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Edition 40 Volume 3 - November 10, 2005

Can Jordan follow Egypt in Palestine?
The return of a (limited) Jordan option  - Gerald M. Steinberg

The current scenarios focus on a Jordanian-Palestinian federation or confederation.

Can Jordan play a role in Palestine?  - Hassan A. Barari

Jordan’s involvement should come via close coordination with the PA and be confined to a limited security role.

A sensitive issue  - an interview withHisham Ahmed

Any side effects of Jordanian involvement in the West Bank could have some far-reaching effects internally in Jordan.

The return of a (limited) Jordan option
 Gerald M. Steinberg

The growing role of Egypt and Jordan as intermediaries in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is another significant departure resulting from the strategy of disengagement. Many Israelis, particularly government officials, view the involvement of the two Arab states that have signed peace treaties with Israel as central in providing security and stability in the territories from which Israel has departed. And while the "back to the future" scenario that many analysts invoke is exaggerated, the Egyptian return to Gaza and the Jordanian re-engagement in the West Bank open new political options.

These options are necessary in order to overcome the developing stalemate over the roadmap. While the Quartet's document envisions a peace agreement accompanying the creation of an independent Palestinian state, both remain distant goals.

Following the failure of the Oslo process, the Israeli public has become wary of the creation of an independent Palestinian state under present conditions. Instead, there is deep concern regarding what is seen to be a rush toward a failed state of Palestine dominated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups. In contrast to the promise of peace and stability, this "solution" would serve as a platform for even greater violence, not only directed against Israel, but throughout the world.

And while President Mahmoud Abbas has brought a welcome change in tone and language, he has not demonstrated that the new Palestinian leadership can halt the corruption, incitement and terrorism. As a result, President George W. Bush recently acknowledged that the formation of a Palestinian state was unlikely to be realized before 2009 (the end of his second term), and the time frame could be much longer. Even an all-out effort would probably take a decade or more to show consistent results.

In this reality, the reemergence of a Jordanian political option (the preferred approach of the Labor Party for many years) provides an important alternative to the unstable status quo on the one hand, and to a failed state on the other. Unlike the situation after the 1948 war, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and until the 1967 war, the current scenarios focus on a Jordanian-Palestinian federation or confederation. Economically, Israel might also join this structure, in the form of a customs union or even common market for goods, and perhaps labor.

The main Jordanian contributions to this relationship would be stability, security and experience in providing necessary government services. For many years, the Jordanian leadership has recognized that its security is inseparable from Israel's, and that violence quickly spills across the border. Similarly, Jordan has benefited from the periods in which Israel has enjoyed relative quiet. During the past year, Jordanian police and military officials have been increasingly involved in the Palestinian cities and towns of the West Bank to help reduce the chaos and train law enforcement personnel. This has been an example of a win-win situation for Jordan, Palestinians and Israel.

Over the years, the governments of Jordan and Israel have also developed crisis management mechanisms, and demonstrated their success in many different areas. The lines of communication at all levels are better developed than is the case in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and there is less emotional baggage to block plain speaking. These relations go back to the 1940s, even before the departure of the British forces, and continued in secret for decades. The 1994 peace treaty finally brought the contacts out into the open and gave them legitimacy. On sensitive issues such as ensuring that the city of Jerusalem remains freely accessible to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the history of Jordanian-Israeli cooperation in the past 30 years is particularly encouraging.

In the rapidly changing regional context, Jordan's influence is likely to rise significantly, as the Syrian regime becomes weaker and the future of Iraq remains uncertain. In the past, Jordan's freedom of movement and the ability to extend its regional role, including through more cooperative links with Israel, were hampered by the involvement of Saddam Hussein, on one side, and Hafez Assad on the other. With both now gone, Jordan has the opportunity to become a significant regional actor. In this context, institutionalizing the political relationship between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority could contribute measurably to regional stability.

At the same time, it is not in Israel's interest to press Jordan to take on political tasks that are overly demanding and unrealistic. The Jordanian government cannot be seen as a replacement for the Palestinian leadership, with whom Israel will have to eventually negotiate directly on borders and the resolution of refugee claims. But if these most difficult of issues are discussed in the federative framework that includes Jordan, the chances of a realistic and workable result will increase.- Published 10/11/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Gerald M. Steinberg is the founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.

Can Jordan play a role in Palestine?
 Hassan A. Barari

Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has evidently posed a serious challenge for the Palestinians and created a quandary for the Palestinian national movement. The ensuing internal bickering in Gaza has emasculated the Palestinian Authority, thus casting doubt on the ability of the Palestinians to run their own business in a civilized manner. For this reason, an increasing number of interested parties in the global community, and particularly Israelis, have begun to lose faith in the likelihood of a functioning and viable Palestinian regime.

Against this backdrop, and the successful Egyptian involvement in the Gaza Strip, many analysts, politicians and strategists have started talking about the inevitability of Jordan's involvement in the West Bank. Many have even gone so far as to propose that Jordan should play a key role in the West Bank.

Notwithstanding the ulterior objectives of those who seek to involve Jordan in the West Bank, Jordan may find it extremely costly to sit aside while the Palestinians are failing to put their house in order. It is widely seen among Jordanian elites that the failure of the Palestinians to establish a functioning regime would only mean postponement of a solution, with all this implies, such as the establishment of new settlements that further minimize the chances for a two-state solution. Seen in this way, Jordan has frequently offered its services to help the Palestinians in their bid for security and stability. But Jordan's faith both in the Palestinians' ability to seize this historic moment caused by Israel's recent move and in the realization of the two-state solution has been eroding gradually. The time will soon come when Jordan is looked to to do something.

There is a bifurcation of views among Jordanians on the nature of a future Jordanian role in the West Bank. The government is both cautious and vigilant. King Abdullah has given up all of Jordan's previous ambitions in the West Bank. For historical reasons, including historical mutual mistrust between the Jordanian regime and the PLO, Jordan has been careful lest it be seen as undermining the Palestinian position. For this reason it has offered to play a rational security role by training the Palestinian police and sending the Palestinian Badr forces stationed in Jordan into the West Bank to assume security tasks.

The most that Jordan can provide is a limited security role in the West Bank. A growing number of Jordanians believe that Israel, under the Likud, is seeking to revive the concept of the Jordan option, which, if it ever materializes, will chip away at any chance for Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination. The prevalent view among Jordanians is that Israel is not looking for a Palestinian partner but for external actors (Egypt or Jordan) to become entangled in Palestinian internal affairs in order to relieve the Israeli government of its obligations. The tacit attempt by some circles of the ruling elite in Israel to lure the king to come up with a unity formula with the remainder of the West Bank is doomed.

The Islamist and leftist opposition in Jordan has voiced its adamant rejection of even a limited role for the country in the West Bank before the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state. It makes the case that any Jordanian involvement in the West Bank before the establishment of a Palestinian state will be detrimental to the Palestinian cause.

By and large, Jordanians support the preservation of Jordan's core national interests, which entail a two-state solution. Simply put, Jordan officially advocates the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state. Reasons for such a position abound, but suffice here to mention the fear of a possible Palestinian migration should the two state solution fail and the Jews become a minority in the area that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

A future Jordanian role in the West Bank would certainly be controversial and probably would not be received with comfort on the Palestinian side. Yet, as noted above, Jordan might find that it is in its best interest to become involved in the West Bank. This could be done in a balanced manner. Jordan's involvement should come via close coordination with the Palestinian Authority and should be confined to a limited security role. Equally important, Jordanians believe that there is a need to rehabilitate a Palestinian partner as the only method to preempt a possible Israeli unilateral move in the West Bank.- Published 10/11/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Hassan A. Barari is professor of Middle East studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the author of "Israelism: Arab Scholarship on Israel, A Critical Assessment" (London: Ithaca, 2009)

A sensitive issue
an interview with Hisham Ahmed

BI: Do you see Jordan following the example of Egypt in Gaza vis-a-vis the West Bank?

Ahmed: I think there is particular sensitivity regarding any potential Jordanian role in the West Bank. For one thing, at least the Israeli Likud Party has held the view for quite some time that a Palestinian state could be created but primarily on Jordanian territory. Their argument has been centered on the premise that since more than 60 percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian that would make that territory, east of the Jordan River, the natural territory for a Palestinian state.

Because of this, if Jordan were to play a noticeable role in the West Bank, security-related or otherwise, that might arouse Palestinian suspicions. Palestinians are determined to practice their right to self-determination here, and they will recall various Israeli schemes including what used to be known as the “Jordan option” in the early 1970s, the “United Kingdom” plan, the Alon plan, etc.

BI: Egypt is playing a very specific role in Gaza, and in spite of that country’s history there, it seems to be acceptable to Palestinians that Egypt plays this role. Could Jordan play a similar specific role in the West Bank?

Ahmed: Egypt has traditionally been viewed as the leading Arab country. Because of its centrality, and because it is the largest Arab country, perhaps Egypt’s involvement in the Gaza Strip is more accepted by Palestinians. A similar involvement by Jordan, if it takes into consideration the sensitivities I alluded to, might be acceptable as well. But if it doesn’t, I think such an involvement could be problematic for Jordan as well as for Palestinians.

Let’s also remember that Egypt, unlike Jordan, has no significant Palestinian population. Any side effects of Jordanian involvement in the West Bank could have some far-reaching effects internally in Jordan. Neither Jordan nor Palestine would be comfortable with such side effects.

BI: But there are also joint interests between Jordan and the Palestinians. There is the border, there is a matter of trade and there is a security angle. All these issues need close cooperation, so how should such cooperation proceed?

Ahmed: These sensitivities do not preclude Palestinian-Jordanian relations from being strengthened. It is a reality, for example, that Jordan represents the main “lung” for Palestinians. It is their entry point to the outside world, especially for Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Many Palestinians live in Jordan, and there are close relationship ties and family ties between Palestinians here and there. Also, the historic relations between Jordan and Palestine are unique.

While Jordan should perhaps view with sensitivity any involvement in the West Bank, that does not mean there should be no efforts made to strengthen Jordanian-Palestinian relations on all fronts, whether security, political or economic.

BI: With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now threatening to set his own borders, what role can Jordan play?

Ahmed: It is in Jordan’s interest to see an independent Palestinian state created in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including Jerusalem. The creation of such a state would put an end, from Jordan’s point of view, to the Israeli claim, or at least the Likud’s claim, that such a state should be established east of the Jordan River.

Jordan also has a strong presence in the international community, and it has good relations with the US, and therefore any intervention by Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians in this regard would be very welcome. It would also make sense from a Jordanian perspective, since such an intervention would serve Jordan’s domestic interests because it would promote greater internal stability in the kingdom.- Published 10/11/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Hisham Ahmed teaches political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

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