ISIS and the Future of Jordan

The map of the Arab Middle East has collapsed. The post-Ottoman state as represented by Syria and Iraq has ceased to act as two unified entities and instead has fragmented into warring tribes of sectarian and ethnic composition. Political Islam has replaced Arab nationalism. The borders of Sykes-Picot have been erased as masses of Sunni Arabs now cling to the pre-modern delusion of an expansive Caliphate. The authoritarian Arab secular republic, built on the sands of societal security through a state-centered development model, has shattered in a sea of debt. Arab society has become endangered by complete anarchy. The medieval Sunni-Shia split has once again come to the forefront of Arab culture as any hope of empowerment in economics and politics wanes. Only the oil producing states have produced a reasonable economy, but for how long?

With the advent of the shale oil revolution and the vast increase in Chinese solar photovoltaics, demand for conventional oil will continue to drop. As the sun replaces coal for electricity, cleaner natural gas will become freed up for surface transportation. The world (or great portions of it) has become riveted by the fear of man-made climate change. Arab society has become frozen and unable to adapt. The Arab dictators and absolute monarchs have failed to understand either the global environmental crisis or the failure of their outdated and corrupt crony economic model. Entire Arab populations have suffered from low economic output in conjunction with a complete absence of political enfranchisement. The rich Arabs were blinded by the riches of their own oil. But the vast majority of Arabs were poor. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia when a frustrated street vendor (tired of official corruption and bribes) decided on an extreme protest (public suicide) to overcome his humiliation. But since those heady days of late 2010 and early 2011, the promising spring has turned toward winter, as peaceful protest has morphed into a vicious Islamic regional war.

Jihad has now become the calling card of the Arab world. The Arab kings and monarchs (mostly all allied with the US) have bankrolled political Islam as a kind of ideological replacement for the original hope of the Arab Spring. Democratic pluralism and economic opportunity have been replaced by one form of jihad or another. The last thing these absolute rulers wanted was genuine democracy in the Middle East. But political Islam and jihad run great risks for the entire region. Enter ISIS. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has now become an expansive enterprise encompassing frustrated Sunni political grievances and the inability of the authoritarian Arab state to deliver economic progress throughout society. Meanwhile Arab dictators, like Assad of Syria, have used this extreme Islamic threat to continue to prop-up their own one-party and morally corrupt state. Assad uses his regime as a kind of cynical existential life raft for those outside the narrow ISIS constellation.

These are indeed uncertain times in the Levant and throughout the entire Middle East. Yet the left-wing political forces in Europe (Sweden and the UK, so far) continue to harangue tiny, little Israel to make grave concessions of precious strategic geography. Israel simply cannot afford to do such a thing. The concept of “land for peace” never held complete sway on the Israeli political scene. And over the years, and for good reason, this concept has now become totally eclipsed by issues of security and the uncertainty of the future of the Arab world, especially Jordan. The so-called two-state solution has always envisioned a pro-Israel Jordanian king on the throne in Amman. The friendly, Western leaning, UK and American supported Hashemite dynasty has always been considered a linchpin in the formation of a demilitarized West Bank Palestinian state. But with the future of the Middle East in doubt, the falsity of this “solution” has come under much greater scrutiny. ISIS is now poised on the road to the Jordanian capital as its control of Iraq’s Anbar Province has become near complete.

Although the European left blames Israel for the breakdown of the latest round of Palestinian negotiations, much greater considerations than either settlements or refugees caused the stalemate. The very uncertainty of the region has meant that no Israeli government could ever sign on to a deal which called for a withdrawal from such a strategic territory as the West Bank. When the Oslo process started, the permanence of the Levant was considered a given. This, of course, is no longer true. The greatest of all ironies is that when the Israel-Palestinian negotiations broke down, it was only two months later that ISIS catapulted on to the scene with its dramatic defeat of the Iraqi Army. No intelligence agency in either Europe or North America even anticipated such a turn of events. From the very beginning of the Kerry mission of peace (a quixotic enterprise if there ever was one), events on the ground in the Middle East assured that the negotiations would accomplish next to nothing. The very fact of the Arab Spring has rendered the idea of a West Bank Palestinian state to be an anachronism. Now with political Islam on the ascendancy, the anachronism has only grown deeper.

When the crowds began to form in Tunis, Cairo and Damascus, the very future of monarchy in Jordan came into question. If the Arab world had continued toward democracy, the majority population east of the Jordan River (Palestinian by numbers and identity) could have begun the process of the overthrow of the Hashemite dynasty. This is the inconvenient truth of the two-state solution concept. The largest Palestinian community in the world is in Jordan, just a stone’s throw from the West Bank. They cannot be taken for granted. In the final analysis, there are at least four, perhaps five, civil wars going on in the dysfunctional Arab Levant. There’s the war between ISIS and the Shia, ISIS and the so-called Syrian moderates, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, the moderates and Assad, and Fatah vs. Hamas (and potentially either Palestinian faction vs. the East Bank king). One way or another the future prospects of an authoritarian, minority-ruled Jordanian monarchy appears shakier and shakier. In this kind of environment, Israel would be suicidal to sign a “peace deal” with the Palestinians which would require “land for peace”.

Without regional stability, there can be no peace between Arab and Jew. Throughout this entire conflict, Israel has been ready to make peace. This has been true from 1937 on to the present day. However, now things have changed so dramatically that all the old concepts and paradigms have been called into question. The West Bank Palestinian state idea is dead. It has been surpassed by one of two potential outcomes: either an advancing political Islam hell-bent on the destruction of Israel or a democratic pluralism where majorities rule but not at the expense of minorities. There are no other choices (except Iranian domination, of course). But the left-wing in Israel cannot accept this reality. They continue to cling onto the old idea of the West Bank Palestinian state which in these two contexts could only mean a “Greater Palestine”. This is not a way to win an election. Concessions to the crazy machinations of ISIS and Hamas or to the false whims of the Europeans do not make for a winning political platform. What is needed by all political actors in Israel (including the national camp) is a new peace plan and an entirely new blueprint for the region. This will require an alternative narrative with an inspirational vision of the future. Without such a vision, Israel will continue to be isolated by its enemies in both Europe and the Middle East.

The Jewish people around the world await an Israeli leadership that can accomplish in the diplomatic sphere, what has been established so brilliantly in the political, economic and military realms. If Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot craft the appropriate pathway toward the center, then perhaps the task should be taken up by the Israeli left (if they can finally adapt to the new reality). However it goes, some politician must find the realism necessary to move in the only direction available to achieve success, toward a peace plan with a certainty of security. This must be true both across the river and across the region. Either way, without new ideas, both the Israel left and the Israeli right will continue to be pressured by the vast majority of the international community. This will be far worse for the left, but in the end, all of Israel will suffer from the slings and arrows of another round of left-wing European injustice aimed directly at the survival of the Jewish state.

Israel is the future of the Jewish people. It must have peace, but not a phony peace that will leave it defenseless. What is needed is a real peace, a peace that the whole world can appreciate and understand. There is a way forward, and it includes: A democratic Jordan; shared-rule for the disputed territories and Jerusalem; a region free of weapons of mass destruction; a region free of conventional hegemony; and finally, a region free of foreign interference not codified into international law through UN treaty. Let the old ideas die before they slowly kill us.

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).