Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Palestine -- The Case Against Non-Militarization

When the Palestinian Authority, during the Oslo final status talks, agreed to a demilitarized state, I shook my head in sadness. It was clear that the negotiators only agreed because they knew that they wouldn't get a state otherwise. I doubt they were motivated by progressive, anti-military feelings. In Israel, citizens from all walks of life serve proudly in the military (many don't, but that's another story.) The Israel army is firmly rooted in the Zionist ethos of the Jews being able to protect themselves, without having to rely on the good will of the gentiles. I have students from my US university come to volunteer in the Israeli army. Can you imagine a non-militarized Israel? I would like to, but I can't.

What the Palestinians are being asked to do, as a condition for statehood, is to complete the process of emasculation that Zionism began, and if that sounds too old fashioned and macho for a progressive blog, then let me put it another way – they are being required to outsource the most fundamental responsibility that any state has, which is to provide for the security of its citizens. And why? In order to allay Israel's existential angst. What about the angst of the Palestinians?

Now under any circumstances I would consider this to be a huge demand. But when it is made by the descendants of settlers who expelled the majority of the natives, imported members of its own ethnic group to the new state, occupied the rest of that land, and for the last forty-two years have deprived the natives of their life, liberty, and property – well such a demand is beyond chutzpah. It is obscene.

By requiring that Palestine be non-militarized, Israel implies (usually, it states openly) that the Palestinians are being punished for their behavior in resisting a long term occupation, At the very least, it implies that Israel, the more powerful country, gets to dictate the conditions for Palestinian statehood.

So whether the Palestinians decide to forgo a military or not, they cannot make the decision in order to meet an Israeli demand. The last hundred years show amply that Palestinians have at least as much to fear from Zionist ambitions as vice-versa, and probably much more.

But is non-militarization a good idea in its own right? Since I assume the arguments for non-militarization are obvious (militaries are expensive, developing countries waste time and resources on them, militarism is a bad idea), I wish to focus on the case against non-militarization.

First off, a Palestinian military would serve the same function as militaries do around the world. It would be a source of national pride, a place for social consolidation, and, for recruits coming from underprivileged homes, an opportunity for social mobility and education.

Second, a military serves as a place for national integration and consolidation.

Third, a military provides a sense of security, especially for a justifiably insecure people.

Fourth, a military acts as a deterrent for those wishing to solve bilateral disputes by force. Of course, I don't expect that a Palestinian state would have an army that comes close to the Israeli army. But neither does Syria, and Israel knows better than to humiliate Syria (well, usually it knows better)

Finally, if there is a Palestinian military, the incentive for Palestinian youth to join guerilla/terrorist organizations will be diminished.

I have heard all the above reasons from American neocons in connection with building an Iraqi army. When you tell them to apply the same principles to Palestine they start to hem and haw.

There are so many pluses to a Palestinian military that it is hard for me to see what the downside is, besides the obvious ones that militarism is a bad idea for any country, and militaries are too expensive for developing countries.

Perhaps the best idea for Palestine would be for it to have a small armed force that has been trained by NATO and a coalition of Western and Arab states, and that has a joint defense pact with NATO or a major Western army. A country that acts belligerently against Palestine would not only incur the wrath of its armed forces, but of the NATO alliance, or something to that effect. The Palestinian army could even have joint units with the larger army.

Of course, what I would really like to see is one army, with joint units, for Israel-Palestine. Maybe now is not the time, but it is time to start thinking about it.

But, you will argue, there are plenty of countries that don't have militaries. Indeed, here is a list:

Andorra. Costa Rica. Cook Islands. Commonwealth of Dominica. Grenada. Iceland. Haiti. Kiribati. Liechtenstein. Maldivias. Marshall Islands. Mauritius. Monaco. Federated States of Micronesia. Nauru. Niue. Palau. Panama. San Marino. Solomon Islands New developments in the Salomon Islands. St Kitts and Nevis. St Lucia. St Vincent and the Grenadines. Tuvalu. Vanuatu. Vatican City state. Western Samoa.

Do you see on this list a country whose land has been occupied and expropriated for decades, whose people have been denied citizenship and representation, and who will be located alongside the settler state from which it was displaced, and which has one of the most powerful armies in the world, and an irridentist population?

What would Ben-Gurion have done had the UN offered the Jews a state in 1948, on the condition that it was non-militarized?

12 comments:

Alex said...

i understand where you're coming from, but from the list of countries without armies, i think there are a few that one could argue have been occupied. this is just from the top of my head (and a bit of wikipedia fact-checking)

Haiti (along with all the island of Santo Domingo) was occupied by the French and populated with slaves to grow sugar, until the slaves revolted. and declared independence. The french managed to recapture half the island though (now the Dominican Republic)...so now the modern DR, despite being the former occupiers of the Haitians, has an army and shares a tiny island with them.

Also, Panama used to be a part of Columbia, until it separated in the early 1900s. I guess one could argue that they were occupied by the Columbians (although that might be a bit of a stretch).

Overall I understand your position--that it's unfair for Israel to demand that the Palestinians give up the right to an army just to assuage Israeli fears--but my inner historian couldn't let these technicalities pass.

johnabdl said...

"Of course, what I would really like to see is one army, with joint units, for Israel-Palestine. Maybe now is not the time, but it is time to start thinking about it."

Weren't there Israeli-Palestinian joint border patrols in the good old days, before everything fell apart, before the second intifada?

Avram said...

Would you be against a temporary demilitarized Palestinian state (I assume this won't include Gaza) for x years, but then they'll be able to start building their army etc? The reason I ask the question is that I think that would allow both people to try and build an 'Egyptian treaty' like trust, where our 'Israeli fears' would be lessened greatly.

Btw, I don't think it's possible to demilitarize the terrorist wings of Hamas or Fatah etc. It would be like asking Hezbollah to disarm in Lebanon ... Alas, another issue both sides will struggle to find a solution to.

Jerry Haber said...

Alex, note that I wrote, "and an irridentist population". I am not sure that your examples fit the bill, certainly not today.

Avram, temporary nonmilitarization is better than permanent, but both should be decided upon not because of an Israeli demand but because of a Palestinian desire. One way to even the playing field, so to speak, would be for Israel to take confidence-building measures to limit its military. Right now, though, Israel is saying to the Palestinians, "You can have a flag, and you can have a police force, but we are going to have security control" And that is unjust and will guarantee the growth of undergrounds.

Jerry Haber said...

johnabdl,

Not joint patrols. One army with mixed units.

Tobias said...

Good post, a few things to add...

First of all, the call for "demilitarization" is a red herring. The PA, even in the subjugated, helpless condition it is now, has security forces which can be classified as paramilitary. They have military small arms, machine guns, some grenade launchers etc.
Not much would change if these were upgraded to what I'd like to call "light military" - a force with APCs, maybe IFVs, mortars, a few portable AT and AA weapons, lightly armed helicopters and small surveillance aircraft. A coast guard/navy with lightly armed patrol vessels if Gaza is incorporated.
Palestine won't be able to afford a lot more anyway, so it would be easy to agree to this. Many smaller countries have militaries of this type.

Second, I'd like to add something to argue against the argument that there are several countries which do not have militaries.
a) It's deceptive. A "light military" as outlined above exists in a few of those countries, such as Panama. The decision not to call it a military is an internal political one.
b) It's voluntary. There is no such condition imposed on any country. Palestine would literally be the only UN member with such a restriction, which incidentally would violate the UN charter, which guarantees the right to self-defense, and consequently, to possess means of self-defense.
c) It's not the whole picture. Israel does not merely insist on Palestinian demilitarization, it als wants them not to sign any military pacts. Almost of the "unarmed" countries of course do have such treaties - the most common reason for countries to have no military is that they are to small and relegate defense to someone else. Someone of their choice, if anybody comes up with the preposterous idea that Israel will provide this.

Avram said...

"temporary nonmilitarization is better than permanent, but both should be decided upon not because of an Israeli demand but because of a Palestinian desire."

Sometimes we need others to tell us what we desire ... Look, Obama's trying to tell us! ;)

"would be for Israel to take confidence-building measures to limit its military"

Come on Jerry - Hezbollah isn't involved with this peace process. Neither is Syria. Neither are branches of extremists within the West Bank and Gaza which are uncontrollable by Hamas or Fatah. Confidence building is one thing, but I don't think this is a step.

"Right now, though, Israel is saying to the Palestinians, "You can have a flag, and you can have a police force, but we are going to have security control""

Key word, "right now". I think we can learn a lot from the Egyptian peace treaty. We gave up things that 'may' hurt us one day, who knows, but that 'may' hasn't come and despite some concerns from both sides, a stable relationship has been forged (albeit a 'cold' one). That's what we need 'short term' ... At least that will give us a potentially more peaceful future than the one we're staring at now.

johnabdl said...

"Not joint patrols. One army with mixed units."

Yes, I understood, but neglected to write that the Israeli and PA military, police and intelligence have already tasted close collaboration, so close it led to real friendships.

The thought of "One army with mixed units" would be so great, it could bring tears to the eyes of anyone who's felt this conflict for a long time.

Jerry Haber said...

Tobias,

Thank you so much. Those are all excellent points.

Avram,

The analogy with Egypt is no good. Egypt has an army. And what we gave up to Egypt didn't belong to us.

The problem, Avram, is that you and most Israelis tie the question of Palestinian statehood to the question of peace. I realize that you are willing to "give up" a lot for the sake of peace. That you want the Palestinians to live happy lives and to determine your destiny.

But I am trying to get you to see things from a different angle. And that is the angle of justice, not of peace. And it is unjust for the Jews to have a state and not the Palestinians. Now, that Palestinian state may be a threat to Israel. Just as the Isreali state is and maybe a threat to Palestine. So we want to make arrangments to minize the threat.

But Israel can't dictate the terms of the Palestinian state, or condition its existence on its being happy. Just as the Israelis didn't ask Palestinians for permisison, so too the Palestinians don't have to ask Palestinians for permission.

Ah, but you rightly reply, "Look, all that is good in theory; but in the real world, it is Israel that has the power, and if Palestinians want a state, they are going to have to go through hoops. Israelis are reasonsable. If the Palestinians behave, then they can have an army."

My answer to that is that outside observers should determine what is reasonable. Let a settlement be imposed on both parties by outside parties.

Avram said...

"The analogy with Egypt is no good. Egypt has an army. And what we gave up to Egypt didn't belong to us."

The first point I think is wrong (Egypt's army got far far better with the US aid, as stipulated by the treaty) and I guess the 2nd is right (I don't know enough of how much we had developed Sinai, ie oil, etc to debate it)

"And it is unjust for the Jews to have a state and not the Palestinians."

I have no issue with this.

"Now, that Palestinian state may be a threat to Israel. Just as the Isreali state is and maybe a threat to Palestine. So we want to make arrangments to minize the threat."

Again, no issue with that though - those arrangements are most likely the 'sticky points' between me/you and the peace 'making' teams.

"Israel can't dictate the terms of the Palestinian state"

I disagree - those in power always dictate terms in every 'arena'. I am not comparing situations etc, but Germany after WWII, or your Ben Gurion 1931 example vs 1948.

"Just as the Israelis didn't ask Palestinians for permisison, so too the Palestinians don't have to ask Palestinians for permission."

I think this is a poor example because there was no independent Palestinian state in 1948 (or before hand) to ask permission. The reality then, and now, are different ...

"If the Palestinians behave, then they can have an army."

No, it's not about 'behaving'. You think the Egyptians 'behave'? You see what comes out of their politicians and state run media. It's about 'trust' that 'Hey, we may not like each other that much but I won't bother you, you don't bother me and shalom al mizrayim ve yisrael'.

"outside observers should determine what is reasonable."

I worry about that Jerry. How do we find outside observers who both sides are happy with? This needs to be defined by Israelis and Palestinians - compromises and all - or it will buckle in time (in my opinion).

Shabbat Shalom (or if you read this late, Shavoah Tov)

simon said...

After reading your article, I realized that you an insane person, how nice and great you are being progressive (ze ba moda). It is beyond me how can you dream up those things. With all your wit you forgot some basic things about the Israeli and Arab (you call them Palestinians) Israel never attacked any foreign government, that is a fact, Ii am not talking about operations against Arabs in the Gaza and or the West Bank in order to protect Israeli civilans, which you have a problem with.
Couple of things I would like to address is that is; #1 There is no Palestinians, and if so all the Jews that lived in Israel prior it becoming a state are Palestinians also, the Arabs will have peace only when Israel is no longer is in existence and they sliced every last Jew's throat and that includes you my friend of Arabs that feel sad that the Arabs in the west bank have no Army, Again you are too smart for that but they already have a state and an Army weak at best but they have one, the name of the estate is JORDAN and EGYPT>

Jerry Haber said...

"Israel never attacked any foreign government, that is a fact."

Except in 1956 (Egypt), 1967 (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon), 1982 (Lebanon), and 2006 (Lebanon). By the way, in all cases Israel began the attack. Whether it was justified or not is another story. (I am skipping over airforce attacks of Syria and Lebanon along the way. And Iraq, come to think of it.

The Palestinian Arabs were promised a state by the UN in 1948, because the United Nations recognized that they had as much claim to a state as did the Jews in Palestine. You don't think so, but the world disagrees with you. The reason they didn't get a state is because Jordan and Israel decided to divide up Palestine among them.

Jordan is not a Palestinian state, and Palestinians are starting to feel discrimination there. They accepted many Palestinian refugees, but those refugees should be given a choice of staying or returning to Palestine/Israel.

As for Egypt, Egypt is as Palestinian as Russia is. They don't even speak the same dialect as Palestinians.

OH, maybe you meant that they are Arab. That is true; all the Palestinians should go live there, and all the Jews should go back to their country of origin, or the country of their ancestors' origin.

Then we will bring the Swiss to Israel/Palestine, and there will be peace.