Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be praised for saying, albeit unenthusiastically, that Israel would agree to the establishment of a "demilitarized" Palestinian state. His statements seem reasonable until one looks at the details: a demilitarized state with no army, no right to sign accords with other countries and no control over border crossings and airspace. As Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country is currently chairing the European Union, rightly asked, with all these limitations, what's left of Palestinian sovereignty? Indeed, it's too similar to Bantustan.
It should come as no surprise that the Palestinians rejected Netanyahu's position outright. Their positions were and remain intractable: a redivision of Jerusalem, the removal of all settlements, a return to the June 4, 1967 borders and Israel's recognition of the Palestinian right of return. No Israeli government will agree to these demands. But the question is not only what the Palestinians will accept, but to what extent the Israeli declarations are serious.
Nowhere in the world is a country entirely demilitarized with no control over its borders. Some observers have made the bizarre comparison to Andora, but that country's very existence is an anachronistic remnant of feudalism. Some also noted that Costa Rica has no army, but Costa Rica decided on its own to disband its army to prevent the possibility of a military coup.
It is impossible to ignore that even if Netanyahu's proposal is completely bizarre, it reflects Israel's real security problem. The peace agreement with Egypt contains a clause limiting the number of troops and weapons that Egypt (and Israel) may maintain near their border. We can assume that similar limitations will be imposed on the northern border if peace is attained with Syria. However, the demand for complete demilitarization of the entire Palestinian state, in addition to the other limitations listed above, is unrealistic. Moreover, even if the Palestinians accept the demands, that does not ensure that some future Palestinian government won't reverse the demilitarization. What will Israel do then? Invade Palestine? Besiege it?
There are other, more realistic ways, not necessarily via signed agreements, for Israel to ensure its security. Syria is not exactly a demilitarized country; deterrence stops it from aggressive action. Deterrence is the answer in the Palestinian case as well; for example, in the matter of a foreign army crossing the Jordan River westward. After all, it was deterrence that prevented the Iraqi army from entering Jordan.
However, the Palestinian national movement's difficulties establishing an agreed-on national authority once again bring up the question of whether Egypt and Jordan should take on custodianship of the Palestinians for a transitional period while a peace agreement is being forged. That is what is happening for all intents and purposes. Egypt is slowly but surely extending its patronage over Gaza, and the Palestinian units that have recently deployed in the West Bank were trained in Jordan. Arrangements for demilitarization under these circumstances, even extending to the crossings, could be easier.
This is not a return to the "Jordanian option." The Palestinians are embroiled in a de facto civil war, which requires a search for creative, unusual ways to reach the desired solution of two states for two peoples. Sometimes the long road is the short one, especially since the short road has so far been an utter failure.
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