“It is important to be open and honest with one another,” said President Obama in Israel the other day as he addressed a group of students in Jerusalem. Let us try to exercise this “open and honest” concept. Honestly, over the last 40 plus years so many countries and their leaders, plus private envoys, have tried to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that their cumulative failure has made compromise even more unlikely. The pessimistic belief that one side won’t relinquish its core demands enough to satisfy the other side is profound. Obama, for all his lofty intentions, appears to many Israelis and Palestinians as just another Western rationalist who doesn’t live in the neighborhood. The fight over holy land and the right to exist is not like the disagreement over marginal tax rates.
Yet there may be a solution that can profoundly change the outlook of the players and facilitate the endgame Obama envisions, although it requires some out-of-the-box thinking. In an effort to end Israeli rule over the Palestinians and simultaneously provide security and stability to both parties, Jordan could re-occupy the West Bank and act as a temporary protectorate. This could very well bring about the political environment that both the Palestinians and the Israelis need to make peace.
Something new and bold needs to be done to break the back of the self-defeating Israeli occupation. The Jordanian-Palestinian protectorate is a good place to try. Relieved of a need for its own army, police force, currency, and internal bureaucracy, Palestine could get off to a good start. Within a negotiated number of years, if security goals were met, a shift to more independence could take place.[J1] The aim would ultimately be the establishment a Palestinian state, fulfilling the Palestinians’ desire for self-determination.
If the conflict could be solved—as Obama implicitly suggested—by “look[ing] at the world through their [the Palestinians’] eyes,” peace and a Palestinian state could have been achieved long ago. Most people, even Israelis, know how the Palestinians feel, but that is not the real issue. The deepest, most intractable problem is Israel’s doubt that it can be secure from lethal attacks if it ended the occupation. Frankly, there is great validity to that concern. Most of Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East—Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon—are not secure states in the same way that Mexico, France or New Zealand are. Time has only worked against the Palestinians by convulsing the entire region in the largest political upheaval since the end of World War I, and it will likely be many years until the dust settles.
Here are a few reasons the Jordanian play is necessary.
There is very little “honest” reason to believe that the land between the separation barrier on the west and the Jordan River on the east can sustain an independent Palestine at this point in time. A truly sovereign nation is required to do many things, foremost secure its borders from military intervention, conventional or guerilla; there is no evidence that a Palestinian state could do that. Syria can’t, even with its large army that was supposed to be capable of doing so. Egypt is struggling in the Sinai, dealing with both Bedouin tribes and its porous border with the Gaza Strip.
There is no historical precedent for this small area to be its own nation; “Palestine” is not Scotland that once ruled itself and then was conquered and subsumed into a larger country. “Palestine” has never existed as an independent nation. The Israelis worry that a newly formed country could be overwhelmed by internal conflicts, a failed economy and invaded by Jihadists or by a country hostile to Israel, like Iran. The Palestinians, for understandable reasons, have shown complete resistance to a peace plan that stations Israeli troops within its new borders.
The Gaza Strip is the living example of Israeli fears. The Palestinian government there melted away after an afternoon’s fighting between Hamas and Fatah factions. The Israelis hoping for an end to the unproductive Gaza occupation received instead a Hamas-controlled, warlike state bristling with rockets that have rained down on Israeli cities in the Negev, and recently even on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Therefore, the Gaza Strip will have to be excluded from the protectorate plan—unless Hamas decides to accept Israel’s existence and previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The state of Israel has had a peace treaty with Jordan since 1994. It has been very effective. Jordan also shares trade and commercial ties to the United States. While Jordan has real issues itself with stability, it is the best lot in a bad neighborhood. King Abdullah is a modern monarch and compared to Syria, Iran or Egypt the country presents Israel with little threat. There is a new move by the State Department to bolster this U.S. ally further and a series of new support initiatives have been announced. More encouragement and rewards could follow, including trade agreements with Israel.
Over sixty percent of Jordanian citizens are Palestinian. Had Jordan’s army not lost the West Bank to Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, it might continue to rule it today. With real support from the Quartet and Sunni Gulf states, Jordan could be the one Arab state without oil that might prosper.
Israel and Jordan already have security and commercial ties. You can cross the Israel-Jordan border to visit either country’s historical sites with ease. There are no rockets fired from Jordan into Israel, and the resort towns of Aqaba and Eilat share a sea and beach, free of incident.
If the real goal is to end the occupation of the West Bank by Israel, the Jordanian road seems worth exploring.
I don’t know if this is the path Obama was thinking about, but perhaps it is the most “open and honest” one of all. It may just be the best option there is.