The United States’ foreign policy needs an identity. We supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and would like to see changes in Yemen, Syria, Iran and many other countries around the world. Yet we still refuse acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to have a country of their own.
How can the U.S. keep a straight face when it preaches the ideals of freedom and democracy and encourages rebellions in countries it doesn’t particularly like while ignoring the pleas of Palestinians to have freedom and democracy?
I have probably researched, read and written more on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than any other University of South Dakota student. I have studied in the Middle East, taken classes from Palestinian professors and visited a Palestinian refugee camp funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. My experiences have shaped my opinions on this volatile subject.
On Oct. 31, 2011, Congress made a poor foreign-relations decision by pulling aid to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for daring to suggest that Palestine should have state status. The vote wasn’t even close, with 107 in favor, 14 opposed and 52 abstaining.
What is UNESCO? According to its mission statement, it “promotes peace, justice, equity, poverty alleviation, and greater social cohesion. The Centre contributes to increased opportunities for productive work, sustainable livelihoods, personal empowerment and socio-economic development, especially for youth, girls, women and the disadvantaged.”
The U.S. pulled its funding for UNESCO for doing exactly what its mission statement says. Upon hearing this, I could no longer abstain from writing on the matter of Palestinian statehood.
While U.S. law prohibits giving funds to the U.N. or any U.N. agency that grants the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) the same standing as member states, I don’t think the UNESCO vote does so. The vote was not for the PLO — it was for Palestinian membership in UNESCO. The U.S. has never so clearly been on the wrong side of an international relations debate.
I like to call this the $108 billion problem. According to the Congressional Research Service, $108 billion is the amount of aid the U.S. has given Israel since 1949. No other country has received the amount of aid from the U.S. that Israel has. The U.S. has been behind Israel so long that the U.S. can no longer see around it. Whatever Israel says or does, the U.S. blindly follows.
Israel insists that any formal recognition of Palestine undermines the negotiation process. It remains the official U.S. position that no independent state of Palestine can exist without negotiations between Israel and Palestine. I contend that being disingenuous in negotiations renders the entire process useless.
In order for any negotiation to be successful, sides must be willing to compromise on issues. The problem for Israel and Palestine has always been the inability to compromise on issues they both consider central to their identities. Moreover, Israel already controls much of what occurs inside the West Bank and Gaza, so it behooves them to maintain the status quo.
The only way the U.S. and Israel will recognize a Palestinian state is if the rest of the world shoves it down their throats. If Palestine and Israel both have state status, then they might actually be able to start negotiating for real.
The negotiation shouldn’t be whether Palestine should be a state — it should be how Israel and Palestine will reconcile the issues with the border, water rights, Jerusalem, settlements, reparations and the right of return for displaced Palestinians. It’s just like when Congress was debating raising the debt ceiling when it needed to be debating how to pay for the operation of the government. It’s the wrong debate.
The U.S. continues to preach the principles of freedom and democracy while aiding Israel in denying the most basic rights to millions of Palestinians, and the U.S. does so this time by removing 22 percent of UNESCO’s total budget.
The U.S. is punishing an organization that brings education to people and helps preserve cultural heritage sites just because it agreed Palestine should enjoy those benefits.
Reach columnist John Hines at