The Fantasy of a Demilitarised Palestinian State

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The critical security needs of Israel for a viable peace

As Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrated in his speech at Bar Ilan University exactly a year ago, at last we have a leader who makes a central diplomatic issue of the central Israeli requirement for peace with the Palestinians. This is that if the 2-State Solution is to be the solution in reality it is proclaimed to be in theory, the Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish state.

The reason for this demand is simple. Without the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state there can be no confidence that ‘2-State Solution’ will end the conflict as its promoters believe or pretend to believe. Instead, it will only be a new stage in the war against Israel. Therefore, the incessant repetition of the demand for acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is needed to expose its serial rejection by the Palestinians for as long as they refuse to accept it.

Further, with sufficient repetition and constant promotion, the fact that it is impossible to solve the conflict on the basis of a 2-state solution without this Palestinian acceptance will make it possible for Israel to attract far wider public and diplomatic support. Otherwise, Israel’s position is widely seen as illegitimate with the result that it is perpetually on the diplomatic defensive.

Therefore, a lot can be forgiven a leadership that promotes this absolutely critical and core idea.

One step forward and one step back

Unfortunately, in the very same speech there is a matter that stands in need of such ‘forgiveness’. This is that Prime Minister Netanyahu also demanded that a Palestinian state should be demilitarized.

On the surface, it seems a reasonable demand to make for the protection of Israel’s security. In reality it is a dangerous, misleading and unworkable idea. If circumstances ever forced its acceptance it would be bound to fail. It is unworkable because it is impossible to implement; it is misleading because it will encourage the view that it can protect the security of Israel; and it is dangerous because it will provide ammunition for those who so wish to pretend that Israel’s security can be protected in this way. This three-way danger represents an entirely unforced error by Israel. Hopefully, it will receive all the inattention it deserves and will be dropped by Israel’s leaders.

The problem with Netanyahu’s demand

The problem with the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state is that it is premised on the twin notions that there will be a Palestinian state in the near future and that this state will remain hostile to Israel.

This would mean that Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state will not be a requirement for a new Palestinian state. Instead, a Palestinian state would be formed despite Palestinian refusal to accept of Israel as a Jewish state. This will mean that the ‘2-State Solution’ will not be an end to the conflict as its promoters insist.

On other words, this acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state concedes that the core Israeli demand for Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish nature of Israel with not be obtained. This admission results in the Israeli need for Palestinian demilitarization. This is dangerous for two key reasons:

  1. it contradicts the demand for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state by the implication that Israel would agree to a demilitarized Palestinian state even without that acceptance:
  2. it sends the totally misleading message that a demilitarized Palestinian state is both feasible and that it will ensure Israel’s safety.

A demilitarized Palestinian state

Continued Palestinian refusal to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is a declaration that the conflict is not over. The policy of insisting on the ‘right’ of the supposed refugees to return to Israel, which would destroy it as a Jewish state, is a double confirmation of this.

Yet any agreement for the formation of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and/or Gaza would inevitably mean that important areas of Israel’s security would be in the hands of the government of a new Palestinian state. For example, working on the unlikely assumption that demilitarization clauses would be accepted by the Palestinians, the new Palestinian state would also be bound to agree to key anti-terrorist functions. These would presumably include provisions for the prevention of arms smuggling across the Jordanian border, which is many times longer than the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Demilitarized pie-in-the-sky

But without Palestinian acceptance of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, how confident can Israel be that a Palestinian government would implement these security functions with the same success as the IDF? To put it generously, this would be pie-in-the-sky:

  • no Palestinian government could be afford to be seen by its own public as the puppet-police of Israel;
  • divided into numerous warring factions, some of which would support an alliance with Hamas against Israel, the Palestinian Authority, which would be the basis of a Palestinian government, would not have the will to stop the fanatics and would instead turn a blind-eye to at least some their activities;
  • given its own internal disputes and its lack of solid support, the PA government would not have the power to stop the fanatics even if it had the will;
  • in any case, due its own hostility to Israel, a Palestinian government would support a policy of covertly applying pressure on Israel, while at the same time not being seen as responsible for that pressure;
  • any Palestinian government will want to build-up its own stock of weapons and military personnel outside those allowed by any peace agreement.

No state likes to depend on others for its security unless it has little or no choice in the matter. Without good reason to think otherwise, there are no grounds for believing that a new Palestinian state will be an exception to this. As a result, even without reference to continued antagonism between the 2 states, it can be confidently predicted that any new Palestinian government will cheat on the demilitarization provisions of a peace agreement.

Cheating a demilitarization agreement

To have any substantial security benefit for Israel, the terms of a demilitarization agreement would need to include a prohibition against the Palestinian government acquiring tanks, fighter planes, heavy artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

However, a warning from history was the ease with which liberal-democratic Weimar Germany evaded the extensive post-First World War limitations on the size and equipment of its armed forces. An effective method used to avoid these restrictions was by the simple ruse of keeping war planes in Russia, holding military exercises in Russia and training pilots there.

In exactly the same way, it would not be difficult for a new Palestinian government to keep well away from the West Bank all outlawed weapons that would otherwise be detected. Similarly, it would be easily feasible for it to conduct military training with these weapons in Syria and Iran or elsewhere beyond the legal limits or reach of any peace agreement.

Taking risks for peace – or just taking risks?

Even worse, it would be simple for a Palestinian government, as well as fanatics outside government, to smuggle into the West Bank prohibited weapons such as easily transportable rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Unlike tanks or aircraft, various types of small, advanced missiles are practically impossible to detect. Modern missiles of this type are small enough to be operated by a single person and simple to conceal and move around. Yet they are highly effective and easy to acquire.

Therefore, given the impossibility of an effective monitoring and control system, smuggling them into the West Bank would be essentially unstoppable. This means that there will be nothing to prevent thousands being dispersed in urban and rural districts in close proximity to key Israeli locations. Launched from forward positions, they would bring far more of Israel into range and sharply reduce the distance and time needed to reach their intended targets. This would maximize the dangers for Israel and minimize the opportunity for effective counter-measures.

A Palestinian state would thus possess the double advantage of being able to overlook Israel from the higher ground of the West Bank and cut Israel’s defensive depth to zero in the narrow central coastal region around and to the north of Tel Aviv. As a result, rocket and missile fire from relatively close range would threaten to disrupt Israel’s ability to mobilise and maneuver its ground forces. At the same time, the proximity of undetectable weapons would present a serious challenge both to Israel’s tank and air superiority.

The threat to Israel

In effect, what all this means is that fine-sounding demilitarization clauses of a peace agreement would be a waste of paper. The possession of outlawed weapons systems by a Palestinian government combined with illegal military training both outside and within the West Bank would thus pose enormous and potentially lethal risks to Israel:
it would expose the highly populated areas of central Israel around Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem region, Ben Gurion international airport and other key areas, to rocket and missile attacks from largely undetectable sources;
by reducing Israel’s already limited defensive depth, it would dangerously disrupt the mobilisation of Israeli military forces – especially in conjunction with a massive rocket and missile bombardment from Hezbollah or elsewhere;
it could seriously threaten Israel’s tank and aircraft superiority during any future conventional war with other countries such as Syria.
Other methods of cheating

In the event of a new Palestinian state, there are yet wider factors for Israel’s own well-being and survival to consider. One of these is potential for the PA government, or its successor, to form alliances with, for example, Iran and Syria. The pact between Iran and Syria, which in Iranian eyes is a secular regime at best or heretical at worst, shows that alliances of convenience with Iran are perfectly feasible.

For its own survival, as well as to promote its agenda against Israel, a Palestinian government would find an arrangement with Iran and/or Syria very attractive. Why? Because it would help them break-out of restrictive demilitarization clauses in a similar way to the above-mentioned secret military arrangements between the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. Further, secret arrangements of this type would also have the advantage of not scaring-off potential western funding for the new state.

The PA as ‘partner for peace’

In other words, an agreement of this sort has every potential of being a disaster. The likelihood of a Palestinian government honouring demilitarization agreements and proving itself as devoted to the security of Israel as the IDF is non-existent.

Equally disturbing from the point of view of a supposedly sustainable peace agreement is that the future of the PA is itself far from secure or certain. Its governance is so divided, incompetent, corrupt and wildly unpopular amongst the people it is meant to be leading that it would take a miracle of optimism to envisage that it could remain in ‘power’ for long if the IDF were to withdraw completely (see A Palestinian State: Israel’s Security Partner).

The rule of the PA is characterised by bitter internal conflicts, lawlessness, violence, the official promotion of anti-Semitism, a ‘martyr’ culture and the non-stop promotion of the notion of the conquest of Israel. Furthermore, PA government leaders are hardly discreet about the diplomatic lip-service they are required to pay in recognition of the fact of Israel’s existence.

In this way they acquire international recognition and finance. Yet they simultaneously deny recognition of any Jewish national rights and lead parties and militias which are opposed to the existence of a Jewish state. Naturally, they are more explicit about this when addressing Arab audiences.

Reliance on the unreliable

Yet the PA is being trained in ‘peace-keeping’ functions by western powers for its allotted role as the ‘Partner for Peace’ and ruler of the West Bank state. Clearly, its ability to repress opposition will be vital for its own survival as well as for the survival of hopes in the 2-state solution.

However, a warning of the extreme vulnerability of this strategy was the ease with which PA forces were routed in 2007 when Hamas established its dictatorship in Gaza. As a result, it would take another miracle of optimism to believe that any agreement with the PA has any more than a slim chance of long-term durability. Additionally, the misplaced reliance on the ability of a future Palestinian government to suppress opposition also endangers the often repeated declarations of the international community in favour of a democratic Palestinian state.

The UN as Israel’s protector?

Given the weight of these issues and the need to comfort Israel about its security, the presence of International forces to police any 2-state peace agreement is said to be required. Yet soothing sounds about the deployment of multi-national United Nations forces to observe the demilitarization provisions of a peace agreement would be hopelessly inadequate for the prevention of violations.

For example, there can be little doubt that the presence of such a peace-keeping
force would act as a magnet for attacks from the fanatics. As a result, given the capacity of the region for extremes of violence, it would be unlikely that foreign forces could be found with the strength, determination and staying-power necessary to prevent contraventions of a peace agreement or to suppress and apprehend those guilty. In reality, such a force is likely to be far more effective in preventing effective Israeli self-defence. Naturally, this does not build Israeli confidence.

Additionally, Israel cannot fail to note that the United Nations Security Council is not above passing pious resolutions that have zero possibility of implementation. Resolution 1701 in 2006, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, is an example. By its reliance on the government of Lebanon to implement the resolution, the UN knew perfectly well that it would never be implemented.

At the same time, the UN forces in south Lebanon have utterly failed (not tried) to prevent the weapons smuggling by the terrorists. As a result, no terrorists have been apprehended and the accumulation of rockets and missiles by Hizbollah is unrestricted. As this experience demonstrates, an international force of observers that merely watches the terrorists build their missile capacity or which merely observes violations of demilitarisation agreements, does not maintain peace.

Likewise, international forces are hardly rushing to demilitarize Gaza. Nor have there been any attempts by the international community to seize the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and the other terror organizations on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nor has the international community felt bound to fulfill its duties against these organizations in accordance with international conventions and laws against terrorism and genocide.

Naturally, none of this provides any solid ground for Israel to trust others with its own security.

The fragility of a demilitarization agreement

But it would not end here. Even if the Palestinians could be persuaded to accept a demilitarized agreement, a new Palestinian state would act to minimize the demilitarization restrictions of an agreement in other ways.

For example, the presence of foreign peace-keeping troops within its borders and restrictions on its foreign policy as well as its military capacities would all be taken as a sign that it was not a ‘true’ state enjoying sovereign powers in its territory. This will be offensive to Palestinians as it would be to any state. As a result, it can be expected that this will lead to a campaign of complaints about the injustice of these limitations of Palestinian sovereignty.

The aim of the campaign for a ‘real’ state will be to pressurize for the progressive weakening and eventual dismantling of the demilitarization terms. For this reason, the Palestinian government will initially break the terms of the agreement in an open but tentative way. It will do this by ‘stretching’ the terms of the agreement in order to test how far it can go without attracting serious negative reaction.

Simultaneously, it will secretly break the terms of any agreement in a more fundamental way in order to further its hostility to Israel and to remedy its own perceived weakness in relation to Israel.

Acquiescence from the international community

No matter what is agreed in a Peace Agreement and its demilitarization terms, there will be little resistance to this campaign from the ‘international community’. In fact, the Palestinian campaign will attract considerable assistance from those in the ‘international community’ who sympathize with Palestinian complaints about its ‘rights’ to be a state like others and the right to formulate its own foreign and defence policies.

In short, without an apparatus, such as the IDF, to enforce the agreement, the Palestinian state will easily avoid the demilitarization terms. Clearly, this whole process will place Israel in a more defensive and vulnerable position which will make threats against it more likely not less. In response Israel will be force to take its own counter-measures. Inevitably, these will be seen as a threat by the Palestinians and a new opportunity for its campaign.

In this way, all the ingredients to the conflict remain in place and the conflict will continue with Israel having been manoeuvred into a disadvantageous position.

A solemn & binding agreement?

The problem is that no matter how solemn, absolute or irrevocably binding any peace agreement is made, it will count for little if all the ingredients and dynamics of the conflict remain and new opportunities for hostility are inherent in the situation. Without acceptance by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state, the safest and most likely prognosis is that any Arab/Palestinian peace promise would be essentially worthless. It will fail to provide either the necessary security or the necessary sustainability.

As a result, any expectation of effective demilitarization is entirely misplaced. Instead, it risks limiting Israel’s room for defensive freedom and at the same time it enormously increases the dangers Israel faces. Additionally, because Israel would be in a weaker and more vulnerable position to defend itself than previously, its enemies would be provided with a easier and tempting target to attack. Consequently, Israel would be bound to attempt measures to remedy this new weakness. In this way, the dynamics of the conflict would continue and the brave-sounding notion of taking risks for peace would actually become a high-risk recipe for war.

A better option for Israel

The problem for many of those who are prepared to accept a Palestinian state without reciprocal Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state is that they feel the need to strengthen their case for a Palestinian state by attempting to beef-up protection for Israel. The proposed safeguard of a demilitarized Palestinian state is supposed to be a reassurance for Israel that all will be well.

In essence, this is also the basis for Netanyahu’s call for a future Palestinian state to be demilitarized. But the very same reason that produces the demand for a demilitarized state is the reason it will be impossible to achieve. Without Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state all the ingredients for a continuation of the conflict will remain in place. As a result, in these circumstances, the ‘2-State Solution’ will be no such thing.

Therefore, to rely on the promised security of a demilitarized Palestinian state is false, illusory and dangerous. A far better option is for the government of Israel to concentrate its fire on continued Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The demand for this recognition should be repeated incessantly at every international forum and media interview by Israeli spokesmen. Only when the Palestinians abandon this policy, and the associated demand for the ‘return of refugees’, will the way be opened for a sustainable peace based on 2 states for 2 nations.

Jon Dyson

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