In Defense of Palestinian Pseudo-Statehood

The UN is set to decide on whether to give Palestine non-member observer status at the UN and it looks like the request will be approved. This is a far cry from full blown statehood, but a step in the right direction.

The US, Britain and Israel, of course, oppose the measure. The United States plays a difficult balancing game with Israel, one of the US’s largest investors, and certainly, convinced it knows best, enjoys guiding the conversation. However, the strategy of bullish America unilaterally providing solutions to the world’s problems is becoming ever more difficult to implement.

Recognition by the UN for Palestinian sovereignty would be vastly beneficial to both the United States and Israel and here’s why:

1. Israel’s repressive system of apartheid presents a deep moral challenge for democratic bastions like the United States (not that we haven’t had apartheid). Though the Americans happily bury their head in the sand when it comes to this reality, it is deeply difficult to have conversations on global human rights, when Gazan kids are deprived of a future. Palestinian statehood, even if only recognized symbolically, would at least begin to soften this deep moral dilemma.

2. Israel suffers as a result of Palestine’s continued marginalization. It may be difficult for them to admit, but it’s true. Like South Africa’s apartheid government, Israel stands to lose a lot through the continued repression of the Palestinian people. It spends vast sums of money and energy repressing Palestine that could be better used for economic development and wild things like schools and health care. Partnerships can be mutually beneficial. Worse yet, Israel suffers as a religious state. Judaism was not built on the violent suppression of enemies.

3. Equals can have conversations based on mutual respect. Equals have the ability to compromise. Though, Palestine and the Israel/British/US alliance will hardly ever be equals on the strict sense of the word, a recognition of Palestinian independence by the other countries in the UN would put the full force of nearly 90% of humanity behind them. Palestine is a tiny swath of land with a tiny population, but with the world behind them, they are the most populace place on the planet. If strength comes in numbers, then the powers that be will have little choice but to listen.

4. Strong adversaries sometimes become great friends. Nowhere is this more apparent than in China/US relations. Though the two powers have deep differences, the truth is that they have much to offer one another, and much to lose if things go wrong. This was the rationale in building up former enemies such as Japan and Germany post World War II.

The Americans should know that the balance of power and the guarantee of the a political voice are stabilizing factors. In fact, they should know this better than anyone. The empowerment of the weak is a key tenet of the American Constitution. No where is this more apparent than the First Amendment, which guaranteed a political voice, and the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which sought to take away the state’s monopoly on violence by guaranteeing citizens the right to fight back, if necessary.** Notice that India and Pakistan, being able to obliterate each other, are much more likely to work out their differences than before they had nuclear weapons (though I’m not recommending increased nuclear proliferation).

5. The arguments for even small steps toward Palestinian statehood are even more apparent when one notes the long impasse between the US and weak and marginalized states like North Korea and Iran. Suppressing these states does the world no favors. Unfortunately, like Gaza, the only bargaining chip these states have is the potential to commit random and unpredictable violence. Fully engaging with them might temper the necessity for killing people.

In short, granting Palestinian pseudo-statehood in the UN is a step in the right direction, no matter how small. I have the feeling that some within the US Government, and even Israel, might agree. A full return to the 1967 borders with a shared Jerusalem and freedom of movement would, or course, be preferable, but we’ll take what we can get, a little bit at a time.

** Of course, the founding fathers had no appreciation for how far and how fast military technology would grow, nor of the US’s impending social problems. For the record, I am pro tight regulations on weapons, but this essential philosophy behind the Second Amendment as a guarantee of democratic principles can’t be ignored. Liberals, of course, never get this. I’m no conservative, but I do understand their rationale, sometimes.

The balance of power and insured peace through the mutual and equal potential to hurt one another is, of course, the root of libertarian arguments for increased gun ownership. It’s interesting that we don’t apply the same principles when talking about poor countries.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

7 responses to “In Defense of Palestinian Pseudo-Statehood”

  1. Jason Voss says :

    I totally agree with everything you are saying, except that according to the Torah, Judaism was in fact built on the violent suppression of enemies.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    I recognize that my knowledge of the Torah is limited. Enlighten me. I’m not being snide at all. I’m sincerely interested, here.

  3. Jason Voss says :

    Numbers chapter 31 describing the genocide of the Midianites is what immediately comes to mind.

    “Moses said to them, ‘Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

    I am being a little snide and don’t really think that is line is particularly relevant and I certainly don’t consider Judaism historically more violent than those other two Abrahamic religions.

  4. Pete Larson says :

    Point taken though, as you admit, Judaism is no more or less violent that any other the Abrahamic religions.

    The point was that Israel, assuming it adhere’s to a current, milder interpretation of the Talmud, has much to lose by violently repressing Palestine. Certainly, the worst of Israeli hardliners take a much more conservative view of Israel in the context of Judaism.

    I think it is relevant (though as I look at it now, I think it’s poorly worded). As an example, the Taliban doesn’t do Islam any favors nor did the Crusades do anything to further Christianity.

    To be clear, though, I find all three of the Abrahamic religions detestable (for a variety of reasons) but that’s a personal view.

  5. Jason Voss says :

    Sorry, I meant that my old testament reference was not particularly relevant to the present situation. But I suppose that it is similar in that like the instructions to murder children and women in Numbers, modern-day Israel’s unquestionable right to Judea supposedly comes directly from the G-O-D. I completely agree that Judaism suffers from the reprehensible actions of the Israeli military in Gaza. Likewise Islam suffers from the rocket launchers and Christianity from the completely insane eschatological fundamentalists that see Israel-Palestine relations as a means to hasten the reappearance of Jesus.

    I don’t detest any of them as religions. The religions are getting scapegoated for conflicts and powers that have very little to do with religion (in my opinion).

  6. Pete Larson says :


    I do find them detestable (for reasons that have nothing to do with modern day politics) but that’s another discussion.

  7. Jeff Nguyen says :

    In America, the indigenous people were granted non-member observer status also and were generously granted reservations to live on. One day they too will be given full member of the human race status.

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