OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

The illusion of a ‘demilitarized’ Palestinian state

No one can stop a future Palestinian state from becoming a lawless and militarized state. Such a state on Israel's doorstep would pose a direct and grave threat to Israel's existence.

Fatah terrorists during a parade in the Balata camp on the outskirts of Nablus (Shechem) in Samaria, May 5, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Fatah terrorists during a parade in the Balata camp on the outskirts of Nablus (Shechem) in Samaria, May 5, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Bassam Tawil

As part of its effort to promote the idea of a “two state solution,” the Biden administration has been talking about the need to establish a “demilitarized” Palestinian state next to Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reported to have asked the State Department for a “review of what a demilitarized Palestinian state would look like based on other models around the world.”

The Biden administration is homing in on a new doctrine involving an unprecedented push to immediately advance the creation of a “demilitarized” but viable Palestinian state, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reported in early February:

“[The plan] would involve some form of U.S. recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would come into being only once Palestinians had developed a set of defined, credible institutions and security capabilities to ensure that this state was viable and that it could never threaten Israel,” writes Friedman.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has also voiced support for the establishment of a “demilitarized” Palestinian state.

The talk about a “demilitarized” Palestinian state comes in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and murder, rape, torture and mutilation of 1,200 Israelis, including women, children and the elderly. Hamas also kidnapped 253 Israelis, more than half of whom are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip.

The terrorists who attacked Israel used various types of weapons, including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and motorized hang gliders. Thousands of terrorists infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip, which has been under the exclusive control of Hamas since it seized control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

The Hamas coup came two years after Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip, after evacuating more than 9,000 Jews who were living there in more than 25 communities. Since 2005, there have been no Jewish civilians or soldiers in the Gaza Strip, which became a semi-independent Palestinian state.

After the Hamas takeover, Israel and Egypt tightened their respective border crossings and placed restrictions on shipping to prevent smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists and weapons. Since the Hamas takeover, Israel, a state the size of New Jersey, has been bombarded by tens of thousands of rockets and mortars—more than 11,000 just since Oct. 7; 9,000 from Gaza, 2,000 from Lebanon.

The Israeli and Egyptian arms blockade did not prevent Hamas and other terror groups from smuggling large amounts of weapons into the Gaza Strip, mostly through the border with Egypt. The blockade also did not prevent the Palestinian terror groups from manufacturing and developing its own weapons, including various types of rockets and missiles. The idea that the Gaza Strip would become a “demilitarized” entity thanks to Israeli and Egyptian security restrictions proved to be a pipe dream.

The Oct. 7 massacre demonstrated that Israel’s enemies do not need tanks and warplanes to invade it. The Palestinians have proven over the past few decades that when it comes to murdering Jews, they will use anything they can get their hands on, including knives, cars, swords, screwdrivers, clubs, daggers, stones, firebombs and explosive belts.

Five months after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, it has become clear just how successful the Palestinian terror groups were in transforming the Gaza Strip into one of the most dangerous and militarized areas in the Middle East. The Gaza Strip is so full of weapons that, five months into the war, the Palestinian terrorists are still using rocket-propelled grenades and explosive devices to attack Israeli troops.

The situation in the West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority is equally worrying. In the past few years, Iran and its terror proxies accelerated efforts to smuggle weapons into the West Bank through Jordan.

“Iran wants to turn Jordan into a transit area for weapons going into Israel,” said Amer al-Sabaileh, founder of Security Languages, a counterterrorism think tank in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The bulk of Iranian weapons to Palestinians go into the West Bank, particularly to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to a senior Jordanian security official.

In November 2023, Israeli authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle 137 guns into Israel from Jordan, in what they said was the largest-ever seizure of weapons on the Jordanian border.

Four months earlier, Israeli authorities thwarted an unusual weapons smuggling attempt into Israel from Jordan, the details of which have not been cleared for publication. The smuggling was described as “irregular,” and not similar to previous, and frequent, smuggling attempts. Authorities investigating the incident believe the weapons were being spirited in for use by Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank.

In April 2023, a Jordanian parliament member was arrested by Israeli authorities for attempting to smuggle more than 200 firearms into the West Bank using his diplomatic passport.

The flow of weapons into the West Bank has facilitated the emergence of several armed groups responsible for countless terrorist attacks against Israelis. Most of these groups operate in areas controlled by the P.A., which has several security forces consisting of tens of thousands of officers who are supposed to disarm them.

If the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip managed over the past few decades to accumulate so many weapons, one can only imagine what would happen if they were handed an independent and sovereign state with full control over its borders with Egypt and Jordan. The Palestinians would undoubtedly continue their efforts to obtain more weapons to be used in the jihad to kill Jews and eliminate Israel.

Even if the Palestinians commit in advance to a “demilitarized” state, experience has shown that such promises are worthless.

More importantly, according to Louis René Beres, professor emeritus at Purdue University and an expert in international law and political science, any commitment to a demilitarized state by the Palestinian leadership would be legally worthless:

“Any treaty is void if, at the time it was entered into, it conflicts with a ‘peremptory’ rule of general international law (jus cogens)—a rule accepted and recognized by the international community of states as one from which ‘no derogation is permitted.’ Because the right of sovereign states to maintain military forces essential to ‘self-defense’ is such a peremptory rule, Palestine, depending upon its particular form of authority, could be entirely within its right to abrogate any pre-independence agreement that had compelled its demilitarization.”

Indeed, the P.A. committed, under the terms of the peace agreements signed with Israel, to combat terrorism and enforce law and order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the P.A. essentially did nothing to confiscate illegal weapons or crack down on the countless armed groups operating under its nose.

Even today, the P.A. is virtually doing nothing to foil terrorist attacks against Israelis from areas under its control in the West Bank. It is hard to find one Palestinian family in the West Bank that does not possess an assault rifle, pistol, or some other weapon.

After Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians had a chance to turn the coastal enclave into the “Singapore of the Middle East.” Instead, they turned it into one massive base for jihad and terrorism. They also used the Gaza Strip as a launching pad to fire tens of thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel.

According to Beres:

“There are several substantive and foreseeable problems with Palestinian demilitarization. The first such problem has to do with conspicuously unchanging Palestinian commitments to an Arab state that would replace Israel. The second concerns certain critical expectations of international law-abiding expectations that could conceivably allow any Palestinian state to abrogate its pre-independence commitments to remain ‘demilitarized’….

“Therein lies the jurisprudential core of the Palestinian demilitarization problem: International law would not necessarily require Palestinian compliance with any pre-state agreements concerning the use of armed force. From the standpoint of such authoritative law, enforcing demilitarization upon a sovereign state of Palestine would be sorely problematic.

Beres noted that both the P.A. and Hamas continue to agree on one central, deal-breaking point: First, Israel’s existence is intolerable on purely religious grounds and, second, Israel, in its entirety, is nothing more than “Occupied Palestine”:

“Unhidden, both the Arab world and Iran still have only a ‘One-State Solution’ for the ‘Israel Problem.’ It is a ‘solution’ that eliminates Israel altogether, a physical solution, a ‘Final Solution.’ Even today, official Arab maps of ‘Palestine’ (PNA and Hamas) show the prospective Arab State comprising all of the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), all of Gaza and all of Israel. They knowingly exclude any references to a Jewish population and list ‘holy sites’ of Christians and Muslims only.”

Beres warned Israel not draw comfort from a purportedly legal promise of Palestinian demilitarization:

“Should the government of a new state of Palestine choose to invite foreign armies and/or terrorists onto its territory, it could do so without practical difficulties and without violating international law.”

As a fully sovereign state, Palestine might not be bound by pre-independence agreements, even if the compacts were to include United Nations and/or United States reassurances to the contrary.

Beres added:

“Because authentic treaties can be binding only upon states, any agreement between a non-State Palestinian National Authority (presumably in tangible concert with Hamas) and a sovereign state of Israel would garner little respect….

“Following the Gaza war, any plan for accepting Palestinian demilitarization would be built upon sand. Neither the United States nor Israel should ever base its geostrategic assessments of Palestinian statehood upon such an illusory foundation. Following any implemented form of post-Gaza war independence, neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas would accept the idea of a ‘limited’ form of Palestinian statehood. By any Arab world definition, such an idea would be considered unreasonable and humiliating.”

No one can stop a future Palestinian state from becoming a lawless and militarized state. Such a state on Israel’s doorstep would pose a direct and grave threat to Israel’s existence and actually facilitate the mission of the Iranian regime and its terror proxies to murder more Jews.

Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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