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Hillary in black and white and color

Michael Crowley has an excellent article in this week's New Republic, "Reset Button," assessing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public breaks from official U.S. policy. He runs through her out-of-line statements on Kim Jong-il's successor in North Korea, human rights in China, and Israeli settlement-building, as well as her snapping at an audience member during her trip through Africa and calling North Korea an "unruly teenager." He questions whether these incidents were the gaffes of an independent-thinking, fallible, and very tired diplomat, or cannily constructed political statements designed in concert with the White House to express something otherwise taboo.

The article is cast in black and white, told through the dialectics of candidate and victor, ally and enemy, on message and off, either and or. Crowley opens the article describing the schizophrenic reaction to Clinton's naming as secretary; some, he argues, thought it "nuts" and some a "stroke of genius." A Democratic operative says of Clinton's out-of-bounds statements, "Sometimes that's helpful, sometimes it's not." Crowley also discusses an "old Hillary duality" -- her "disdain for the media" (making herself available for questions just once on a weeklong trip) and "occasional efforts at outreach" (bringing the hungry traveling press bagels).

Throughout, he flip-flops between calling the secretary "Hillary" and "Clinton," to heighten the point -- Hillary being the strident and frank candidate and Clinton the hyper-controlled political tact-machine.

Eventually, Crowley blows over his own either-or straw-woman, noting that the idea of Clinton as some sort of infallible policy robot is absurd. She, like all politicians, has mucked up dozens of times in the past. But he sadly doesn't plumb the idea much further.

It follows from the conception of her as a complex person that her perceived missteps are similarly complex. She speaks publicly on literally a world's worth of issues every day. She makes mistakes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, sometimes with effect, sometimes without. To paint with black and white is to miss a very colorful picture. And ultimately, it is the press that paints her in such egregiously schizophrenic, love-her-or-hate-her terms.

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How to Create a Palestinian State, 101

The Palestinian leadership seems caught in limbo these days, alternating between threats to tear down the Palestinian Authority and promises to build up the institutions of a nascent Palestinian state, which will then seek international recognition with or without Israeli consent. Prime Minister Fayyad and the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat mentioned this possibility over the weekend, with Erekat suggesting that the Palestinian Authority is building a case for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations Security Council.

If the PA goes through with this plan, it will be the second time a Palestinian state has been declared. The first was on Nov. 15, 1988, when Yasser Arafat unilaterally declared Palestinian independence. Around 100 countries recognized the new Palestinian state, but the declaration had no force on the ground. Israel, cracking down during the First Intifada, maintained a tight grip on all the functions normally performed by a state: they enforced their laws, strictly controlled movement around the West Bank and Gaza, and regulated commerce and trade. The new Palestinian state existed only on paper.

I asked Ghassan Khatib, who was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference and served as the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Labor in 2002, what it would take for a unilateral declaration of statehood to actually have an impact on the ground. He made the case that many of the institutions required for a viable Palestinian state have been established in the last several years. "We have a public financial system that has been recognized by the World Bank and the IMF, and is one of the best systems in the region," he noted. "We have a security system that has been proving itself, and even the Israelis have expressed satisfaction with [its] professionalism."

Israeli officials have already threatened that a unilateral declaration of statehood would be met with an "appropriate Israeli response." They would have a number of weapons at their disposal, most notably the ability to prevent a Palestinian state from providing a viable economic future for its citizens. "[T]he Israeli occupation is not allowing us to deal freely with our natural resources, or allowing us to move freely inside the territories or to the territories outside," said Khatib. There is no airport in the West Bank - though Prime Minister Fayyad's ambitious blueprint for a Palestinian state within two years contains a plan to construct an airport in the Jordan Valley. Because Israel geographically separates Gaza and the West Bank, Israel could easily strangle trade between the two territories and cut off trade through the port in Gaza. And that's not even mentioning Hamas, which has already come out in opposition to the PA's plan.

But Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and Saeb Erekat appear to be gambling that they can go over the heads of both Israel and Hamas by appealing directly to the United Nations Security Council. If they can present a viable plan for maintaining security and developing effective institutions for a Palestinian state, the Obama administration may yet be convinced not to exercise its veto and bless the declaration of statehood. If the Security Council throws its support behind the plan, Israel would be hard-pressed to kill the new Palestinian state in its infancy. That's a lot of "ifs," to be sure, but there is just a chance that the Palestinian leadership may emerge from the current limbo looking as if they had a plan all along.

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