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?