Palestinian Leader Seeks NATO Force in Future State

Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, June 28, 2013Six months into peace talks dominated by discussion about security, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has proposed to Secretary of State John Kerry that an American-led NATO force patrol a future Palestinian state indefinitely , with troops positioned throughout the territory, at all crossings, and within Jerusalem.

Mr. Abbas said in an interview with The New York Times at his headquarters here over the weekend that Israeli soldiers could remain in the West Bank for up to five years — not three, as he previously stated — and that Jewish settlements should be phased out of the new Palestinian state along a similar timetable. Palestine, he said, would not have its own army, only a police force, so the NATO mission would be responsible for preventing the weapons smuggling and terrorism that Israel fears.

“For a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders, but also on the western borders, everywhere,” Mr. Abbas said of the imagined NATO mission. “The third party can stay. They can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.”

We will be demilitarized,” he added. “Do you think we have any illusion that we can have any security if the Israelis do not feel they have security?”

The interview, a rarity for the Palestinian leader with a Western news organization, was his most expansive discourse to date on security arrangements, and it underscored the significant gaps remaining between the two sides. Israel has insisted on a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley and on controlling the timing and conditions for the withdrawal of its troops. . . .

Mr. Netanyahu’s office refused to respond to Mr. Abbas’s comments. But the idea that Israel can rely only on its own military, not a third party, is a standard trope of the prime minister’s. He also says a fixed timetable is untenable, citing the volatility in the region. “Our attitude toward international forces is skeptical in the extreme,” said one senior Israeli official. “Timing can’t be artificial. It has to be based on performance, and we want to be able to judge what’s going on with performance. . . .”

The NATO security proposal is not entirely new: Mr. Abbas said he had won support for the notion from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and from President George W. Bush. He also said he presented the idea of an American-led force that included Jordanians to Mr. Netanyahu, at a meeting at the prime minister’s house a few years ago with then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I told him: ‘If you will not trust your allies, so whom do you trust? I am not bringing for you Turkey and Indonesia,’ ” Mr. Abbas recalled. “He said, ‘I trust my army only.’ “

Image: Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, June 28, 2013 (photo: Department of State)