The coming Palestinian statehood

August 3, 2011

By Ian Bremmer
The opinons expressed are his own.


As violent protests rock the Arab world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government has tried to keep a low profile. It has largely succeeded. That’s about to change.

This year’s upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East is not quite finished. As President Saleh recovers from injuries suffered during an attack on Yemen’s presidential palace, the country remains plagued with protests and crackdowns. Libya’s Qaddafi clings to power, Syria’s Assad copes with surges of public anger, and Egypt’s zigzag path toward democracy reminds us how hard it is to fill the hole left behind by a castoff autocrat.

Israelis have watched closely from the sidelines to better understand what all this turmoil means for their future. As the dust begins to settle, it has become clear that they have plenty to worry about. Populism is taking root in the Middle East, a region where ordinary people have been forced for years to scream in unison to make themselves heard. Now they find that they have the power to bring about change. In response, Arab leaders—the newly elevated, those clinging to power, and even those simply facing a more uncertain future—are now listening to public opinion much more closely.

That’s bad news for Israel, because one of the most popular causes across the Middle East is a more genuine and vigorous defense of Palestinians. The Arab world’s uprisings have had virtually nothing to do with Israel. They are spontaneous expressions of public outrage that governments are corrupt, that average citizens have no power to do anything about it, that living standards aren’t rising, and that nothing ever changes. But the protests have now empowered large numbers of people who also want to see Israel face enormous political pressure.

They’re about to get their wish. In New York next month, Palestinians will seek UN recognition of statehood, and the General Assembly will likely vote to give it to them. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, is well aware that tides are moving in his favor. Not content with a symbolic declaration of his people’s right to form a state, Abbas has pledged to seek UN member status for the new state of Palestine. That’s almost certainly a bridge too far, but he most likely will win enough votes to move the Palestinian Authority from “non-member entity status” to “non-member state status.” The difference is important because, at the very least, it would give the PA greater standing at the UN and other international organizations. It’s also an important psychological achievement that will more deeply legitimize a Palestine state in the eyes of many nations.

America is Israel’s only reliable ally, but the White House wants no part of the UN theatrics. President Obama would welcome an opportunity to prove his commitment to support Israel, and he’ll make clear both Washington’s opposition to a General Assembly move and U.S. intent to veto in the Security Council any Palestinian effort to acquire full UN membership as a state. But he’d also like a chance to back the Arab world’s lunge toward self-determination. He won’t be able to support both sides in September, and he faces much more immediate challenges at home. Reviving the US economy, creating jobs, managing a draw-down of troops from Afghanistan while battling increasingly aggressive Republicans will leave the president with little extra time and political capital to spend on Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic fireworks.

The bad news for Israel is that Palestinians are aware of the limits on what they can get, and will likely focus their fight on the General Assembly, not the Security Council, where Obama wouldn’t cast America’s veto. Add the famously troubled relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, and Israel is about to look more isolated than ever.

This essay is based on a transcribed interview with Bremmer.

Photo: A woman holds a Palestinian flag during the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification soccer match between Thailand and the Palestinian Territories at A-Ram stadium near Jerusalem July 28, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman


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The USA was founded on the violent, nearly genocidal displacement of an indigenous people. Can there really be that much wonderment then of their support for Israel and the Zionists?

It is the historic role of the USA to support dictators and those that would suppress the freedoms of the indigenous citizens the globe over. Look to the plight of the Native American reserves for indisputable evidence. Look to Haiti and Africa. Look to Central and South America. Soon enough the Americans and their Zionist symbionts will exhaust themselves.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

What will be the status of Jeruselum after palestine acquires statehood.

Posted by reformer19 | Report as abusive

Stambo2001…. You can make a case for almost anything, including I suppose, that the USA is the greatest force for evil in the world and the Jewish people shouldn’t have a state of their own in their ancestral homeland. If you were to step back from whatever emotions behind your point of view though and look objectively, are you really being fair either to the USA or to Israel? Not only that, is all the heat and ill will going to make the world a better place? Is that the way forward for peace, understanding and justice? Or do you just prefer a good old rant?

Posted by trampas | Report as abusive

Why doe this article assume that this is about Israel
….. its about Palestine…its time for Israel to shut up
and listen

Posted by maltadefender | Report as abusive

This is very sad for Israel. It probably makes a pre-emptive strike on Iran more difficult, as it would become linked with popular Arab opinion.
Jewish religious philosophy incorporates the idea of Justice with Generosity. Israel should (do away with Gaza) and give the Palestinians and administration which includes the Occupied Land and adds a generous swathe to the north, preferably including a shoreline.
In short, the Holy land should be Palestinian across the north, near Lebanon, and Israeli to the south.
I am dreaming, of course.

Posted by eachtohisown | Report as abusive

As a 100% supporter of Israel, I believe the focus of discussion should be the empowerment of BOTH population groups.
The inbuilt philosophy of Islam superiority needs to be tempered with a pragmatic recognition of demographic and economic change, which Israel has seen blossom after the establishment of the State.
Recognition fine. Political rhetoric abounding. Please tell us how Abbas or anyone else will FUND the state. How will they provide infrastructure? Industry? Taxation policies?
Oh, and once they have a state, how many of the other under-attack administrations will support them? (They have not been stellar so far in 60+ years).
Oh, wait – Israel is there with an economic structure to help, and in return only wants security for their citizens.
Give me a break! Self determination, sure. Self-fueling economics, not so apparent.

Posted by AaronR | Report as abusive

It’s time for a Palestinian state. It’s time for Israel to stop stealing Palestinian land. Israel does not have any ‘right’ whatsoever to the West Bank. A ‘religious’ right has no weight, and should not, when it comes to reality. Religion, whether Judaism, Islam or Christianity, is simple mythology and has no place in the politics of the 21st Century.

Obama may not be able to support the Palestinian fight against the violent narcissism of Zionism, but I’m sure he’ll do what he can.

Posted by rebelgroove | Report as abusive

Benjamin Netanyahu seems to these days tries to persuade Palestinian leaders to refrain from action in the UN and to turn to bilateral negotiations. But it seems that the Israel effort futile – The Palestinians know what they want.

The important question – whether the forthcoming third intifada? If this is the case we can expect that the Arab leaders certainly support the Palestinians. In order to stabilized the situation in their countries.

Further, the U.S. does not seem to be able to assist Israel militarily in the event of war. Who then is left to help him?

The question that torments me all the time – whether the destabilization of Israel means to destabilize the whole world? As it would for example mean destabilization of Saudi Arabia?

Posted by milanr61 | Report as abusive

This offer is a trick which will suddenly disappear the day after the Palestinians retract their bid at the UN. The only path is for Palestine to negotiate from the position of nationhood.

Posted by rebelgroove | Report as abusive

Can’t we just butt out? It’s pretty obvious by now that our interference in their affairs only postpones the inevitable. Let the Israelis have their long overdue, if not misdirected, holocaust revenge. It is cruel to have it drawn out out over decades with gradual settlement encroachments. Let’s move aside so they can just get it over with quickly. (no cameras please)

Posted by changeling | Report as abusive

Palesinians can’t make peace amongst themselves so the idea of a unified state is a joke.

Posted by USAalltheway | Report as abusive

While we know this is all but a done deal — it’s the most destructive decision made to date by the UN and believe me they have a history of destructive decisions. To give the Palestinians ‘statehood’ recognition is to truly reward the terrorist state — then again did we expect anything different? No.

To those that believe that Israel needs to ‘get over it’ – I say to you, two words, ‘Never again’. While I am not shocked, I can assure you the situation gets worse the ‘peace process’ is over and you can be assured that the US (once we rid ourselves of Obama) will come down like a hammer against the so called Palestinian state. Enough of rewarding terror. End it.

Posted by RachelWells | Report as abusive

The World Trade center location was filled in and sits on top of what was once a harbor. Why not build a peninsula out into the Mediterranean and give it the Palestinians? They will have more land and beach front property.

Posted by Slammy | Report as abusive

Bremmer writes: “one of the most popular causes across the Middle East is a more genuine and vigorous defense of Palestinians”.

If this were true, the Palestinians would be warmly welcomed as equals in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and the other Arab countries. Instead, they live in squalid refugee camps, discriminated against by the locals, unable to obtain citizenship or jobs. The dirty little secret in the Middle East is that the Arabs care less for the Palestinians than do the Israelis. Kuwait expelled half a million of them following the Gulf War for their support of Saddam Hussein.

The other Arab tribes are only interested in the Palestinians to the extent that they can be put to use in the relentless effort to rid the region of Jews.

Posted by StevenFeldman | Report as abusive