Tuesday, July 10, 2007
A few days ago I published The Return of the Jordanian Option in National Interest Online.
Ceckout today's Growing Talk of Jordanian Role in Palestinian Affairs in the New York Times.
AMMAN, Jordan, July 6 — Inside a drab cellphone shop, set deep inside the sprawling Baqaa refugee camp on the outskirts of this city, Muhammad Khalil and his friends were as gloomy as the fluorescent lights that flickered on the ceiling.
“Everything has been ruined for us — we’ve been fighting for 60 years and nothing is left,” Mr. Khalil said, speaking of the Palestinian cause. Just weeks earlier, he might have been speaking enthusiastically to his friends here, in their usual hangout, about resistance, of fighting for his rights as a Palestinian and of one day returning to a Palestinian state.
Last Wednesday, however, he spoke of what he saw as a less satisfying goal for the Palestinians here and one that raises concerns for many other Jordanians: Palestinian union with Jordan.
“It would be better if Jordan ran things in Palestine, if King Abdullah could take control of the West Bank,” Mr. Khalil said, as his friends nodded. “The issue would be over if Jordan just took control.”
Even a few months ago, talk of some kind of Palestinian union with Jordan would have sounded quaint or even conspiratorial, 40 years after Jordan lost control of the West Bank in the 1967 war and nearly two decades after King Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, formally ceded administrative control of the territory to the Palestinians.
But as the Palestinian territories have been engulfed in turmoil, with Gaza and the West Bank now divided economically and politically, as well as physically, talk of a less ambitious, but no less delicate, federation between Jordan and the West Bank has begun rippling through many Jordanian and Palestinian circles.
Some Palestinians who have begun speaking of the subject see Jordan as a last resort to bring about security and stability to the West Bank and to prevent it from falling under the control of the militant Hamas faction, as Gaza has. Israeli officials who have spoken of the idea also say Jordan could help peace efforts by taking over security conditions — shorthand, many fear, for Jordan inheriting Israeli responsibility for security there. In any event, when Israel and the United States have spoken of a Palestinian state, they have talked of a demilitarized one, so some solution for Palestinian national security would be needed.
Jordanian commentators also have begun warning that talk of a union could put an end to the Palestinian national project and put Jordan itself in peril.
“You have a scenario-building exercise going on; Jordan is dealing with complex politics and they are trying to see where they will land and where it will leave the country,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, speaking of the debate about federation. “Jordan has not yet decided on this issue, but it’s clear the debate has begun.”
The nature of any possible union has many iterations. Some see it as possible oversight of the Palestinian territories by Jordan while others see it as a partnership between two nations. But King Abdullah’s position was clear.
In an interview with the daily newspaper Al Ghad on July 1, he sought to put to rest rumors of a possible change in policy on the matter. “I say clearly that the idea of confederation or federation, or what is called administrative responsibility, is a conspiracy against the Palestinian cause, and Jordan will not involve itself in it,” he said. “The Jordanians refuse any settlement of the Palestinian issue at their expense.”
Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of al Ghad, who interviewed the king, said: “He was extremely blunt in the interview. No discussion. It’s a no-go.”
Some analysts, however, said the king’s response helped underscore the level of pressure Jordan may be facing.
“King Abdullah made himself clear on more than one occasion,” said Musa Shtewi, professor of sociology at the University of Jordan. “But by having to do so, it means there’s a lot of pressure being put on Jordan to do this.”
King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, lost the West Bank during the 1967 war and had long hoped to one day reunite both sides of the Jordan River, Professor Shtewi and other analysts said. In 1988, however, he formally disengaged from the territory in a major policy shift that made the Palestine Liberation Organization the sole body responsible for the administration of the Palestinian areas.
Jordanian and Palestinian academics have long talked of the possibility of a political and economic federation. But after Yasir Arafat signed the Oslo peace treaty with the Israelis in 1993, Jordan’s official policy on federation became predicated on the formation of a Palestinian state.
The issue of union has become especially delicate among native Jordanians, who fear that it could further empower Jordan’s large number of residents of Palestinian origin, estimated to be up to 60 percent of the population, at their political expense.
“This used to be an academic issue that never died away,” said Professor Shtewi, speaking of confederation. “But now, it has become a political and even an existential issue too.”
Rumors began circulating in May that Jordan might be rethinking its position, when Abdul-Salam al-Majali, a former prime minister, was the host of a meeting of Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian peace advocates in the Red Sea Port of Aqaba to discuss ways of reinvigorating peace efforts. Mr. Majali, in an interview, said the issue of union never came up.
But many Jordanian analysts and columnists reported that the meeting touched on the principles of establishing a confederation as a means to breaking the impasse in the peace efforts. Many analysts saw the meeting as a trial balloon intended to gauge the level of interest and resistance to such a move.
“They don’t really want this, but they wanted to see what their options would be if it was forced on them,” said Muhammad Abu Rumman, a columnist with Al Ghad, referring to the Jordanian government. “Most people will tell you that the confederation scenario is going to happen. The only question is when.”
Palestinian activists, however, warn against taking Palestinian desire for stability as a serious change in their politics.
“Some Palestinians may regard this as a kind of solution, a way out of the problem for them,” said Talat Abu Othman, leader of the Jordanian chapter of the High Committee to Protect the Right of Return. “But these are temporary solutions and temporary solutions don’t fix the problem. Without a right of return, without rights, you will solve nothing.”
Mr. Khalil and his friends in the cellphone shop figure, however, that the wait is growing more difficult by the day. “Jordan wants peace for us,” he said. “Jordan wants us to get our rights.”