This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
When a nation-state-to-be gives up the right to patrol its own borders and defend itself with its own military, you can call it what you want. It isn’t a nation-state.
Progressive Jews have been arguing for a demilitarized Palestinian state for decades. It’s a staple of progressive Jewish discourse. I, for one, am not climbing on the demilitarized state bandwagon. It is a disingenuous act. It means you are giving away the right of Palestinians to be free.
So it is alarming to see President Abbas float his approval of Israeli troops in Jerusalem and the West Bank for 3-5 years or calling as the New York Times reports for an “American-led NATO force to patrol a future Palestinian state indefinitely, with troops positioned throughout the territory, at all crossings, and within Jerusalem.” Abbas is clear on the NATO troop deployment. NATO can stay “for a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders, but also on the western borders, everywhere. The third party can stay. They can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.”
The Palestinian surrender of its national sovereignty is obvious. Nonetheless, Israel isn’t buying. The Times quotes a senior Israeli official rejecting Abbas’ proposal: “Our attitude toward international forces is skeptical in the extreme. Timing can’t be artificial. It has to be based on performance, and we want to be able to judge what’s going on with performance.”
On the face of it, this response seems strange. Israel is already embedded in the Palestinian security system and America – as would NATO – works hand in glove with the Israelis. Yet there’s little reason to accept the Palestinian surrender of its sovereignty when Israel can continue to extend its dominance from Tel Aviv to the Jordan River.
No doubt there are a variety of reasons for Israel’s rejection including the most obvious. Why accept a Palestinian surrender when there may be more territory to be had by holding fast? But there are other reasons that may be just as important.
Israel has never experienced a normal and settled existence. Its history has been one of continual invasion, occupation and expansion. Accepting even a truncated Palestinian autonomy – signed, sealed and delivered by NATO forces – would be a challenge to the very foundations of Israel. Moreover, the stationing of NATO troops – unlike UN troops that scatter the moment a rock is thrown – would signal a limit to Israeli expansion. It would also allow a monitoring of Israel by the international community, backed for the first time by military force rather than rhetorical admonishments.
So here we are. The offer of surrender is countermanded by the inability to imagine – and live with – a normal existence. But, then, the whole idea of a Jewish state was to normalize Jewish life. Does Israel have a vested interest in keeping itself and Jews around the world in a destabilized state of being?
An American-led NATO troop deployment throughout Palestine is an occupation under another name. That Israel doesn’t accept its victory is telling. Climbing on the demilitarized Palestinian state/NATO bandwagon by those who argue for Palestinian rights, however, is a loss of nerve. Such loss of nerve raises the question of commitment to Palestinian freedom.
That the Palestinian Authority is willing to surrender doesn’t help. And the argument against the continuing occupation of Palestine by NATO troops may be tilting at windmills.
As usual in the continuing saga of Israel/Palestine we’ve reached an end, we’re at a crossroads or we’re poised for a new beginning. The next few months will tell us much.
Surrendering sovereignty isn’t going to lead very far. It isn’t even going to move Israel to sign on the dotted line.