Steven Horowitz
Steven Horowitz

Revise the Jordanian Option: An Alternative Two-State Solution

Nearly everyone in Israel understands that the West Bank Palestinian state idea was designed by the PLO as a Trojan horse. Arafat’s goal was to eventually seize Jordan through a second civil war, and then link with either Iran, Iraq or the entire Muslim world to liberate Palestine and annihilate the Jewish state. The problem was (and remains) that Europe, the UN, and the global Left believed that Arafat and the Palestinians were seeking peace and not an eventual “war of liberation”. The Left, Europe and the UN were either naive or they were seeking the same goal.

Arafat’s big breakthrough came with the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993. With the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO leader, Arafat immediately changed his spots from terrorist to diplomat and “peacemaker”. This gave the PLO a legitimacy that its true intentions never deserved. Rabin, of course, never advocated for a West Bank Palestinian state as the end product of any negotiation between Israel and its neighbor. For years, he and his Labor Party had encouraged the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (an Arab near- absolute monarchy) to move forward with the Jordanian Option — a peace treaty whereby Israel’s main interlocutor would be Jordan and not the PLO.

The Hashemites in the Transjordan (a territory in historic Judea-Israel and a part of the original Palestinian Mandate) had colluded with the Zionist movement on many occasions. Over the years, these two “enemies” had developed a moderate, yet tacit relationship. Rabin understood that the PLO was extreme and dangerous, but with his left-wing political party’s zeal for peace, Rabin — the consummate Israeli security hawk — simply couldn’t wait for the Jordanian Option to bear fruit.

Jordan and the PLO had battled for political supremacy over the leadership of the West Bank for nearly four decades. Finally, King Hussein of Jordan relinquished administrative connection to the West Bank Arab communities during the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s. But Jordan has never abdicated its constitutional authority over the West Bank. In fact, the king alone does not have the constitutional power to relinquish such authority, one of the very few powers the Jordanian monarch does not possess.

However, the administrative severing of Jordan from the West Bank had placed Prime Minister Rabin in a very difficult position. Either he would have to deal with the PLO or not deal with anyone at all. With Arafat calling for a West Bank Palestinian state, and no Jordanian monarch to execute an alternative option, Rabin was caught without a peace plan and only able to negotiate with the PLO. Because of constant pressure from his own Left in the Labor Party, Rabin chose instead a variant of the Jordanian Option which called for a type of super Palestinian autonomy. Rabin came to the Oslo Accords with distinctly less than Palestinian sovereignty as his goal in negotiations with the PLO.

Rabin clearly laid out his vision during his last speech to the Israeli Knesset just a month before his tragic assassination. “We view the permanent solution of the conflict in the framework of the State of Israel, which will include most of the area of the land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and along-side it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the state of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”

It is unclear how much land Rabin intended to hold on to in the disputed territories. However, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had originally recommended that Israel hold onto at least half the land in order for Israel to be secure from an attack originating from the east.

Enter Donald Trump. After 25 years of failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the new American president has dramatically changed course. Trump has stated explicitly that the left-wing Democratic Party goal of a West Bank Palestinian state is no longer necessarily the goal of his Republican Party or his current government. Trump will favor whichever deal both Israel and the Palestinians favor. This new US stance is indeed a game changer. Over the years, American politicians have forgotten the wisdom of Rabin and his security hawks. Somehow, they began to forget the original intention of the PLO and began instead to think of the Palestinian leadership as “moderate”. Rabin would never have made that mistake. Now President Trump has shaken up the American Left, the Europeans (including a shameless Germany, whose leader still backs a PLO state on the West Bank), and the UN (whose new leader continues to claim that a West Bank Palestinian state is the only alternative for peace).

But what is the the alternative to a West Bank Palestinian state, also called the two-state solution? I believe the only workable alternative is an updated version of the old Jordanian Option. Now Rabin’s Jordanian Option is in need of a truly modern revision. Thirty-six years ago I met Rabin and asked him a few simple questions: Did he believe that the Jordanian Option would be possible, when nearly ninety percent of Jordanian citizens (on the East Bank as well as the West Bank) saw themselves politically as Palestinians. And what would happen to the Jordanian Kingdom when this citizenry rose up (peacefully) and asked for their democratic rights? What would be an Israeli response to such a turn of events? After all, democratic government is the hallmark of the US-Israel shared-value alliance. Would Israel and the US stand in the way of Jordanian-Palestinian democracy? And how could they possibly keep a friendly, Western-leaning king on a throne dedicated to near absolute rule? Such an action would go against the very essence of the American legacy enshrined in its Declaration of Independence.

Rabin didn’t know what Israel, Jordan or the US would do when faced with a peaceful Arab population demonstrating for a new constitution based on democratic principles. Such a subject was never broached with the King of Jordan. And for that matter, up until the administration of George W. Bush, the White House and the diplomatic establishment in the US have never really supported democracy in the Arab world. Instead, they relied on kings and dictators to do their geopolitical bidding. In recent years, Syria and Iraq had been the US Left’s big chance to help establish democratic norms in the Middle East; but President Obama abandoned democracy in both Iraq and Syria, choosing instead to concentrate his efforts on building a PLO state on the West Bank.

So now, two things have become crystal clear. First, the two-state solution, as conceived by the PLO, has failed to materialize over Palestinian objections to essential Israeli security necessities. And second, the Jordanian Option — which has been bypassed for three decades — needs to be revised with a democratic face-lift by a Trump administration insistence that King Abdullah II lead this renewal.

The Arab world is fast becoming a series of failed states without a proper governance model. Across Washington D.C., a multiplicity of US think tanks now advocate for democracy as an answer to the malaise in the Arab Middle East. What better time for President Trump to revise the Jordanian Option by advancing an alternative two-state solution — Jordan and Israel, operating as two democracies, to negotiate the future of the disputed territories and Jerusalem.

Here’s my plan. Transform the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan by altering its constitution to resemble the European model. The Hashemite monarch could remain head of state, but a duly elected parliament — from Jordanian citizens on both banks of the river — would run domestic and foreign affairs through popular election and term limitations without royal intrusion. Like Britain, the King could continue as head of the armed forces for the foreseeable future. However one-person, one-vote Palestinian-Jordanian parliamentary government could negotiate with Israel over the terms of shared sovereignty for Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) and Jerusalem.

Finally, when a permanent deal over the disputed territories and Jerusalem is ready to be signed, it would be grafted on to the current Jordanian-Israeli peace accord, already in operation. At that point, mutual recognition (under terms agreeable to both parties) would be extended by the President of Israel and his Knesset and the Jordanian King and his democratic parliament.

A brief message to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and all the full-member nation-states therein: There is an alternative two-state solution and it had the blessing of a past UN Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim (April 22, 1985 Christian Science Monitor). This alternative two-state solution is the same as the plan described above. It is the legitimate synthesis of democratic Palestinian statehood, essential Israeli security with Jewish rights within its ancestral Judea and Samaria homeland, and Jordanian peaceful foresight with modern royal enlightenment. Let it be proclaimed in history that through religious partnership, Jerusalem will indeed shed warfare and terrorism, and instead fulfill its Divine destiny to become an inspiring light unto all peoples — one city, the capital of two nations living at peace.

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).