President Donald Trump entered the White House committed to finding “the ultimate deal” to bring about an Israeli/Palestinian Arab peace. Though putting himself on record in February as favoring no particular type of solution other than one that commends itself to both sides, President Trump’s advisers are now reportedly examining a plan for a Palestinian state.
The plan, devised by General John Allen during the Obama Administration, calls for a sovereign but demilitarized Palestinian state to be established within the 1949 armistice lines. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would be withdrawn from within its territory, including the strategically vital Jordan Valley –– something Yitzhak Rabin, weeks before his murder, insisted on Israel retaining under any peace agreement. Instead, Israel would have to rely for its security upon a US military force operating in the Jordan Valley and, perhaps a continuing IDF presence for a 10-15 year period.
Colonel Kris Bauman, who assisted General Allen in the formulation of the original plan, is now serving as adviser to Trump’s National Security Council –– an indication of the seriousness with which the Plan is being considered.
Is the Allen Plan a good one? Unfortunately not, for several reasons.
Reliance on foreign forces holds a cautionary history for Israel.
The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), which was designed to keep the peace between Egypt and Israel after the 1956 Suez War, was simply withdrawn at Egypt’s request in 1967, leading to the Six Day War.
President Eisenhower’s 1957 military guarantee to Israel of free, unmolested maritime shipping through the Straits of Tiran turned out to be unenforceable when Israel needed the US to provide it in 1967 –– another factor that produced the Six Day War.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) never prevented the PLO or, later, Hizballah from attacking Israel and has actually become a hindrance to Israel stopping Hizballah militarizing the Lebanese-Israeli border, resulting in several wars.
With the emergence in the last two years of jihadist groups on the armistice lines with Israel on the Golan Heights, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has similarly ceased to provide any form of protection for Israel or accountability from its attackers. International forces and guarantees can vanish overnight.
Foreign forces, even that of an ally like the US, have neither the commitment nor compulsion to sustain the casualties that protecting Israel might one day require. US forces have been evacuated from deteriorating military situations in Vietnam and Iraq where direct US interests were at stake. Are they more likely to hunker down in the Jordan Valley on behalf of Israel?
If foreign forces are no security panacea, neither is Palestinian demilitarization. However careful the security arrangements for Israel under General Allen’s Plan, history demonstrates that no sovereign state has ever permitted itself to be permanently and entirely demilitarized.
Even Weimar Germany, which was in no way an aggressive, irredentist state, as Mahmoud Abbas’ PA would undoubtedly become, refused to remain demilitarized. Weimar Germany trained military forces under the guise of police and scouting organizations and engaged in arms production under civilian cover.
Even purely as a matter of law and treaty, there is no effective means to compel a state to remain disarmed, even if its permanent disarmament were an explicit clause in a peace treaty or international agreement pertaining to that state.
To quote Professor Louis René Beres, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University,
“International law would not necessarily expect Palestinian compliance with any limitations on negotiated agreements concerning national armies and armed forces … After declaring independence, a Palestinian government … could point to particular pre-independence errors of fact, or to duress, as appropriate grounds for invoking selective agreement termination.”
Add to this the fact that only sovereign states can be held to conclude authentic treaties, and the government of a future Palestinian state could realistically claim not to be bound by the demilitarization clauses of the peace treaty that created it.
Accordingly, at some point in the future, a Palestinian state could simply renege on demilitarization and Israel would have neither legal nor diplomatic redress. This would be a recipe for a full-scale war, as any attempt on the part of Israel to forcibly disarm such a state would become.
As retired IDF Major-General Gershon Hacohen, now a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel, has observed, “it is hard to imagine under what circumstances Israel would attain the international legitimacy to pursue an offensive deep within the Palestinian state, should the need arise.”
The PA has already consistently violated all Oslo limitations on its armed forces. It has imported prohibited weaponry, permitted armed terrorist groups to establish themselves in its midst, and armed far larger forces than permitted under signed agreements. How likely is it that a sovereign Palestinian state would be more sedulously observant of such terms than the PA has been till now?
In short, Israel cannot place its ultimate security in the hands of foreign forces, nor in the supposed security to be found in Palestinian demilitarization, nor still in the durability of any demilitarization clauses, however stringent, enshrined in a future peace agreement.
Whatever other proposals the Trump Administration might consider, it should discard General Allen’s without delay.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establisment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).