The United States could energize the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations - presently on hold - by recognizing Palestine formally as a state and establishing full diplomatic relations with it.
The United States cannot pretend to be impartial between the two parties it is trying to bring together when it relegates one of them to a second-class status. The Obama administration portrays itself as an "honest broker" between Israel and Palestine, but withholding formal recognition from Palestine forces Palestine to contest with Israel with one arm behind its back.
In recent months the Palestinian government has been on a diplomatic offensive, seeking recognition from states that so far have not accorded it. With recognitions in recent weeks by Brazil and Argentina, some 105 states now formally recognize Palestine at the diplomatic level.
The Palestinian push for diplomatic recognition and diplomatic relations is not new. Many states recognized Palestine after the Palestinian declaration of statehood and independence of 1988.
The United States acknowledges Palestine's entitlement to its territory, so it actually deals with Palestine in a practical sense as a state. Palestine has a mission office in Washington, which the United States raised last summer to the status of a "general delegation." That means relations are just short of full diplomatic relations. It would be but a small step to establish full diplomatic relations.
One reason diplomatic recognition is important just now is that Israel claims to hold a veto over Palestine's statehood. Israel says that one of the items to be negotiated in the on-again off-again bilateral talks is whether Palestine is a state.
In other words, there will be no Palestine state unless and until the Palestinian side agrees to terms for an overall resolution that are acceptable to Israel. Israel hopes to extract concessions in return for putting its imprimatur on the Palestine state. When the Palestinian National Authority refers to Palestine as a state, as it routinely does, Israel claims that the Palestinian side is violating the terms of their negotiations.
Israel's position that Palestine statehood is to be negotiated is inaccurate. The negotiations are conducted under a 1993 Israel-Palestine agreement signed at the White House. The 1993 agreement specifies the issues to be negotiated.
Statehood is not one of them. The two states are to fix a border between them, leading to an Israeli withdrawal from the territory of Palestine. There remain difficult issues to be resolved en route to an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Palestine's statehood is not one of them.
As the Palestinian National Authority holds, Palestine has been a state for nearly a century. Until World War I, Palestine was part of the Arab territories of the Turkish empire. After Turkey lost that war, it relinquished those territories.
The 1923 peace treaty specified that the Arab territories were established as states, and they were placed on a temporary basis under the supervision of the League of Nations.
When an Israeli state was formed in the bulk of Palestine's territory in 1948, Egypt and Jordan took the remaining Palestine territory under their protection. In 1988, Palestine re-asserted itself and was quickly recognized by other states. Palestine has embassies all over the world.
Diplomatic recognition of Palestine by the United States would not bring peace tomorrow. But it might lead to Palestine's admission to membership in the United Nations, which would make it easier for Palestine to negotiate for itself.
U.S. diplomatic relations with Palestine would make clear that Israel has nothing to say on the issue of Palestine's statehood. A major non-issue would be eliminated from the Israeli-Palestinian discussion.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said in recent days that the U.S. may make so-called "bridging" proposals to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Creative approaches are indeed needed. Formal U.S. formal recognition of Palestine should be one of them.
John B. Quigley is a distinguished professor of law at The Ohio State University and the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed books on various aspects of the law. Readers may write him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th Street, Columbus, OH 43210.