This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
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.” So says President Abbas on the future of Occupied Palestine.
Since demilitarization is the mandated and assumed future for any Palestinian entity, one has to wonder how far that future has been internalized within Palestinian leadership.
What say the people of Palestine?
Protection against whom? Israel is the most obvious culprit, though only God knows if there is any way to stop Israel with or without a signed agreement.
Protection against Jordan and Egypt? Syria? Possibly. And other forces in the Arab world through their proxies. No doubt.
Though we assume Israel is the target of any Arab insurgency, this may be a misplaced anxiety. Jerusalem is the real prize. In comparison, Israel is the new occupier on the block. Islam, itself an occupier in history, is assumed to be indigenous.
Is Abbas afraid of tendencies within Palestine, thus hoping that NATO will protect Palestinians against forces within Palestine itself, perhaps Hamas or a military strongman who might come to power?
The fear of others seems controlling here. It may also be a sense of defeat. Perhaps Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have internalized the American, Jewish and Israeli narrative that Palestinians are unfit to govern themselves. That narrative is widespread. Europe and the Arab world share parts of this narrative.
If Palestine is unable to govern itself with an army and survive in the world where it lives, then autonomy – really an internationally funded ghettoized entity, might be the way forward. But if you desire a state, Palestinians must assume the mandates and responsibilities of a state. If Palestinian leadership doesn’t believe in their own capacity and the capacity of their people, why should anyone else?
Of course, the military is a dead end. The military is a place of power, entrenched interest, corporate welfare and corruption. It is the power behind the throne. Too often it is the throne.
Nonetheless, without a military in today’s world, you cannot protect your citizens. Over the long run, others will not protect you. Nor will a newly formed nation learn how to develop and maintain itself without a military that is under civilian control.
Hasn’t the problem with Palestinian life been this lack of self-protection?
The question, then, is not the negotiation of borders – only. Or settlements – only. Or Jerusalem. Or the right of return. It’s about an empowered Palestinian collective.
Palestinian empowerment is nowhere to be found on anyone’s radar screen – including among Palestinian leadership. It isn’t even being discussed.