At a conference in Israel earlier this month, the White House's Middle East coordinator, Philip Gordon, spoke the magic word: sovereignty. Unfortunately, for the White House, it's just a word. From Israel to Ukraine, today's crises show what happens when the world forgets what sovereignty requires.
Speaking in Tel Aviv, Gordon urged Israel to "end the occupations and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity." Shortly thereafter, as Lee Smith of the Weekly Standard reports, the conference at which Gordon was speaking had to be halted because of Palestinian missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.
The irony is that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 hasn't increased anyone's security: It's only allowed Hamas to fire barrages of Iranian-supplied missiles at Israel. But worse is Gordon's attitude to sovereignty. According to Gordon, the only thing standing in the way of Palestinian sovereignty is Israel. The conduct of the Palestinians is irrelevant.
That is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. In the not-too-distant past, if you wanted to be recognized as sovereign by other sovereign nations, you demonstrated that you deserved it. You controlled your borders. You maintained law and order. And you couldn't allow your citizens to attack other nations.
The Palestinians do none of this, as the on-going missile attacks on Israel demonstrate. Until Gaza and the West Bank live up to the traditional standard of respectable conduct, Israel -- and the world -- are completely right not to recognize a Palestinian state.
The argument that Hamas would behave better were it not for Israeli provocations is offensively ridiculous: Hamas is a radical Islamist organization dedicated to Israel's violent destruction and to the mass murder of Jews. In 2005, Israel gave Gaza a chance to prove that it could run its own affairs in a responsible way.
The Palestinians blew that chance by electing Hamas. That's disappointing, but not surprising. What's more disappointing is that the Obama administration refuses to recognize that the solution to the Palestinian problem rests not with Israel, but with the Palestinians.
In Ukraine, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows a different side of the same problem. Every circumstance of the incident implies it was the act of Russian-supported separatists, using Russian-supplied missiles that cannot be operated by amateurs.
In other words, the shoot-down proves what has been obvious for months: Russia wants to dominate eastern Ukraine through its proxies. To achieve that, it has been fighting a covert war. From the Russians' point of view, downing the airliner was a tragic error -- not because it killed civilians, but because it showed their hand.
Starting with its annexation of Crimea, all of Russia's actions have been assaults on Ukrainian sovereignty. Admittedly, Ukraine, unlike Israel, is not a model of democratic respectability, but that does not entitle Russia to play the role of missile-wielding Hamas in seeking to destroy it.
Sovereignty isn't just good in theory. It has practical benefits. In a world of sovereign states, you can hold nations accountable for their actions. That, in turn, encourages better behavior. But holding anyone accountable for the destruction of Flight 17 will be difficult.
Ukraine appears to bear no responsibility for it, the separatists are unlikely to step forward, and Russia will deny any connection to them. Gaza presents similar difficulties: Hamas is guilty, but as long as it has civilians to use as human shields, holding it accountable would mean fighting a bigger war than Israel is engaged in now.
There is no easy way to uphold the traditional requirements of sovereignty. But a good place to start is with the right principles. And you could hardly have a worse principle than the belief that sovereignty is simply something democracies have to give, and which terrorists are free to abuse.
- Ted Bromund is the Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in Long Island Newsday