Amid the unrest now sweeping the Middle East, Israeli government and security officials are quietly discussing an unusual strategy that would pass the Palestinians’ political future off to Jordan. With the odds of a negotiated two-state solution at an all-time low, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Knesset Member Arieh Eldad, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin resurrected the “Jordan is Palestine” model for regional peace.
Israeli officials fear that a Palestinian Intifada could break out on both sides of the Jordan River, and they seek to make it as much a Jordanian problem as an Israeli one.
In February, Human Rights Watch, the world’s self-proclaimed defender of minority rights, produced a 60-page report entitled, “Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality.” The paper details how Jordan deprives its Palestinian citizens of West Bank origins their basic rights, such education and healthcare. The report received scant attention back then. But the problem of Jordanian Palestinians, amidst growing unrest in the Hashemite Kingdom, has put the issue back on the front burner.
Israeli analysts worry that if the Jordanian government is to become more representative, it is possible that the country’s 72% Palestinian population could effectively take control. Jordan, in effect, could become “Palestine.”
The notion of a Palestinian controlled polity in Jordan is not new. From the war of Israeli independence in 1948 through the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli politicians on the Left and Right advanced a policy of “Jordan is Palestine.” While defending Israel from Arab aggression, they proposed that Jordan become the Palestinian homeland. Israeli officials proposed various scenarios for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation that fused the East Bank and West Bank of the Jordan River under one administration.
However, it is not as simple as that. Dan Schueftan, author of A Jordanian Option, correctly noted in 1986 that such an arrangement would be dependent on Israeli-Jordanian relations and how the two parties view potential threats from the Palestinian populations in their midst.
Inseparable security needs
To be sure, in the years after the Six-Day War, the Jordanian monarchy was wary of the Palestinians. Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat challenged the sovereignty of the country in 1970. After that, the kingdom had blocked the flow of Palestinians from the West Bank into the East Bank in order to preserve the kingdom’s Hashemite political structure. To a certain extent, the Jordanians renounced all claims to the West Bank in 1988, backed the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the early 1990s, and then made peace with Israel in 1994 in an attempt to prevent further flooding of Palestinians into their country.
To a certain extent Jerusalem has long looked to the Hashemite monarchy to maintain stability and security on both sides of the river. Both Amman and Jerusalem, in fact, recognize that their security needs are inseparable. Jordan has benefited from the periods of relative quiet and prosperity in Israel. Accordingly, Jordanian security forces have been increasingly involved in the West Bank, where they conduct joint training sessions with Palestinian forces. It has been a win-win-win situation for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians.
The problem now is that Jordan’s traditional power centers are unhappy with the rise of Palestinian influence in the country. Tribal leaders resent Jordan’s Queen Rania, born in Kuwait to a family with roots in the West Bank, for her vocal advocacy of the Palestinian cause. In fact, 36 tribal leaders recently published their objections to Rania’s position, fearing that it will accelerate a slow Palestinian takeover of the kingdom.
With hopes fading for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this seemingly far-flung notion may become the last, best option. The problem is that it could embolden Palestinian radical groups, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, which derive much of their power from disillusioned Palestinians in the West and East Banks. With the rise of such groups in Jordan, the peace agreement between Amman and Jerusalem would be in peril.
Nevertheless, as uncomfortable as it might be for Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians to admit, the Jordanian option might be the best one they have.
Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former liaison officer from the Israeli Defense Forces to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
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