Is Jordan Palestine?

For all of his talk about wanting to see a sovereign, independent Palestinian state on the West Bank, that is about the last thing Jordan’s King Abdullah II wants if he expects to keep his job.  As my mother would say, he needs it “like a loch im kopf,” and that goes for the latest recycled idea being floated by the Trump administration.

President Trump is reportedly planning to unveil his Middle East peace “deal of the century” even if the Israelis and Palestinians aren’t ready, willing or able to return to the negotiating table.  One element, according to those who’ve been briefed, recycles a short-lived 1972 proposal for a confederation between Jordan and the West Bank. It envisioned no Palestinian state and no peace with Israel.

President Trump half-heartedly endorsed the two-state solution at the UN last month, but the Palestinians aren’t talking to him because they’re still made about his moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t much like the idea. He prefers what he calls “state-minus,” a semi-autonomous state with Israeli security control – a proposal no Palestinian leader, present or future, is likely to accept.

King Abdullah has personally urged Trump not to rush into reviving peace talks.  He knows better than most that neither side is ready to get serious, maybe not even ready to begin talking about talking.  For now, Palestinians can’t make peace with each other much less with Israel.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman privately told a group of American Jewish visitors that regional powers are no longer pushing for revival of peace negotiations

Trump further upset matters by closing the PLO office in Washington, halting funding for the care of Palestinians in Est Jerusalem hospitals and cutting off aid to UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian refugees, instead of gradually phasing it out and pressing reform. Netanyahu cheered the moves but Jordan has warned that the cutoff poses “extremely dangerous humanitarian, political and security implications for refugees and for the whole region.”

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had been briefed on the U.S. peace plan, he added a new twist, telling a group of Israeli peace activists that any confederation must include Israel – a backdoor route to the one-state solution that seems increasingly attractive to many in the face of Palestinian intransigence and Israeli settlement expansion.

Making the Trump plan even more unacceptable to the Palestinians would be its possible call to detach Gaza from the West Bank and Palestine and linking it to Egypt.

The Jordanian government spokeswoman quickly dismissed the confederation proposal and reiterated her country’s “firm and clear” commitment to the two-state solution.  Jordan has said there can’t be any talk of confederation until there’s a sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and a peace agreement with Israel.

Trump’s team knows confederation is a total non-starter, but maybe that’s why they brought it up.  They could say they’re thinking out of the box, as promised by the president, although they’re really recycling an old idea. Similarly, Israel could praise the concept, confident that the Palestinians would summarily reject it, opening the way for Trump to say he tried and those Palestinians, who he’s been bashing for so long, are the problem.

Israel isn’t interested in any confederation plan.  King Abdullah knows it and that is his insurance policy; any such plan could prove disastrous for his Hashemite kingdom.

A confederation between the two banks of the Jordan river would be dominated by the Palestinians and a threat to the future of the kingdom. About 70 percent of Jordan’s population of nearly 10 million is of Palestinian origin, including an estimated 2 million with refugee status.  Add to that nearly 3 million in the West Bank and Abdullah’s dilemma becomes clearer.

Yasser Arafat tried to overthrow the king’s father, King Hussein, in Black September 1970,  and only the threat of Israeli intervention to prevent Syria coming to the aid of the PLO prevented the takeover.

Jordan’s stated position in support of two states is the exact opposite of what the government says, according to Prof. Dan Schueftan, director of Haifa University’s National Security Studies Center. King Abdullah carries the Palestinian portfolio because of domestic and inter-Arab politics, but statehood is the last thing he wants.

“To survive Jordan has to pretend it wants a Palestinian state because Palestinians are the largest component of the population.  But it knows the first thing the Palestinians (in a confederation)  would do would be to call in the Iranians,” said Schueftan

“The king just has to keep up the statehood rhetoric and he can be confident nothing is going to happen so long as current leadership and policies prevail on both Israeli and Palestinian side,” Schueftan said.

Abdullah faces growing internal pressures from radical elements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as from Iran and its proxies, who reach into Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Those forces continually press Jordan to abrogate its treaty with Israel.

It is in the interest of Israel, America, Europe and pro-Western Arab states’ interest that Jordan continue to be stable, secure and independent.  Abdullah has provided stability in the face of regional upheaval, civil war and terrorism in the region.

Jordan is Israel’s critical security partner. Sitting at the crossroads of the Middle East, Jordan needs Israel to stand tough against Syrian and Iranian threats to its sovereignty.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan doesn’t want to be Palestine. It would lose its national identity. Jordanian leaders worry that American talk of confederation unintentionally encourages a Palestinian takeover of their country. As the late King Hussein said, “Jordan is not Palestine.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.