Democracy in Jordan is Palestine

The essential premise of my four-point peace plan for the Arab-Israeli conflict is that democracy in Jordan will create a majority Palestinian state. In other words, Jordan and Palestine are (and always have been) intertwined. But Jordan, under the absolute monarchy of the Hashemite dynasty, is also a highly significant keystone state. Keystone states are crucial arbiters of regional stability. In Jordan’s case, Israel’s vital eastern security and Saudi Arabia’s vital northern security intersect across the large region of Jordan’s Arabian desert. The longer this territory is kept out of the hands of militant, anti-Western and anti-Israeli forces, the greater the difficulty of creating a pro-Iranian, hegemonic “arc of resistance” across the Levant.

Throughout its entire history (spanning nearly one hundred years) Jordan has been an outpost of Hashemite moderation. Established originally out of territory meant as a part of the Jewish homeland in eastern Palestine, Jordan under its monarchy has never been completely in the camp of absolute resistance and militant rejection. This was true in the wars of 1948 and 1967. On the contrary, Jordan under its three kings has been a model Washington ally, a tacit friend of Israel, and a textbook example of an essential keystone state. However, the specter of Jordanian territory in the hands of militant Shiite and/or Sunni Islamic radicals poses a nightmare scenario for the Arab nations of the Gulf, Israel, and the entire Western alliance.

For democracy to flourish in Jordan, and for this democracy to become an essential component to a successful Arab-Israeli peace process, the Kingdom of Jordan must become intimately involved in its transformation from an absolute monarchy to a moderate, democratic constitutional state. However, most Jordanian-Palestinians reject peace with Israel. They envision the future of Jordan as bordering a West Bank Palestinian state and connected to the majority East Bank Palestinian population either through a federation or as a unified militant Islamic state. Israel demands (at the very least) a security border on the Jordan River and also rejects a completely independent Palestinian West Bank state. Jerusalem understands that such an entity would mean the end of the keystone context for the moderate pro-Western kingdom, and therefore, the further rise of a militant and revolutionary Iran. Unfortunately, many Palestinians on the West Bank would also welcome such a pro-Iranian outcome.

But democracy in Jordan has now become an essential element to the economic viability of the kingdom. The Arab Spring has sprung once again, and this time in Jordan. It is Jordanian economics which are driving this new pressure for greater political accountability, and therefore, citizen participation. Jordan is now perceived by a deepening segment of both the King’s Bedouin and Palestinian subjects as a corrupt an ineffective economic and political reality. The people are demanding change in Jordan, and they don’t mean surface, artificial change.

However, deep political change does not translate into the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy. Everyone understands that militant Palestinian action in Jordan will most likely bring about chaos and civil war. Nobody wants another Syria. This is especially true for Jordan’s two keystone neighbors, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But democratic change in Jordan has become necessary, as the monarchy’s economic system continues to falter very badly. Jordan needs accountability in order to curb its endemic economic corruption. The elite in Jordan must be rolled back through a system of constitutional and parliamentary action.

However, democracy in Jordan will further eviscerate the already moribund concept of a West Bank Palestinian state. Democracy in Jordan means a majority Palestinian state east of the river. This simply cannot be accompanied by a second Palestinian state west of the river. Israeli leftists might be foolish (or perhaps just plain naïve) but they are not fools. Two Palestinian states can only mean one greater Palestine with geographic access to Iraq and Iran.

Democratic change in Jordan has never been advocated by either the Americans or the Israelis. Both countries have always believed in the historic status quo. But these two political establishments must see that times are changing. The Syrian people attempted a non-violent, democratic revolution, and they were met by Assad’s military machine. Egypt’s people attempted a peaceful democratic revolution and they were outmaneuvered by the Islamic radicals, and then in short time, democracy was stymied by the Egyptian armed forces. In the course of all this turmoil, the original system of military dominance was reestablished in Cairo.

Now, it is Jordan’s turn. And with Iran on the rise, nobody can afford to get this wrong. It is up to the Jordanian King to keep his country united and lead his people toward a modern constitutional monarchy built on the principles of pluralism and democracy. Only the King can make this transformation. Only the King can lead his new democratic kingdom into the necessary economic expansion to maintain his family’s historic viability. This must be done through regional economic integration that would eventually lead to Israeli participation. With the necessary Jordanian constitutional changes, and vital peace proposals toward Israel involving the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the certainty of large foreign investment would ensue.

In order to garner such Israeli and foreign economic and technical partnership, it will mean that the Hashemite royal house must begin to take a different position on the future of both Jerusalem and the West Bank. By necessity, democracy in Jordan will become the alternative to the current Amman policy of advocating for a West Bank Palestinian state. You can have democracy in Jordan or you can have the Israeli left-wing version of a West Bank Palestinian state, but you can’t have both. The same is true for Jerusalem; you can have a state with a capital in Jerusalem, but that state must be linked to the East Bank, not the West Bank. The resurrection of the Arab Spring east of the Jordan River automatically means the demise of any independent Palestinian sovereignty west of the river.

Marwan Muasher recently wrote an article — “The End Of The Rope” — for the Diwan magazine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Muasher was the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel and later became Jordan’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister. He is now vice president at the Carnegie Endowment. In his article, Mr. Muasher says that this time around, deep political changes must be made for Jordan to forestall both its grinding poverty and its potential for civil strife leading to political chaos. Mr. Muasher strongly argues that mere cosmetic change will not be enough. Without more direct and broad-based political participation, Jordan’s social stability could easily unravel, leading to an untenable geopolitical situation throughout both the east-west and north-south axes of the Levant.

However, Mr. Muasher still advocates for a West Bank Palestinian state. He simply fails to see (like many others) the essential contradiction between democracy in Jordan and a second Palestinian state west of the river. I responded to Mr. Muasher’s article with this comment: “Democratic moderates in Jordan are now caught between an intransigent establishment and a Palestinian Islamist movement (Hamas) ready, willing and able to link with Qatar, Turkey and/or Iran. However, the king is stuck too. He must either follow the Saudi lead or risk a deep fissure with the Trump administration. Such a move (toward Trump and the Saudis) would totally alienate the Palestinian majority. The Hashemites must find a third way to bolster secular pluralism, yet abandoning the defunct idea of an independent Palestinian state west of the river. Abdullah must advocate for an open and shared Jerusalem, while insisting on a democratic outcome for all Arabs on both banks of the Jordan River. In today’s situation, democracy in Jordan becomes a Palestinian state.”

I went on to comment: “The King must play to the moderates across the region — including the Israeli center-right and center-left — by adopting a new constitution which enshrines popular political rights and participation, while also being willing to compromise with all the kingdom’s citizenry on both banks of the river, East Bank and West Bank. In the end, Jerusalem must become the shared capital of both Israel and a democratic constitutional monarchy called Jordan and/or Palestine. Israel proper will continue to be west of the 1948 armistice, while Palestine and/or Jordan proper will remain east of the river. The West Bank will either be shared in a formal condominium or as self-autonomous zones with much mutual infrastructural governance. Most importantly, the economy of both nations will become integrally linked through the advancement of political democracy and modern technology. As things stand now, time is running out for Hashemite absolute monarchy. Perhaps through democracy, a modern constitutional kingdom is still possible.”

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).