boots on the ground" to keep Mexicans out of the United States.
Jon Huntsman, who effectively committed political suicide by being thoughtful, intelligent, adult, and constructive throughout the debate, made a reference to America's "shattered innocence" in the wake of 9/11 (quite a concept after two centuries that included slavery, the genocidal slaughter of native Americans, a civil war that was the bloodiest the world had ever seen until that moment, two world wars, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Japanese internment camps, the Ku Klux Klan, the Oklahoma City bombings, and countless other events of similar character). He also rather boldly spoke common sense when he said it was time the U.S. was out of Afghanistan. And there were other murmurs on similar subjects from sideshow characters like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum who collectively have less chance of ending up the Republican nominee than did the event's moderators.
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.