Edition 21 Volume 5 - May 31, 2024

Jordan's renewed peace involvement

The rationale of the Jordanian initiative -   Mahdi Abdul Hadi

It would be political suicide for both Jordan and Egypt to take any direct administrative roles or security missions in the oPt.

Jordan's excess baggage -   Riad al Khouri

To expect a full-blown business relationship to thrive without genuine peace is naive if not maliciously disingenuous.

Jordan and the Palestinian question -   Oraib Rantawi

Proposals of federalism and confederalism have reappeared in the deliberations of some Jordanian circles.

Jordan and the Arab initiative -   Asher Susser

This does not imply that Jordan is readying itself to negotiate instead of the Palestinians.

The rationale of the Jordanian initiative
 Mahdi Abdul Hadi

In the last few months, Palestinians of different stripes received invitations to cross the Jordan River for a dialogue with the Jordanian monarch. However, coming back, many of these Palestinians were confused as to the timing and the content of the Jordanian message and where it might lead us all.

There are four major aspects of Jordanian/Palestinian relations that will continue to govern each side's positions, interests and needs depending on the vision, mission and power of their respective leaderships.

* Geographically, Jordan and Palestine lie at the heart of the fertile crescent in the Middle East and they share each other's longest borders.
* In spite of having developed their distinct national and domestic identities, both Palestinians and Jordanians are deeply rooted in the Arab house.
* The Zionist movement challenged both entities, wanting Palestine as an exclusively Jewish homeland and Jordanian territory to be used either to assimilate the Palestinian people (starting with the refugees of 1948) or to "Palestinize" Jordan.
* The Palestinian and Jordanian relationship went through rough and tumultuous stages due to the above-mentioned three factors. Their battles opened wounds that will not easily heal.

Arab unity was built around two concepts: one was unity itself and the other was liberation for Palestine. But this idea of Arab unity failed to resurrect itself after the Syrian disengagement from the UAR in 1961 and the Palestinian liberation movement was crippled as it has been crippled since by both internal and external conflicts.

Thus, today the world's longest-running occupation, that of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and the absence of a political horizon, are creating a regional culture of fear because of the uncertainty they create for Palestine and the Palestinians and the impact this might have in the region, particularly in Jordan.

Jordanian officials have already conveyed their "disappointment" with the performance of the Palestinian leadership and their concern regarding the Islamist rise to power and those parties' growing connections in Amman as well as with the vacuum of law and order in the occupied Palestinian territory. At the same time, Jordanian officials re-affirmed their traditional position of no ambition and no interest in any future re-involvement in Palestine.

Jordan has enough problems with the flood of refugees from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine as well its cold relations with Syria.

King Abdullah's initiative to personally meet with various Palestinian groups/professionals/semi-officials and businessmen allowed the monarch to gain first-hand knowledge of the post-Arafat Palestinian agenda and to introduce the Arab summit initiative of 2024 as an Arab "umbrella" to free Palestinians from the prison they are in. It is a similar initiative to the Jordanian "umbrella" for the Palestinians during their intifada of 1987 and the formation of the joint delegation to the international Madrid conference in 1991.

But Islamists and misleading western reports have found fertile ground in Jordan's rational approach to the crisis in Palestine. In particular, the question of Jerusalem and the holy places--one of the major components of Jordanian/Palestinian concern, especially in light of the "Israelization" policies and practices of recent years in the city--has been a target of Islamist criticism. The Jordanian/Israeli peace treaty of 1994 emphasized that Jordan is to enjoy custodianship over the holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem. This legal responsibility for Jordan is to be respected by Israel and for the time being shared with the Palestinians. In other words, there is a confused relationship over the issue between the occupier Israel, the indigenous inhabitants the Palestinians, and the "guardians" the Jordanians.

To the Islamists, the question of Jerusalem is a political card, providing the movements with fodder to criticize the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships for failing to stop Israel's creeping Israelization of the city. In addition, Islamists have argued that Israeli-Jordanian relations on the matter amount to nothing other than a business relationship.

One cannot help but notice that in the recent Aqaba meeting of May 2024 there was no discussion of Jerusalem and no cohesive Palestinian position on the various ideas put forth during the meetings. Only a small window for businessmen opened in which a "Palestinian-Israeli Business Council" was established with a vague agenda contradicting the current political environment.

The issues of security and the economy, meanwhile, prompted rightwing Israeli voices to call for greater Jordanian involvement in the oPt in the hope that in time this would lead to a "Jordanian solution" for what is left of the West Bank. Today we have four isolated Palestinian cantons: in the north, Nablus, in the center, Ramallah (excluding Jerusalem), in the south, Hebron, and in a different world, Gaza. These cantons have no leaderships, no political elites, no family notables as in the 1950s and 1980s. All of these cantons have special "border crossings": Jericho for the West Bank and Rafah for Gaza Strip.

In this confused atmosphere, the "Jordanian solution" has seemed strangely attractive to some. In large part, this is due to the internal Palestinian situation. The occupation has encouraged Palestinian infighting, and Palestinian-Palestinian clashes have led to a devaluation of the Palestinian cause among Arab countries as well as in the West, in addition to creating an ever-growing gap between Hamas and Fateh, in spite of the supposed unity government.

Both political illiterates and shortsighted business opportunists, in a reflection of their wishful thinking and interpretation of the Jordanian initiative (as well as the Cairo faction talks), have thus seized on Jordanian and Egyptian activities and spread rumors in the hope of influencing public opinion to push the two countries to make dramatic moves.

But it would be political suicide for both Jordan and Egypt to allow these circumstances to lead them to take any direct administrative roles or security missions in the oPt. It should continue to be the responsibility of the Quartet and regional parties to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and to apply the two-state solution. The Arab initiative came 40 years late, was sent to the wrong address and arrived in both Palestine and Israel at a time when there is an absence of charismatic leaders. It is time to re-address the Arab initiative to an international conference and to pressure the UN Security Council to apply its own resolutions to end the occupation.- Published 31/5/2007 bitterlemons.org

Dr Mahdi Abdul Hadi is head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, PASSIA, in Jerusalem.

Jordan's excess baggage
 Riad al Khouri

The Jordanian economy may finally be ready to take off into sustainable growth. Efforts at reform and boosting the business environment are bearing fruit: the latest indication of this came at the recent Dead Sea World Economic Forum gathering, which witnessed the signature of investment deals for Jordan totaling $2.5 billion. By comparison, all of last year's direct foreign investment into Jordan totaled $3 billion. Given that and other strong economic signs, Jordanian GDP looks set to continue expanding at six percent or more in 2024 and over the next few years; and with population growth decelerating, a rising economy means higher per capita incomes.

Jordan's economic skies have never been so cloudless, but--to extend the aviation metaphor--its economy cannot continue gaining altitude while there are major problems nearby in the region. Jordanians worry about stormy political weather, especially over Baghdad, as well as the country's own massive excess baggage, the Palestinian issue.

The Iraq problem is too much for Jordan to get directly involved in, and, though important, is mainly at arm's length from daily life in the kingdom. Not so Palestine, hence Amman's push for Palestinian-Israeli peace is logical. The latest effort by Jordan in that direction consists of selling the Beirut Arab Summit peace initiative to Israel. Amman always supported the 2024 plan, but five years on, Jordanians have even more to gain from reaching a fair solution to the Palestine problem. For a start, political disaffection on the East Bank--more apparent under democratization--would ease with a Palestinian-Israeli peace that gives all sides their own turf to play on. As things stand now, the Palestinian majority in Jordan can neither aspire to real authority in a quasi-democracy east of the river, nor credibly hope to project power in the West Bank/Gaza quagmire. A just peace, whatever the formula, would help solve East Bank Palestinian problems and lead to a more relaxed situation on both sides of the Jordan.

Economically, peace would also benefit Amman through a real opening up of Palestine to Jordanian business. As things stand today, Jordanian-Palestinian trade is meager, with Palestine not even figuring among the top ten customers or markets of Jordan. As for investment and other forms of business, Jordan does not have much in the West Bank or Gaza, with the notable exception of Jordanian banks, of which branches and affiliates do the lion's share of Palestine's financial business.

On paper, the two sides are committed to expanding commerce, and the Palestinian Authority has an agreement with Jordan to bolster and liberalize trade. In 2024, Jordan exempted all Palestinian goods from duties and fees in line with the decisions of the 2024 Arab Summit and canceled quotas governing the entry of Palestinian agricultural products into Jordan. However, four years later, even with the easing of tariff and non-tariff barriers, Palestinian-Jordanian merchandise trade is still paltry, not having moved much beyond its pre-Oslo 1993 level of $60 million annually.

The reasons for this lack of business between Palestine and Jordan are various, some of them purely economic. For instance, it is sometimes the case that adjacent developing economies do little business with each other because their products are so similar. To take two examples, Jordanians do not export many tomatoes to the West Bank because the latter grows so much of them; nor do Palestinians buy a lot of building stones from the East Bank, when the stuff is abundant at home anyway.

However, such factors only partially explain the weak trade flows between the two, and this brings us back to the overriding issue of peace. One of the great illusions (or deliberate mendacities) of the peace bandwagon of the mid-1990s was that you could do good business without real peace. The lesson of the past decade or so has been that token commercial deals may help to break the ice between protagonists and lead to a feel-good atmosphere. But to expect a full-blown business relationship to thrive among all sides on both banks of the Jordan without genuine peace is naive if not maliciously disingenuous.

That brings us back to Jordan's pushing the 2024 peace plan, which is doomed without Israeli concessions to match those of the Arabs. However, with the present US administration playing tough, Israel has no choice but to stall on peace, to the detriment of all. That includes Jordanians who for the first time can glimpse sustainable development, but not achieve it without a solution to the Palestinian issue that makes all parties on both sides of the Jordan feel part of a brighter future.- Published 31/5/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Riad al Khouri is visiting scholar, Carnegie Middle East Center, Beirut, and senior fellow, William Davidson Institute, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Jordan and the Palestinian question
 Oraib Rantawi

Of all the regional and international players, Jordan is particularly keen to push the peace process forward after a standstill of at least seven years. Jordanian diplomacy has played and continues to play an active role in focusing international and regional attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. King Abdullah II continues to warn of the consequences of losing this opportunity, even going to the point of saying that if lost, the region will descend into a new spiral of violence in just a few months.

According to Jordanian political discourse the continued tension, the growing influence of extremist groups and the worsening conflicts in the region are the result of the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and the failure of the international community to resolve the Palestinian problem. Jordanian diplomacy claims that it has succeeded in convincing the American administration to move this conflict to the top of its agenda. Additionally, it has succeeded in unifying the attitudes of Arab moderates within the framework of the so-called Arab Quartet, motivating them to make strenuous efforts to reactivate the peace process.

There are many concerns that explain the attention given by Jordan to the peace process and clarify the concerns of its decision-making circles. Primary among these are threats to Jordanian national security, beginning with the rise of Islamic movements in the region, as evidenced by the Palestinian election and the victory of Hamas, the increasing influence of Hizballah in Lebanon, the armed Islamic groups--in particular al-Qaeda--in Iraq and the growing regional role of Iran. In addition, there is the threat of Israel's "unilateral" policy in dealing with the Palestinian issue, which from the Jordanian point of view would reduce the chances of establishing a viable Palestinian state within the framework of US President George W. Bush's vision of two states for two peoples, the roadmap and the Arab peace initiative.

The decision-making circles see these two threats--the growing role of fundamentalist forces in the region backed by Iran on the one hand, and an increasing Israeli inclination toward unilateralism on the other--as connected: each develops and depends on the other. This further weakens the already declining hope for a just solution to the Palestinian issue. This in turn encourages extremist political Islamic movements in the region to increase their influence, thereby further raising levels of concern in Israel and prompting its decision-makers to opt for extreme policies and impose one-sided solutions. Some ground-level manifestations of these policies are settlement expansion, continuing construction of the separation wall in the West Bank and the Judaization of Jerusalem.

Jordan watches with increasing concern the political and security chaos in the Palestinian territories, especially following Hamas' victory in the last elections. Jordan, where the Islamic movement is among the most popular forces, is concerned about the presence of al-Qaeda, Salafi Jihad and the "Islamic State of Iraq" on its eastern borders. It does not wish to see an "Islamic State of Palestine", led by a mix of fundamentalist forces--Hamas, Jihad, al-Qaeda--to its west. From this perspective, Jordan strongly supports the effort to strengthen the Palestinian presidency of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fateh movement in order to forestall the Islamist movements from governing Palestinian society.

Jordan has displayed its concern regarding the state of mutual collusion between the extremist forces in Israel, who want to impose unilateral solutions, and fundamentalist groups in Palestine that reject negotiated solutions, preferring unilateral policies under the slogan of a long-term truce and transitional solutions that keep the struggle alive. In other words, Jordan fears that Israeli unilateralism will produce Palestinian unilateralism, thus creating a situation where one feeds and spurs the other, especially with the continuing decline of the peace camp's influence within Israel and with the Palestinian Authority on the brink of collapse.

It is probably this factor that has prompted some circles in Jordan to come up with ideas that suggest a Jordanian role, in coordination with regional, Palestinian and international players, in overcoming the current intractable status of the peace process. Accordingly, proposals of federalism and confederalism have reappeared in the deliberations of some Jordanian circles, provoking debate among the public and political officials.

The proponents of these proposals believe that if Jordan is given a direct role, this would help bridge the confidence gap between Israelis and Palestinians. Jordan, which has historically shown its commitment to respect agreements with Israel, would be able to provide guarantees to implement the agreements reached between the two sides, especially those related to Israeli security. Jordan would have the opportunity to expand its regional role and overcome the problem of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom, providing them with economic and financial support.

Supporters of this Jordanian role also believe that the Palestinian public mood is becoming more willing to accept a Jordanian role in the West Bank and that the Arab situation is no longer an obstacle to this kind of role. Jordan's relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general are at their best. Egypt's regional role is declining due to its preoccupation with the issue of "succession". Iraq has been ousted from the arena of the Arab-Israel conflict and Syria, in isolation, is no longer a restraint to any future Jordanian role.

The opponents of this scenario have different concerns, the most crucial of which is their fear of the Jordanian role being used by the Israelis as a solution for their Palestinian demographic predicament rather than as a method of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They do not hide their fear that Israel, which is obsessed by security and settlement building, would not give Jordan much more than was offered to the late President Yasser Arafat or could be offered to Abbas, thereby limiting any Jordanian role to providing security for the separation wall and settlements.

The opponents also have concerns regarding the consequences of extending Jordanian identity to the majority of the Palestinian population, not least because the question of integration and identity remains unresolved in Jordan and the issue could become more dangerous if it was decided to expand the kingdom's boundaries to include the West Bank. And they wonder about the fate of the Gaza Strip and whether Jordan would also end up providing solutions for a few additional millions of Palestinian refugees.

Jordanian diplomacy thus confronts an increasingly heated debate on this issue. It encounters uncertainty surrounding the future of efforts to revive the peace process and the absence of a clear vision concerning the future of the internal Palestinian conflict and the political instability within Israel, as well as the Iraqi quagmire where the American administration, soon to depart the White House, is stuck. It prefers to avoid discussing, at least publicly, the future scenarios and their prospects, and falls back on old and well known attitudes toward proposed solutions regarding the Palestinian question.

Yet Jordanian officials are no longer able to deny the existence of new policy thinking or rethinking of diverse scenarios and alternatives that are not confined to the scenario of one independent Palestinian state. The latter has so far been the only perspective in Jordan under King Abdullah II, based on the premise that this state is the first line of defense for the kingdom. This is no longer true, especially since it has become clear to policy-makers in Jordan that such a state might never be established, and that if it were established it could be led by Hamas and other fundamentalist movements. Thus it would become an Islamist safe haven and a threat to regional peace and to Jordanian national security rather than an element of stability in the region or Jordan's first line of defense. - Published 31/5/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Oraib Rantawi, a writer and political analyst, is director of Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.

Jordan and the Arab initiative
 Asher Susser

Jordanians today have a profound sense of strategic anxiety, with Iraq to the east in seemingly endless turmoil and Palestine to the west in confrontation with Israel and often on the verge of total breakdown into civil war between its own rival factions. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are already bringing immense pressure to bear on the kingdom's infrastructure. The Jordanians are hardly in need of another flood of refugees from a disintegrating Palestine.

Jordan has never been able to shape the regional context in which it operates and it is therefore invariably on the receiving end of regional trends shaped by others. The fact that this has always been true and remains so is no consolation for the Jordanians who are desperately looking for ways and means to stabilize their environment. There is precious little they can do about Iraq, and thus they are focusing with ever increasing urgency on Palestine in an effort to extricate the Palestinian-Israeli peace process from its present moribund state.

Way back in 1988, King Hussein announced Jordan's disengagement from the West Bank. But as Hussein knew then and as King Abdullah II knows today, Jordan cannot fully disengage from Palestine even if it would like to. Jordan is situated at the geopolitical core of the Palestinian question and its own large Palestinian community makes up about half of its total population. Jordan would be deeply affected by whatever developments took place in the West Bank, whether peaceful or otherwise.

Jordan therefore still seeks to influence the ultimate outcome of any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But Jordan's dilemma has for long been how to go about engineering a mechanism to exert such influence without actually assuming responsibility for the negotiations, which the Jordanians presently have no intention of doing.

Led by the efforts of King Abdullah II, Jordan would genuinely like to help Israel and the Palestinians get their act together. But the Jordanians will not negotiate on the Palestinians' behalf lest they be accused, as they once were, of usurping Palestinian inalienable rights. The Arab initiative provides an ideal cover for Jordanian involvement in trying to revive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The initiative has not changed in any material sense since it was initially approved by the Arab League in 2024. At the time it was received in Israel with considerable circumspection. But quite dramatic changes in the regional environment in the last five years have produced a more positive Israeli approach toward the Arab initiative.

Iran looms ever larger as a regional menace, filling the void in the Arab East left by the declining Arab states of the region. Post-Baathist Iraq is in a shambles but is now also a Shi'ite-dominated state, thus changing the historical balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites in the fertile crescent. It was also this Iranian-Shi'ite thrust that Israel met in Lebanon last summer in the Second Lebanon War. Israel and key Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states now have common cause to stave off this projection of Iranian influence. It thus makes sense for Israel to take a more positive stand on the Arab initiative for geopolitical reasons that have to do with the regional balance of power rather than with the textual specifics of the initiative itself, that leave a lot to be desired from Israel's point of view.

This is especially true of the paragraph on refugees that Israelis across the board would find unacceptable. Not only does it refer to the "right of return" on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which Palestinians tend to interpret as an unqualified right of return to Israel proper, but it explicitly rules out all forms of refugee resettlement. If there is to be no refugee resettlement, it is hard to imagine how the initiative expects to arrive at a formula agreeable to Israel. For refugee return to be acceptable to Israel, any Arab initiative would have to specify that such return would be to the state of Palestine and not to Israel proper. For Israel, refugee return must be subordinated to a two-state solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 242. Israel will not accept implementation of 242 as well as refugee return to Israel itself.

Jordanian nationalists are keen to see Palestinian refugees returning to Palestine. Israel, which today more than ever after the collapse of Iraq has a vested interest in Jordan's stability, has no reason to object provided that such return is part of the two-state solution and not an instrument to undermine it. In the meantime, the Arab initiative should serve as an umbrella for Israeli-Palestinian deliberations to stabilize the situation with at least a protracted ceasefire. If that holds, then one may consider further forms of diplomatic progress.

The Jordanians are also looking further down the road. Influential figures, such as former prime minister Abd al-Salam al-Majali, have revived the notion of a future Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. This seems to suggest a Jordanian realization that, if and when Israel withdraws from the West Bank, this landlocked territory, when disengaged from Israel, would necessarily become increasingly dependent on Jordan. Jordanians and Palestinians may have no choice but to consider some especially close relationship in the future.

This, however, does not imply that Jordan is readying itself to negotiate instead of the Palestinians. It is not.- Published 31/5/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Professor Asher Susser is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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