Three States for Two Peoples?

Jordanians and Palestinians are separated only through their relationship to an absolute monarchy. Jordanians (a distinct minority) have historically been supportive of the Hashemite dynasty, while Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship (a well-documented majority) have been repressed politically into a kind of resigned acquiescence. But with the advent of the so-called Arab Spring, the idea of popular sovereignty has taken hold within the Arab world. The future of all Arab countries is now in serious political limbo. This is true of the absolute monarchies as well as authoritarian dictatorships.

West Bank Palestinians are indeed citizens of Jordan. However, they were brought into the kingdom through the illegal annexation of the territory in the aftermath of Jordan’s 1948 war with Israel. In fact, the territory now known internationally as the West Bank acquired its name only through that illegal Jordanian annexation. At the time, Jordan and Israel had secretly agreed to a geopolitical understanding with regard to the approximate territory bordering the Jordan River but not part of either the Jezreel Valley or the lower Galilee.

Jordan had agreed not to push westward in exchange for an Israeli commitment not to liberate all the territory ascribed to be part of a potential Jewish homeland by the mandated treaties of the League of Nations. The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine is NOT a part of international law because it was categorically rejected by all Arab nations including the Arabs living within the partioned areas.

Within the documents of post-WWI international law, two states were supposed to emerge from mandated Palestine, a Jewish state west of the Jordan River and an Arab state east of the river. However, this original two-state apportionment never occurred because of the perceived necessities of the 1948 War. The King of Jordan, Abdullah I, understood that the risk involved in the attempt at a complete defeat of Israel could cost him far more than he was willing to spend. In other words, if he attempted to push into Tel Aviv in order to drive the Jews into the sea, the result to his army could become catastrophic.

At the same time, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion of Israel felt a similar reluctance to push his forces in the opposite direction in an attempt to liberate the final territories that the League of Nations had mandated for a Jewish State — Judea and Samaria. Hence, Jordan and Israel had a war-time tacit understanding: Jordan could occupy Jewish territory west of the river in exchange for the king’s understanding not to wage war for the complete elimination of a Jewish presence within the remaining territory west of the river.

However, most Arabs living on the occupied Jordanian West Bank (as it became known in the 1950s) did not feel any allegiance to the Jordanian monarchy. Instead, they felt that all the territory of what was then Israel, as well as the new territory known as Jordan’s West Bank and the Hashemite’s Arab territory east of the Jordan River, should become one large Arab state known as Palestine. They felt this way throughout the entire Jordanian occupation of the West Bank. And they continued to feel this way after Israel liberated Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) in the June 1967 war. Their allegiance was to the organization known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO (established 1964). The PLO name, as described within their covenant, encompassed the territory in what is now Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. All was to be liberated!

Within a decade of its establishment, the PLO had wrested Arab diplomatic opinion away from the Jordanian monarchy. Whatever other tacit political understandings Israeli leaders had with the Jordanian King over the future of the West Bank never amounted to anything after 1974. Yet to this very day, the Jordanian monarchy still rules over a Palestinian majority and the political future of the West Bank is dependent on its political relationship with that large Palestinian Arab community east of the river. Furthermore, Israel’s security needs encompass all the territory west of the Jordan River. From an Israeli security perspective, the 1948 armistice lines between the occupying Jordanian army and Israel were grossly insufficient. This left the political environment between Arab and Jew in a complete stalemate (as it remains today).

The Palestinians want an independent state on the West Bank. But an independent state on the West Bank would severely jeopardize Israel’s ability to defend itself. Meanwhile, the Palestinians need a viable economy in order to become a viable state. But this viable economy would require access to land deemed by Israel as vital to its very existence as a secure state. Whenever the question of Palestinian economy interfaces with Israeli security, the idea of a “two-state solution” west of the river (partition) grinds to a halt. But why separate so-called Jordanians from Palestinians into an unworkable three-state mix? Because what has historically separated so-called Jordanians from Palestinians has been nothing more than loyalty to the outdated concept of an absolute monarch.

In November 2015, US presidential candidate Hillary R. Clinton placed the dilemma of partition (the so-called “two-state solution”) into a proper framework. She said that Jordan’s future was “not clear” and that Israelis and Palestinians needed to know what will happen in Jordan and “whether Jordan will remain stable” before they resume the peace process. But Jordan is an absolute monarchy with an oppressed majority. In this respect it resembles Iraq under its Sunni dictator (Saddam Hussein) and Syria under its Alawi dictator (Assad). Stability in Jordan is not something anyone can count on. A “two-state solution” west of the river — even if the security nexus could be worked out with Israel — would still require some kind of confederate economic relationship between Arabs on both banks of the river.

For the West Bank Arab community to be viable, it must by necessity have significant economic and political links to its brethren east of the river. But how can you confederate an oppressed majority east of the river with its free contemporaries west of the river? It’s obvious that such a confederation would be rendered unworkable within the context of an absolute monarchy in Jordan. In other words, the only way for the so-called “two-state solution” to work politically requires a democratic Jordanian component. This would solve the economic and political contradictions, but what about Israel’s security needs?

The old “two-state solution” paradigm assumed that a West Bank Palestinian state would be demilitarized. It also assumed that a Jordanian absolute monarch would remain in control of the majority Palestinian community east of the river in perpetuity. In other words, the assumption was not a “two-state solution”, but in reality a three-state solution. However, three states for two peoples can’t work. One state for the Jews, one state for the West Bank Palestinians and one state for an absolute monarch, presiding over a disenfranchised majority of Palestinians, is a recipe for disaster. Now, an American presidential candidate says that we can no longer make these assumptions. But if by necessity the two Arab communities on both sides of the Jordan River must be connected, then such a broader political and economic entity (a federal state?) must have a conventional armed force in order to protect itself. This would mean the cessation of demilitarization. This further establishes the need for Israel’s security within the West Bank and the Jordan River Valley.

Israel’s connections to the areas known as Judea and Samaria run very deep. They include history, religion, international law, settlements and especially security. In Israel, security holds the political center and encompasses both the political left as well as the political right. On the Israeli side of the peace equation, if there is ever to be any progress, security is everything. Within the region of the Middle East the Jews are a distinct minority. They are simply outnumbered in great quantities. Israel can never make peace with the Arab nations, Turkey and Iran without an adequate conventional strategic depth. Peace is simply impossible without Israeli military (not civilian-police) control over the strategic parts of the West Bank and its total air space. This is especially true if the monarchy in Jordan were to be transformed as part of a federal democratic state with a West Bank Palestinian component.

Israelis want to separate from Palestinians. Palestinians want to remove Israel from the West Bank in order to capture diplomatically what they can’t achieve on the battlefield (war by other means). This circle cannot be squared. Israelis and Palestinians are either destined to live amongst each other on the West Bank or battle until one side is completely removed from the land. If peace is ever to come, it will consist of two states for two peoples on either side of the Jordan River. Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, will become like Jerusalem — a shared region whose sovereignty will be as a living example of the reign of a peace-loving G-d on earth. The choice belongs to all of us, Arab and Jew alike.

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).