PA police officer
PA police officerFlash 90

Moshe Phillipsis a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.

Nineteen Democratic U.S. senators have called on President Biden to “recognize a nonmilitarized Palestinian state.” Until now, congressional supporters of Palestinian statehood have always used the term “demilitarized.” Why the sudden change?

There’s just no way it was an accident. Letters signed by U.S. senators are reviewed and revised by a large team of writers and public relations advisers. In this case, the staffs of nineteen different senators reviewed and approved this letter dated March 20. A change like this, from “demilitarized” to “nonmilitarized,” didn’t just slip through without anybody noticing.

Especially when “nonmilitarized” is such a peculiar term. Throughout modern history “demilitarized” has always been the conventional term. Somebody made a conscious decision to change the word.

Here's a theory as to why. It involves two reasons.

The first reason for the change is rhetorical. A major problem for advocates of “demilitarization” is that it has a long history of not working. The most famous example is the German territory of the Rhineland, which was supposed to be demilitarized after World War One—that is, until Hitler decided to remilitarize it. And the world stood idly by.

American advocates of Palestinian Arab statehood don’t want their opponents to be able to cite that historical precedent. They hate historical precedents—because they prove the fallacy of the “demilitarization” idea. They think that by changing the word, they can preempt criticism of the idea.

The second reason for the change is more practical. If you say “nonmilitarized,” you’re pretending that right now, the Palestinian Authority regime does not have military capability, so to create a state, you would just convert the existing entity into a fully sovereign state without having to impose any real changes on it.But if you use the term “demilitarized,” that means acknowledging that the Palestinian Authority already has a de-facto army—armed to the teeth - and therefore you would have to disarm it. Which nobody in the international community is willing to do.

The PA’s de-facto army began its existence disguised as a “strong police force,” according to Article VII of the first Oslo agreement. While nobody was paying attention, the PA expanded the original 12,000 man “police force” into a 60,000-man “security force.”

Then came Oslo II, in 1995, which required the PA security forces to “apprehend, investigate and prosecute perpetrators and all other persons directly or indirectly involved in acts of terrorism, violence and incitement.” (Annex I, Article II, 3-c).

The PA never fulfilled that obligation. In fact, just the opposite. A new study by a major Israeli think tank, Regavim, found that the PA security forces themselves list 2,000 of their members as “martyrs”—meaning they died while committing terrorism! In addition, fully 12% of all Palestinian Arab terrorists currently jailed in Israel are members of the PA security forces—that’s approximately 500 out of the 4,500-5,000 jailed terrorists. Yet our own CIA continues to provide training for the PA’s de-facto army.

The World Atlas lists which countries have the largest per-capita security forces. The largest ones are those with the tiniest populations, thus making the size of their security forces disproportionately large, like the Vatican, the Pitcairn Islands, and Monaco. Sixth on the list—despite having a population of several million—is the Palestinian Authority. The PA has a whopping 1,250 “police officers” per 100,000 people.

A 2018 report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, titled “Evolution of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces,” revealed that “by late 1998, the PA security services…had in almost every regard violated the letter of the agreements reached with Israel,” turning the PA-governed areas into “one of the most heavily policed territories in the world.”

“A proliferation of weapons was occurring, both in quantity and quality, well beyond that stipulated in Oslo II,” according to the Washington Institute. “By one estimate, there were at least 40,000 more weapons than allowed in the agreement, including RPGs, mortars, mines, grenade launchers, and sniper rifles; also being developed was a small-scale indigenous manufacturing capacity for hand grenades and other ammunition.” That was fifteen years ago. One can only imagine what the PA has in its arsenal now.

Now you see the problem with using the term “demilitarization”—it would mean taking away most of the PA security forces’ weapons and military equipment.

In all likelihood, the change from “demilitarized” to “nonmilitarized” was initiated by some ex-State Department official or some “as a Jew…” critic of Israel. Or maybe one person who fits both descriptions. He probably thought he was being clever. Maybe nobody would notice; the term would start to gain circulation, and before long nobody would remember its significance.

But words matter. And when it comes to Middle East diplomacy, words really matter. Just think about the countless debates over why UN Security Council Resolution 242 said Israel should withdraw from “territories,” not “the territories.”

The same is true for “demilitarized” and “nonmilitarized.” That seemingly small change is actually a big deal. A very big deal.