Jordan: The Bi-National Reality

Jordan is a bi-national state without a democratic framework. It has a Palestinian majority and a Bedouin minority. Both on the West Bank and the East Bank of the Jordan River, Palestinians are biding their time in anticipation that Israel will be forced to evacuate its presence from the territories it captured in June 1967. Once the PLO has “liberated” these so-called Palestinian lands, phase two of their well documented plan will be activated, i.e. the democratic struggle against the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. This series of facts are precisely why the idea of a “two-state solution” for Israel and the West Bank has been the world’s longest running political hoax and doomed to failure.

Israel and the monarchy in Jordan have been tacit allies (against the Palestinian national movement) from the time of the 1948 war until they finally signed their “almost formal” peace treaty five decades later. The treaty is “almost formal” because the boundary between Jordan and the West Bank has never been formally delineated. The Jordanian monarchy had stipulated to the Israeli government that the future border between Jordan and the West Bank must be decided upon between Israel and the Palestinians. However, this twenty-two year negotiation (the Oslo process) over the future of the border within a “two-state solution” has never borne fruit. Israel has demanded, for its vital security, a permanent position on the Jordan River, while the Palestinians (in accordance with their long range plans) have always denied Israel such a position.

The so-called “two-state solution” (Israel and a West Bank Palestinian state) has always been misnamed. The reality of the situation is far more murky than its adherents would have you believe. From 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was ruled by Jordan in an illegal occupation recognized only by Britain and Pakistan. Most of the Palestinian occupants of the territories were formally designated as Jordanian citizens. Palestinians fleeing Israel were also welcomed, and over time many of them also became citizens of Jordan. Eventually, through the free movement of Jordanian citizens, Palestinians became the majority population throughout all of Jordan, both east and west of the Jordan River.

But the Arab states of the region and the Palestinian-Jordanians were not satisfied with just the West Bank. These Arab states and the Palestinians wanted all of Israel as well. Together they constantly threatened to “drive the Jews into the sea”. They failed (time and again) because they never anticipated that the Jews of Israel were not about to go easily to their own slaughter.

The Arab states and Palestinians had planned to use the very strategic territory of the West Bank to create a sudden and short (nine-mile long) incursion line which would have divided Israel north and south. Such a line would have totally disrupted Israel’s ability to shift men and equipment on its very narrow defensive axis. In fact, such a severe dagger through the very heart of the country would have meant certain defeat. In 1948, Jordan never attempted such an incursion. Israel and Jordan had a tacit understanding that Jordan would not use such a strategy in exchange for Israel’s acquiescence to a Jordanian occupation of the West Bank.

In the Six Day War, Jordan was forced to accept Egyptian military leadership on the West Bank. However instead of a swift nine-mile incursion, the Israeli Air Force pre-empted the combined forces of the Arab states. This one-time military strategy of surprise worked to perfection. In fact, to everyone’s astonishment on the first day of the 1967 war, Israel destroyed the bulk of the Arab state air forces while the Arab planes were still on the ground.

Once Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, many Palestinian-Jordanians fled across the river. The infusion of these citizens worked to create a larger majority east of the river. However, the Palestinian community continued to be denied the vast majority of plush jobs in government and the armed forces. In other words, Jordan became an East Bank bi-national state with a second-class Palestinian majority and a privileged Bedouin minority. Jordan has never been a democracy, and isn’t to this very day. Jordan has always been a bi-national state with a ruling royal family entrenched within a Bedouin minority population. In order to maintain its position of absolute authority, the Jordanian kingdom rules through the power of its Bedouin-dominated military and police, and by politically subjugating its Palestinian majority. This monarchy also has extremely close relations with both Britain and the US. The perception of Jordanian moderation, toward Israel as well as NATO and the West, gives the monarchy a regional and a superpower legitimacy.

Understanding the essential dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible without the inclusion of the Jordanian monarchy into the equation. Both Israel and the Palestinians have their differing concepts as to the nature of their conflict and their understanding of the so-called “end-game” to the “two-state solution”. For the Palestinians, a West Bank state would merely be a fisrt step in a plan to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, establish a pro-Iranian military east of the river and begin the covert missile militarization of the West Bank. This scenario would place Israel in an even more dangerous situation than those events leading to the 1967 war.

In such a scenario, instead of facing a former tacit ally like the Jordanian king on the West Bank, Israel would instead face militant Iran, Iran’s multitude of Shiite proxies, and millions of highly armed pro-Iranian Palestinians. A similar situation would also be true on both the Syrian and Lebanese borders. This is why Arafat so fervently believed in the so-called “two-state solution”. He understood that in order to eventually destroy the Jewish state, the first necessity (before the overthrow of Jordan) would require that the Palestinian-Jordanian border at the river must be free of any Israeli military presence. Secondly, he believed that the prospect of an overthrow of the Jordanian king and his army would lead inevitably to the last phase of his pro-Iranian plan for Palestinian liberation. The PLO has always aimed to destroy the Jewish state and replace it with a Palestinian state, spread from the border with Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

With an infusion of refugees into a mini West Bank Palestinian state and a porous and independent border with Jordan, the Palestinian-Jordanian majority population east of the river could expand exponentially. The Palestinians could exploit the undemocratic nature of their bi-national reality to force either an alternative political structure or open rebellion against the king. Instead of Israel being accused of constraining Palestinian “rights”, Jordan could be accused of being an apartheid state. But first and foremost, the timing of the phases had to be perfectly controlled. Overthrowing Jordan first, before a West Bank state could be created, would lead to accusations that the Palestinians were demanding two states for themselves. Israel would never tolerate such a “three-state solution”. But to establish a West Bank state first, and then surprise the world with an East Bank majority Palestinian demand for democracy would make for much better strategy and propaganda.

This Jordanian-Israeli-Palestinian triangle is at the core of the conflict. In order for a true “two-state solution” to work, the future of Jordan must be included. Because without Jordan involved from the outset, the so-called “two-state solution” will naturally morph into something much larger than a simple demilitarized mini-state on the West Bank.

Will Jordan become a democracy with a Palestinian majority? Will Jordan become a constitutional monarchy with an independent political parliament and the king as a titular head of state? Or will Jordan remain the same as it is now, with the stipulation that such a minority-driven, bi-national system be established in perpetuity? These questions are more important to the future of the conflict than the eventual dispensation of the territory of the West Bank and the final delineation of Jerusalem.

So why hasn’t this essential analysis (as to the vital importance of Jordan) become established fact? The reason is that Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians always conceived of peace as a temporary, situational phenomenon. All three understood the terms of an agreement as instrumental to a belief that perpetual conflict within the Middle East is a permanent condition. Israel and Jordan benefited from their not-so-open alliance within the region, and the benefit came at the expense of the Palestinians. Up until five years ago, both Israel and Jordan had to worry about Syria. And before that, there was Iraq. Now Iran has a strong foothold in both Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have kept to their phased strategy as defined above. The PLO and Hamas both believe that with Iran on the march, time is on their side.

On the other hand, Israel always understood the so-called “two-state solution” as a structure to maintain the Jordanian monarchy in power in perpetuity. The one time in my life that I had the privilege to ask former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a question, it was this: “Mr. Rabin, how can you be so sure that the Palestinians won’t some day use non-violent tactics and propaganda in an attempt to establish a democratic-like state, with a Palestinian majority, east of the river? Isn’t that a possibility?” Rabin’s answer, “No, next question”.

But to this very day, I maintain that such tactics and such an outcome are indeed possibilities. Palestinian rights and the accusation of Jordan as an authoritarian and undemocratic state have a better chance of succeeding, in a post-Arab-spring world, than could have been conceived of in the early 1980s. It’s all a question of timing. Democracy in Jordan is hardly important to Palestinians when Israel sits on the West Bank and the Jordan River. If such a democratic-like state were to be established before a West Bank state, the Israeli political right-wing could claim (correctly) that the Palestinians already have a majority state. In other words, “Jordan is Palestine”. Such an Israeli claim would defeat the intermediate goal of the Palestinian national movement, i.e. the eventual linkage of two states, with the creation of a “Greater Palestine” stretching from the Jordanian desert to the hills overlooking metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Today the Arab Middle East has become a cauldron of ethnic cleansing and sectarian hatred. If Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are to survive, democratic and pluralistic constitutional governments need to be established throughout the region. Jordan is a crucial state for the security of the entire Middle East, but its bi-national nature has become a reality which must be addressed within an alternative and rejuvenated peace process. Ignoring this fact can only mean further stalemate. This places the onus of democratic reform squarely within the Arab community.

Israel only occupies Palestinian communities because the Arab world generally, and the Palestinians in particular, have never accepted Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This is how Israel has always defined itself, as a state of the Jewish people. Israel is not Arab or Muslim and will never accept an Arab majority. The Jews have lived for centuries among majority Arab populations without ever achieving any kind of bi-national “rights”. They were always treated as a subjugated and heavily taxed minority.

But the same cannot be said for Arab communities. They have nearly always been a majority among their own people and religion. If democracy and bi-nationalism are to work as a structure for peace, it must be within an Arab and Muslim context. The Jews will simply never again allow themselves to live as a minority within the Arab Middle East. This is our reality. A Palestinian-Jordanian bi-national existence would be a far easier nut to crack than an Israeli-Palestinian one. This is because of the closeness of Arab culture. Palestinians and Bedouin both speak Arabic, and they are both Sunni Muslims. However, in order to succeed in Jordan, this very close bi-national reality requires an entirely new democratic structure.

Achieving a fair outcome for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will demand an entire new paradigm. At the center of this new paradigm will be the necessity of an understanding of the bi-national character of Jordan. Without the direct inclusion of Jordan into the peace process, there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The true “two-state solution” will be between Israel and the democratic bi-national state of Palestine-Jordan.

Anything else is a lie at its core, an unworkable solution that is mired in deceit and structured either to defeat the other side or keep them subjugated within an anti-democratic framework. This is precisely why the Oslo Accords have failed. Palestinians saw the accords as a first step in a step-by-step strategy of liberation, while Israel perceived them as a permanent way to de-link the two Palestinian populations on both sides of the Jordan River. Neither strategy worked, and now after a generation of mistrust and failure, both sides have lost faith in the process. It is up to an enlightened leadership to envision a course forward toward peace and reconciliation. The Middle East and the world as a whole need just such a vision.

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).
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