When do the demands of demilitarization of a state transcend over sovereignty, to become the imposition of another form of occupation? At its limit, demilitarization is occupation: and sovereignty becomes nothing more than a meaningless banner, flapping in the wind, over a police state.
The Palestine Papers reveal Israel’s negotiator, Tzipi Livni in May 2008 discussing the scope of Palestinian demilitarization with her Palestinian counterparts:
Livni: “First: demilitarization – what you call limited arms. The equation is that on one hand you will have some limited arms for law and order and for fighting internal terrorism. But there is no need – and we cannot afford – a Palestinian army.”
Erekat: “Do I have a choice of who to place on my territory?”
Erekat: “Do you see your army in our territory?”
Livni: “We don’t see ourselves in the territory except for limited cases, like early warning stations and the Jordan Valley… (Jordan Valley) not as territory, but a presence at the border.”
Erekat: “Can I choose where I secure external defence?”
Livni: “No… in order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel – you choose not to have the right of choice afterwards. These are the basic pillars.”
Livni makes it absolutely clear with that phrase: “You choose not to have the right of choice.”
The right of choice, of course, is basic to the concept of sovereignty. The basic pillars Livni talks about are no army, no air force, and basically no capacity for external defence. Ahmed Qurei, the chief negotiator is quite unperturbed by this ban, making it clear that he is in confrontation with Hamas and Hezbollah, rather than with any ‘external’ threat. This, of course, is not a problem, Livni is content “for strong police for law and order but not external threats”. The Israelis are happy for the PA to have a strong police state.
Let us be clear: Israel is demanding full spectrum military dominance in the air, on land – and with no capacity for Palestinians to protect themselves in any way whatsoever from either air attack, incursion, or missile attack. Implicit in Livni’s demand is a claim to impunity to pursue whatever military action against Palestinians, Israel may choose to launch: complete freedom of action.
Qurei is too busy making cracks about Hezbollah already being the government in Lebanon, to protest much. He wants arms to fight Hamas, not to defend Palestinians from Israel.
But this picture cannot be viewed in isolation to the other aspects of control that Livni is seeking: Israel is demanding control over the borders, control on who may enter and exit the Palestinian state, effective joint control over the internal security apparatus, Israeli vetting of applicants to the security apparatus, restrictions on who may stand for election in the Palestinian state, control over press ‘incitement’, control over the mosques, control over Palestinian airspace and even control over its electro-magnetic field.
These restrictions come on top of an American and European counter-insurgency project that has already set in place an economic oligarchy that is collaborating closely to co-ordinate with Israeli commercial interests.
They are additional too to policies already in place to crack down on any dissent. In the language of one British document, included among The Palestine Papers, the objective being to ‘degrade’ the capabilities of opponents to the PA; to disrupt their communications, to intern their members, to close their civil and charitable organisations, to remove them from public bodies, and to seize their assets.
Whereas to call for the ‘demilitarization’ of a Palestinian state may seem innocuous – and was treated as such by the PLO negotiators – the accumulation of restrictions under the rubric ‘demilitarization’ – amounts to nothing more than a new occupation. The experience of Gaza since 2006 illustrates clearly what can be the result when Israel exercises full military freedom of action against an undefended territory, when it additionally controls the crossings and the borders, when it controls the passage of foodstuffs, when it controls economic resources such as electricity, diesel and cooking gas. Palestinians become their captives.
Israelis may no longer be physically present in Gaza – aside from their temporary incursions – but Gaza is not free, and it is not sovereign. At its limit demilitarization simply is occupation by another name.
Alastair Crooke is the founder of Conflicts Forum, an international movement which engages with Islamist movements broadly. He is the organiser of US and European unofficial dialogues in 2005 with Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist movements, and a former special Middle East adviser to European Union high representative Javier Solana. He facilitated various Israeli-Palestinian ceasefires during 2001-2003, and was instrumental in the negotiations leading to the ending of the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. He is a former member of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service.