What do Americans mean when they use the term Palestine?

The U.S. response to the efforts by Palestinian president to join international organizations is puzzling

Daoud Kuttab
Daoud Kuttab
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The U.S. response to the efforts by Palestinian president to join international organizations, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), is puzzling.

The spokeswoman of the U.S. State Department made an unusual attack in trying to express Washington’s opposition.

“The United States does not believe Palestine is a sovereign state and, therefore, does not qualify to be part of the International Criminal Court,” said Jan Psaki after the U.N. secretary general confirmed that Palestine’s application to the ICC has been officially accepted.

That Palestine is not a sovereign state is not disputed; that is exactly the problem which has been around for 47 years and which the latest U.N. Security Council resolution would have rectified, had it not been for the U.S. negative vote and unfair pressures on African countries.

It is very telling that the U.S., which says it is supporting the two-state solution, is all of a sudden opposed to civilized, non-violent legal actions

Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian president has stated clearly for some time that if the U.N. Security Council does not address this problem, the U.N.’s latest non-member state will join the Rome Statute which regulates the issue of the criminal court.

Treading carefully

Before the beginning of the Madrid Peace process that led to the Oslo Accords, Americans were careful not to use the term Palestine. James Baker, the U.S. secretary of state, instructed his staff to use the term Palestinians rather than refer to Palestine. But all this changed after Oslo.

U.S. officials held numerous meetings with Palestinian leaders ever since the famous White House handshake in 1993. In those meetings, a Palestinian flag is placed on the table along with the U.S. flag.

Nevertheless, it is very telling that the U.S., which says it is supporting the two-state solution, is all of a sudden opposed to civilized, non-violent legal actions.

But reopening the issue of whether Palestine is a state or not exposes the bipartisan position in support of Palestinian statehood.

Arab allies

When U.S. President George W Bush wanted to show his Arab allies that Washington was supporting Palestinian statehood, he publicly used the term Palestine, even though a sovereign Palestine did not exist.

Were the Americans (both Republicans and Democrats) serious about their support for the two-state solution or was it just lip service aimed at placating their Arab allies?

I can understand why the U.S. would be opposed to Palestine joining the ICC. The U.S. and Israel are not members of the ICC for a variety of reasons, among them worries that signing up to the Rome Statutes would open the possibility that their soldiers and military officers are tried for war crimes.

But by not joining the ICC, the U.S. has no legal standing, and, therefore, has lost its ability to influence who can join and who cannot.

America says it is for Palestinian statehood, but believes that this can best be done through bilateral rather than unilateral acts.

Washington was, therefore, instrumental in the most recent efforts to try and bring about such a result during a nine-month stretch that ended abruptly when the Israelis changed the rules of the game.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave a clear explanation of what happened and how the Israeli settlement actions and non-action on prisoner release blew up the talks.

Ending occupation

If the U.S. is serious about the two-state solution, it needs to do much more to help end occupation and support non-violent Palestinian actions in this direction.

If, however, the U.S. is not really interested in a Palestinian state becoming sovereign, then the world’s only superpower has a responsibility to the Palestinians and the world to articulate what it really believes and how to get there.

Palestinians said they planned to go back to the U.N. Security Council and again suggest a plan that allows for one year of negotiations and two further years for Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories it occupied some 47 years ago.

If Washington wants to continue using the word Palestine, it should vote in favor of this moderate and peaceful resolution. Otherwise, the U.S. should refrain from fooling Palestinians and the world by using the term Palestine while doing everything in its powers to stop Palestine from becoming a sovereign state.

This article was first published in the Jordan Times on February 5, 2015.


Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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