Binyamin Netanyahu was right this week in pointing out the "wide consensus" behind his demand that a Palestinian state be demilitarized. He was right that Israeli Jews, including even most peaceniks, don't want to give Palestinians the right to build an army, import weapons of war, sign military agreements with other countries or close off their airspace to us. The consensus goes like this: What, are we patsies? Are we going to nod our heads while they build up an army with missiles until they're strong enough to attack? Are we suicidal? We're willing to compromise on the land, we'll get out of their hair and let them run their own lives, but let's not get stupid about this. I think Netanyahu, in his speech at Bar-Ilan University, may have even understated the breadth of that consensus: It's not just wide, it's nearly wall-to-wall. In fact, the demand that a Palestinian state be demilitarized is an Israeli sacred cow. And like many other sacred cows, it needs to be slaughtered. The demand for Palestinian demilitarization is one more example of our national egocentrism: We can have the strongest military in the Middle East, they can't have one mortar. We can fly over their country anytime we want, they can't fly over Israel without our permission. We can import F-16s, we can sign mutual defense pacts with whomever will agree, they can't import a crate of cannonballs and they will always be alone in the world. The most egocentric thing of all is that we actually consider these terms to be fair, and figure that if the Palestinians don't accept them, that proves they don't really want peace. OUR THINKING goes like this: We're entitled to unlimited means of self-defense because, after all, we're a civilized nation, we don't mean anyone any harm. The Palestinians, on the other hand, aren't entitled to the slightest means of self-defense because all they want to do is destroy us, which they've proven over and over again. It's in their culture, it's who they are. Well, if Israelis want to believe that, they're entitled. But to expect the Palestinians to agree, to sign a peace treaty that's based on that assumption, you have to have a very, very bad case of national egocentrism. When Netanyahu said, "We don't want Kassam rockets on Petah Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv or missiles on Ben-Gurion Airport; we want peace," it struck a chord with Israelis. But imagine how it went over with the thousands of Gazans living in tents this year because their homes are in rubble. We've forgotten Operation Cast Lead but the rest of the world hasn't; the devastation is still there for everyone to see. I don't think the argument that Israel can be trusted with endless military power but the Palestinians can't be trusted with any is going to play very well on the road. Remember, we are talking about a Palestinian state that is supposed to emerge at the end of successful peace negotiations, a state whose leaders, alongside ours, would declare an "end to the conflict." That would be a Palestine we've never known; one they've never known, either. At that point, after the peace treaty had been signed, why would Palestine be any more of a threat to us than Egypt and Jordan? Those two countries live in peace alongside us even though they have much stronger armies than the Palestinians could ever hope to field. Moreover, after peace is declared, why would Palestine be a greater threat to us than Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or the 50-odd other Muslim nations in the world? Every one of them has an army and none of them attacks Israel - not even during Operation Cast Lead, when they all would have loved to - because they know it's not worth it. Once the Palestinians were no longer unique in the Muslim world for living under our control, why wouldn't they join the rest of that world in being deterred militarily by our ridiculously superior power? If the Palestinians were free of occupation and had a sovereign state at peace with Israel, why would they throw it away for the privilege of getting mauled by the IDF? I'M NOT TALKING about doing it today. If the IDF pulled out of the West Bank today and the Palestinian Authority took over and started building an army, that would be suicide because we are very, very far from an end to the conflict. The Palestinians, on the whole, remain committed to fighting us. Neither am I saying that putting aside the demand for demilitarization would pave the way for a peace agreement; it's just one of a number of obstacles. But why don't we start by clearing this one out? We can't seriously say we want to restart peace negotiations, then lay down a condition for the Palestinians that we ourselves would never accept. And even if the Palestinians did, for some tactical reason, agree to statehood without the right to maintain armed forces, control their airspace, import war weapons and enter military alliances - they'd break it as soon as they had their territory to themselves. No state in the Middle East will live its national life without those basic powers of sovereignty - and above all not when it's sitting next to Israel, whose sovereign powers are unimpeded. No, even if Israel could somehow maneuver the Palestinians into signing a peace treaty that called for their state's demilitarization, this would be an invitation for them to break their word later on - by smuggling in weapons, for instance - which would make for a very unhealthy situation. Which is why we shouldn't try to negotiate it into being. Instead, the most realistic peace agreement, and the healthiest, would allow the Palestinians to have the exact same powers of sovereignty as Israel, to build an army if that's what they want, then leave it to reality to dictate their state's military actions. Reality - i.e. Israel's ridiculously superior military power - has worked wonders for our peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan, as well as for our unwritten cease-fire arrangements with the rest of the Muslim world. In this context, Palestine, even with an army, is nothing for the colossus of the Middle East to worry about - not if Palestine is free and the conflict is over. Insisting on demilitarization is one way for Israel to make sure that never happens.