A Demilitarized State? Netanyahu Will Soon Have the Advantage in Public Discourse about the Two-State Solution

by Gedalyah Reback

It has only been written about, at least recently, in a couple of articles. One talks about this “major policy speech” Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will give in the next few days that will finally outline an explicit Israeli policy on the West Bank. The second points how Netanyahu has actually been hinting at that policy in public statements and talks with the Obama Administration. Basically, some people are predicting he will endorse two states, but with several important conditions.

The Principle of Limited Power for a Palestinian State

When Israel accepted the Road Map for peace in 2003, the government of Ariel Sharon accepted on 14 conditions. It did not accept the plan itself right away (partially why Israel has an advantage in the debate with the Obama Administration about its obligations under that Road Map. Netanyahu is expected to make a couple important demands, one of which would be the demilitarization of the Palestinian state.

The author of an editorial in Haaretz points to prevalent opinions about stationing peacekeepers directly on the West Bank of the Jordan River to prevent smuggling, or throughout the West Bank. This, the author says, is evidence the Western world is itself not prepared to grant all the powers of a state to a potential State of Palestine. So, would that “state” actually be a second state? Would it actually be what Benyamin Netanyahu is calling for, that Palestinians “govern themselves” but without the maintenance of a state?

It would be too naive to expect a demilitarized Palestinian state to accept sitting next to a traditional enemy, the State of Israel, which will continue its military relationship with the United States, Turkey, India and increasingly the Russian and Chinese governments. This leaves few options for military balance, and that void might be filled not by paramilitary groups like Hamas, but by a West Bank state’s neighbor – Jordan. The Jordanians have already volunteered on several occasions to train Palestinian police, including those involved in operations against Hamas. Even if the Jordanians are not willing to provide all the metal, the Saudis might be eager to 1) station some influence there or 2) segue into a military discourse with the IDF in coordination against Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas.

Previous Events Justify ‘Demilitarization Doctrine’

But saying that a West Bank state would be demilitarized in this scenario is also difficult to accept, logically. The IDF fought pitch battles with Palestinian police during the first year of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. It was 2002, with Operation Defensive Shield, when the Israeli Defense Forces reconquered the West Bank from the Palestinian Authority and suppressed a combative police force. The point is that the Palestinian police are themselves armed and regimented, with operational experience in warfare.

The absence of a military can only refer to things besides soldiers, which is a role the police would fill. No country would provide a Palestinian state with the tools necessary to invade another country. The Jordanians would never support a Palestinian tank corps, or a Palestinian air force, both of which could interfere in Jordanian domestic politics if a crisis unfolds at home pitting Palestinian Jordanians against the government. The Syrian invasion of Jordan in 1970, during Black September, proves it is a valid fear.

Making a Concession into a Gain

The unique thing Netanyahu has done is call the Obama Administration’s game-changing policies with one of his own. He took an issue which itself had been understood as a given, the two-state solution, and turned it into a bargaining chip. Knowing of oncoming demands from the Obama Administration, the Netanyahu government has wisely taken its time accepting any policy desires Obama has. Just like the Arab states have predicated recognition of Israel on an incredibly risky set of concessions by the Israelis, Netanyahu’s government has predicated recognition of a Palestinian state on similar political gestures.

Given these issues though, Prime Minister Netanyahu will force the world’s powers to openly admit opposition to an armed Palestinian state. The idea no army would stand under the Palestinian Authority has always existed, and so far has not been denied by the Obama Administration like other American commitments regarding the peace process have been denied (understandings on settlements).

Even the most ardent of advocates for the Palestinian cause are troubled when they realize how serious an issue this would be, and might result in a major concession by the Palestinian Authority. The so-called “Obama-Abdullah” Plan imagines a demilitarized Arab state alongside Israel, that is also forbidden from entering international security agreements that do not include Israel.

The two states would have to have a symbiotic relationship under any mutually acceptable plan for peace, not to mention accept as ambiguous certain issues in order to avoid sparking civil wars in either state.

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