"Israel is the United States' greatest Middle East ally," according to a U.S. Department of Defense video clip available on its Web site. The department's spokesman made the statement in describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
There is very little coincidence in such a statement, even if it knowingly insults Arab pride. The Obama administration, much more than most of its predecessors, wants to assure Israel, its leadership and people. Israeli nervousness, not to mention existential fears, can easily produce an explosive situation.
However, in the same breath, Sgt. Jeremy Ross, reporting on U.S. army radio - a real army radio that only deals with military and defense matters - tells his viewers about what Netanyahu was doing in Washington: talks on the "peace process with Palestine." Clear and to the point: Palestine.
Netanyahu is deluding himself if he believes he can talk his way out of establishing a Palestinian state. The Palestinians are the ones preventing the establishment of such a state, though they have the power to change their behavior and let loose a global torrent that will drown Israeli opposition. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is afraid to say openly those two words: Palestinian state. He is using a trick that's easy to decipher: setting preconditions he believes will empty the concept of any substance, so Palestinian refusal will be guaranteed forever, or allow him to deny that the Palestinian entity to be formed will be a state.
The most pathetic scarecrow in Netanyahu's storehouse is the issue of demilitarization. The limit on using military force, in terms of quantity, quality and location, undermines a state's sovereignty. Israel has insisted that Palestinian territories it no longer controls be demilitarized, as well as the accompanying air, sea and electromagnetic areas. But if the Palestinians accept this, they will not have a real state.
Essentially there is no country in the world, great or small, that has completely eschewed a regime of self-restraint and abstention, whether it is called "demilitarization" or simply anchored in treaties that provide for the reduction, thinning or nonuse of military forces.
Israel's armistice with Egypt, Syria and Jordan included demilitarized zones between the Negev and Sinai, in the northern Jordan Valley, and under a different structure on Mount Scopus. In the absence of peace, the parties violated the demilitarization agreements and caused escalations that led to further wars. In the security annex of the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel surrendered, in a (minor) form of reciprocity, the sovereign right to keep all its armor along the agreed border. Before formally annexing the Golan Heights, it signed a separation-of-forces agreement with Syria, which limits the Israel Defense Forces' activities in territory Israel claims as its own. Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, did not seek to cancel this limitation on Israeli sovereignty.
The Palestinian state will clearly not have offensive military capabilities, and foreign armies will not be allowed to enter its territory. In practice, this was the situation in the West Bank under Jordanian rule until 1967 (and in part in the Gaza Strip under Egyptian military administration). U.S.-made M-48 tanks were sold to King Hussein under ironclad terms that they not cross the Jordan River. When this condition was violated and the Jordanians posed an armored threat to central Israel, the IDF occupied the West Bank. Israel, which refused to return the West Bank to Jordan under an agreement to partially demilitarize the Hashemite Kingdom, will now demand - and receive - an entire country that is demilitarized. When missiles have a range of 600, 1,300 and 2,000 kilometers, more than a demilitarization next-door is needed. But this demilitarization is still essential, Israel will not give it up, and justifiably so.
Demilitarization is just an excuse. Netanyahu does not want to pay the price for a peace that would increase Israeli security by evacuating territory and settlements and establishing a Palestinian state under limited sovereignty. It seems the real reason must be found in psychology and kinship. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, opposes a Palestinian state, even a demilitarized one, and the prime minister, who has suffered his father's scathing comments more than once, in public as well, is afraid of his response. Netanyahu prefers peace at home to peace between countries.
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