Netanyahu’s Third Model is… Autonomy!

In an interview with NPR, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu described a “third model” for Palestine besides the one-state and two-state models:

My view of a potential agreement is that the Palestinians should be able to have all the powers to govern themselves but not have the powers to threaten us. The key power that must not be in their hands is the question of security. In the tiny area west of the Jordan River up to the Mediterranean – it’s all about a width of about 50, 60 kilometers – where both Palestinians and Israelis live, Israel must retain the overriding security responsibility.

Otherwise we’ll get what happened already in Lebanon and Gaza when we left and basically militant Islam came in under Hezbollah, subservient to Iran, or under Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, subservient to Iran. So if you have a state that has most of the sovereign powers of the state but not the power of security, is that a state or not a state? I don’t know. You can argue about that. But that’s my position, and I’ve made it very, very clear both to the previous administration and to the Trump administration.

What is there to argue? There is no question that he is describing autonomy for Palestine within Israel, a statelet within a state. The question then remains what is the real meaning of “most of the sovereign powers of the state” but not the ones of security? “Security” for Israel is not a self-contained expression of defense interests but instead  security permeates all aspects of Israeli life. While the PM suggests he means the conventional issue of security as defense against militant groups, he would presumably include within “security” the preservation of all settlements. An autonomy arrangement would not necessarily remove the security wall, in fact it might further Israeli’s desire to expand separation practices and technologies that limit freedom of movement and the circulation of goods in Palestinian areas. What about Palestine’s foreign relations with other countries? Those would surely be subject to Israeli security considerations as would all transborder movements, including water resources. How could Palestine trade without Israeli inspections and customs, which would surely fall within the scope of “security”? In short, how could Palestine and Israel arrive at a peaceful border regime if Palestine’s borders were not their’s to manage?

Security is an inflationary concept, it can always expand to include any interest of the state. Indeed, the very rights of Palestinians within Israel are already understood under the mantle of security, especially with regard to anxieties over demographic balance and reproduction. An autonomous Palestine–arguably settled within international law–would create a spatial fix, a pressure valve allowing Israel to push Palestinians into the autonomous entity while at the same time deepening the idea that Israel is a Jewish-only state.

The invocation of autonomy for Palestine is fraught with problems that autonomies are meant to resolve, ie, reducing conflict by creating “satisficing” conditions for a distinct people to exercise maximal self-government without degrading the “ultimate sovereignty” of the state. But autonomies and other forms of internal partition by devolution are hard to agree, hard to maintain, and even harder to impose – N.B. Bosnia’s two entities, Yugoslavia’s Kosovo and independent Kosovo’s Association of Serb Municipalities, Georgia’s Abkhazia, Iraq’s Kurdistan, Crimea etc. The sticking points of borders/land, refugees, reparations, and Jerusalem are not likely to get better for an autonomous Palestine “deal.” Add to this the Trump administration’s attempt to weaken the Palestinian Authority’s bargaining position, and one can see the makings of a “new fact on the ground” unlikely to advance peace.

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