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Could the Failure of the Oslo Process Doom Israel’s Friendship With Jordan?

With no good options on the horizon, Jerusalem and Amman are on a collision course over the Palestinian issue

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II listen to remarks after holding meetings with President Barack Obama on restarting Middle East peace talks Sept. 1, 2010, at the White House. (Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images)
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Jordan, at its own insistence, hasn’t been party to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at all; indeed, its government routinely insists that only Israel and the Palestinians be at the table, even though the outcome affects its own vital interests, particularly where the borders, the question of refugees, and the final status of Jerusalem are concerned. The regime’s sensitivity to the confederation debate in Israel only reflects the questions it faces domestically: Can Jordan secure its interests in the final status agreement without being part of it? Can it secure the stabilization of the West Bank without taking part in its administration? Isn’t the kingdom already a de facto Jordanian-Palestinian confederation given that at least half its population is of Palestinian origin, and that these people will remain in Jordan under any conceivable settlement with Israel? These questions are constantly debated in Jordan, suggesting that the very idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian path to resolution of post-1967 issues isn’t entirely out of the question.

Indeed, in 2005, Abdul Salam al-Majali, Jordan’s former prime minister and a signatory to the 1994 peace agreement with Israel, presented a detailed plan for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation that would encompass both banks of the Jordan River. Majali even discussed his plan with political figures in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the tacit approval of King Abdullah. The plan stirred a heated debate in Jordan, leading Abdullah to believe that it was still too sensitive; he subsequently killed it but could not kill the public debate. However, in Israel, the proponents of Israeli-Palestinian peace are deaf to the Jordanian domestic debate, and the opponents of such peace simply want to throw the Palestinian problem into Jordan’s yard. Therefore, no real dialogue exists between Israeli and Jordanian intellectuals and NGOs, not to mention governments, on the confederation issue.

A future confederation between a Palestinian entity and Jordan is neither futile nor impractical, especially not when compared to the complications obviously presented by the two-state “solution.” It seems that all the parties involved might, under some circumstances and preconditions, entertain it. The most important of these for Jordan and the Palestinians is that the confederation would not be the dream scenario of the Israeli right wing: unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank to Israel and de facto presumption that Jordan will be drawn into managing the remaining Palestinian territory to preserve order. That scenario would make both Jordan and the Palestinians Israel’s worst enemy—something Israel’s leaders don’t really want, either.

A confederation would not be an easy way out for any of the three parties. To get Jordan in, Israel would likely have to agree to something close to the 1967 borders, potentially with a land swap on a one-to-one basis, which would mean evacuating Jewish settlers from the West Bank and giving up on East Jerusalem. However, the confederation might be easier for all the parties to accept at this point than any of the various scenarios involving an independent Palestine.

Since the problem has always been an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian one, the solution will have to be trilateral too—but all three parties are practically paralyzed. No effective outside pressure looms in the foreseeable future. Conservative political parties in Israel, as well as the Israeli government, live under the false impression that the status quo ante is tenable and at the moment have the comfort of knowing that the Palestinian problem is relatively less urgent than Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, and the ongoing merry-go-round of post-Arab Spring turmoil in Egypt and elsewhere. Israeli conservatives hardly give a second thought to the immorality of the occupation—and hardly worry about the inevitability of forced solution in the event that no action is taken by the parties.

Does this mean that catastrophe is imminent for Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians? Hopefully the answer will be no.


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Could the Failure of the Oslo Process Doom Israel’s Friendship With Jordan?

With no good options on the horizon, Jerusalem and Amman are on a collision course over the Palestinian issue

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