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The demand for a demilitarized state is telling Palestinians to give away the right to be free

on 16 Comments
Abbas and Netanyahu in 2010.

Abbas and Netanyahu in 2010.

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.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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16 Responses

  1. a blah chick on February 3, 2014, 10:25 am

    Yep, in that thar neck of the woods only Jews have the right to defend themselves. Everyone else must stand meekly by the side of the road while the IDF shoots up the place. When Lebanese folks actually had the audacity to form themselves into a militia to resist IDF predations they got condemned as dastardly terri’sts. Dare I ask one of our hasbarists to explain this glaring inconsistency?

  2. Woody Tanaka on February 3, 2014, 10:55 am

    The demand for a demilitarized state is simply one more element of the racism of zionsim. What a loathsome ideology.

  3. HarryLaw on February 3, 2014, 11:12 am

    What should be more demoralizing to Palestinians in that New York Times interview is that he said [contradicting earlier claims] April 29th 2014 is not a sacred date, meaning the Israelis can pan the talks out forever, worse still is this.. Mr. Abbas said that he had been resisting pressure to join the United Nations agencies from the Palestinian street and leadership — including unanimous votes by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the central committee of his own Fatah Party — and that his staff had presented 63 applications ready for his signature.
    “No, I don’t want, I want to take advantage of every minute now, maybe we can achieve something,” he said. “I don’t like to go to the courts. I don’t like courts. I want to solve my problems directly between the parties.”
    He sounds just like Tzipi Livni who famously said.. NO. I was the Minister of Justice. I am a lawyer…But I am against law — international law in particular. Law in general. So we have a Palestinian leader who ignores the organizations in his own party and the “Palestinian street” and is quite content to reject recourse to the law and the courts. A Pharaoh indeed, but he is out of his league if he thinks he can get a good deal from the Israelis and their US lawyers, [Shyster, Shyster and Kruk]

    • Ecru on February 4, 2014, 11:59 pm

      Abbas will go down in history as the Palestinian Quisling.

  4. seafoid on February 3, 2014, 11:13 am

    The demand for a demilitarised state says Israelis are still very insecure and probably will always be.

  5. peterfeld on February 3, 2014, 11:28 am

    If Abbas is being strategic he’s offering the maximum concessions that will fall short of triggering Israel’s acceptance, to be sure that when the talks inevitably fail Palestinians will not bear the blame and will be stronger going to the UN and international community.

  6. Justpassingby on February 3, 2014, 11:31 am

    That clown abbas, even want NATO US forces in case of a deal!

  7. hophmi on February 3, 2014, 12:31 pm

    Costa Rica is a demilitarized state. Are you asserting that it isn’t free?

    Why do you want the Palestinians to have an army so much?

    • Hostage on February 4, 2014, 10:49 pm

      Costa Rica is a demilitarized state. Are you asserting that it isn’t free?

      Costa Rica is not required to be demilitarized by any other state you ignoramus. It’s pretty obvious that they can’t defend their borders from countries that do have a military: See: Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua). The case concerns the incursion into, occupation of and use by Nicaragua’s army of Costa Rican territory as well as breaches of Nicaragua’s obligations towards Costa Rica under the following :
      (a) the Charter of the United Nations1 and the Charter of the Organization of
      American States2 ;
      (b) the Treaty of Territorial Limits between Costa Rica and Nicaragua of
      15 April 1858 (the Treaty of Limits), in particular Articles I, II, V and IX3 ;
      (c) the arbitral award issued by the President of the United States of America,
      Grover Cleveland, on 22 March 1888 (the Cleveland Award)4 ;
      (d) the first and second arbitral awards rendered by Edward Porter Alexander dated respectively 30 September and 20 December 1897 (the first and second Alexander Awards)5 ;

    • talknic on February 5, 2014, 12:46 am

      hophmi “Costa Rica is a demilitarized state”

      By its own choice! Israel’s demand that Palestine be demilitarized has no legal basis

    • eljay on February 5, 2014, 12:23 pm

      >> Why do you want the Palestinians to have an army so much?

      I know why I think the Palestinians should have their own army: 60+ years of Zio-supremacist Jewish terrorism, ethnic cleansing, oppression, land theft, occupation, colonization, destruction, torture and murder.

      The Palestinians are entitled to “Never again!” have to suffer at the hands of Zio-supremacist Jews (or anyone else, for that matter).

  8. Abdul-Rahman on February 3, 2014, 2:06 pm

    I’m reminded of what scholar Asher Susser has stated in relation to the so-called “peace process”.

    Susser writes: “The Palestinian state that the Israelis were willing to endorse was never a fully sovereign and independent member of the family of nations, but an emasculated, demilitarized, and supervised entity, with Israeli control of its airspace and possibly of its borders too, and some element of Israeli and/or foreign military presence.”

    • Ecru on February 4, 2014, 11:57 pm

      In other words less even than a vassal state.

  9. Les on February 3, 2014, 2:19 pm

    The US prevents Lebanon from getting sufficient arms to defend its air, coasts, and borders from invasion by Israel. Thats’s the kind of independence and self-determination Palestinians should expect from their US paymastes.

  10. Hostage on February 4, 2014, 3:21 am

    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.

    Not if it does so voluntarily. But when demilitarization or neutrality is imposed as a condition by a stronger neighboring state, the neutralized state is recognized as only having a restricted or limited sovereignty. In reality it is no longer an indepedent state, but only a dependent state. That has long-since been recognized as an abuse of power, and a denial of the principle of sovereign equality of states. In the mid-19th Century stronger states frequently controlled the foreign and domestic policies of their weaker neighbors. But even then, those situations were recognized as being abnormal and wrongful. See for example § 9 on pages 187-188 of Henry Wager Halleck, International Law, D. Van Nostrand, 1861.

    The USA was one of the 19 High Contracting States that championed the doctrine of the sovereign and juridical equality of states contained in the Montevideo Convention. That doctrine is also reflected the Charter of the Organization of American States, and the UN Charter. It is supremely ironic that the US government is trying to rollback the clock and undo President Wilson’s 14 points speech and its policy on the undesirable nature of neutralized or demilitarized states. Belgium had been a “neutralized state” at the outbreak of WWI. It was quickly invaded by Germany, which demanded its annexation:

    VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

    Resurrecting the the old idea that a so-called sovereign state won;t be free to defend itself, approach international organizations, or conduct its own foreign relations and form its own military alliances – while subsidizing a multi-billion dollar regional arms race – is pretty preposterous.

  11. Ecru on February 4, 2014, 11:55 pm

    “Progressive Jews have been arguing for a demilitarized Palestinian state for decades.”

    Would these be the Jews who’ve been progressively ethnically cleansing Palestine and then settling it for the past 60+ years, because I can’t think of any other accurate definition of “Progressive” you might be on about here.

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