Israel, Palestine, and the Two-State Solution

I noticed this op-ed by Ehud Olmert today in the NYT (it’s late in the month, so hopefully your free article count with them hasn’t run out), where he outlines the terms of a deal that he thinks both sides should agree to, involving land-swaps, equivalent land area to the pre-1967 borders, a shared Jerusalem, and third-party administration of the holy sites in that city…and, to cap it off,

the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form military alliances with other nations.

I don’t pretend to know the current official positions of either side on the first few issues, but this last one strikes me as particularly difficult from a practical standpoint. So let’s leave other substantive issues with the agreement aside and consider this one: would an agreement to forego a military even work?

This deal would require that an erstwhile state agree to give up its two primary means of self-defense: arms and allies. (I can imagine a state that suffered a total military defeat agreeing to this, but not many others.) In fact, yielding the means of self-defense is almost like yielding statehood, and the Palestinians likely know that this will leave them vulnerable (not just to Israel but to other potential threats) in the future, a future in which states with militaries can’t commit not to use that leverage to their advantage. In that sense, it’s easy to see why this agreement might not work: the status quo today, however painful and however dim the prospects of some alternative deal emerging, might be better than a future in which a state can’t effectively wield military power. (Of course, we might also think that agreements to demilitarize are inherently incredible to begin with, and that Palestine could freely militarize regardless of the agreement, but doing so would be in clear violation of a previous agreement, giving outsiders a casus belli or, at the very least, legal room in which to frustrate any attempt to arm.)

All in all, the terms themselves would prevent this deal from being self-enforcing: states with militaries might want to make demands of states without them, leading those states without to try to militarize in violation of the terms of the agreement, which means the deal likely wouldn’t stick (and when it broke down, it would be pretty costly). And, anticipating that, why sign that deal in the first place?

However this whole thing shakes out—peacefully, violently, or, well, never—my suspicion is that, unless the status quo goes quickly from bad to worse for Palestine, a stable agreement to establish two states won’t involve a de-militarized Palestinian political entity.


UPDATE: Phil Arena has a great discussion of some of the longer-term demographic sources of commitment problems in Israel and Palestine.

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