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Hillel Frisch

After nearly 100 years of failure, the Palestinian movement is destined to the same fate of dozens, if not hundreds, of national movements since World War II that sought statehood without success. It is time that the international community, after nearly forty years of advocating the two-state solution, seeks a remedy elsewhere. Palestinian autonomy within the relatively successful Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan offers hope for the Arabs residing in the West Bank—known in Israel as Judea and Samaria—as well as greater flexibility in meeting the legitimate historical claims of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Denying these historical claims, held by a growing constituency of Jewish Israeli voters (67 percent of Israeli Jews between ages fifteen and twenty-four define themselves as right-wing), means the continuation of Arab-Israeli violence in which both sides will suffer—but certainly the Palestinians will suffer more.

What happened to the Oslo peace process of the 1990s—a major international effort to create the conditions for a peaceful partition between Israelis and Palestinians—best exemplifies the failure of the Palestinian national movement. Instead of the much-sought-after creation of two states based on a geographic and political partition between Israel and the Palestinians, an inter-Palestinian partition took place with a West Bank governed by the “nationalist” Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas and a Gaza Strip run by a theocratic Hamas-controlled government.

Entrenched Palestinian divisions and the uncertainties surrounding who will succeed Abbas, an octogenarian who has spent thirteen years in the presidency, strongly suggest that not only will the partition continue but that further divisions are likely. One major problem, even in an entity controlled by the Palestinian Authority that has shown little deference to constitutional principles, is that, according to the Basic Law, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council becomes temporary head of the Palestinian Authority. But the speaker is a member of Hamas, who was elected in 2006 when Hamas won a legislative majority and is therefore unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority leadership. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, would then be that leadership’s choice. His problem is that he has no followers, and the person to whom he has pledged allegiance, Marwan Barghouti, is serving several life sentences in an Israeli prison. Erekat also faces other major contenders, including Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, both of whom once served as Palestinian security chief. None of these individuals enjoys anywhere near majority support. And there is, of course, the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, whose loyalty to any of these figures is questionable.

Similarly, on the Israeli side, political developments since Oslo have hardly been auspicious to the architects of the Oslo process and its promoters. Initially, the outset of the process, whose foundations were set from 1993 to 1995, was perceived to reflect the triumphant comeback of the dovish Israeli left. In retrospect, we now know it was the swan song of the Israeli Labor Party and its allies. Labor has not returned to power since 1999 and has few prospects of making a comeback. The latest polls forecast that the party will win nine seats in the next election.

After nearly 100 years of a failed Palestinian national movement, and given the bleak scenarios that lie ahead for the Palestinians, it may be time to go back to the establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation. This would allow some Palestinian autonomy while meeting legitimate Israeli historical claims to Judea and Samaria.

True, Jordan has been committed to a two-state solution since the Oslo Accords.1 There are, however, two reasons for thinking that the kingdom is open to other options. The first is that Jordan, since it announced its intention to sever ties with the West Bank twenty-nine years ago, has not changed the 1952 constitution to correspond with that decision. Constitutionally, the kingdom still upholds the unity of the east and west banks of the Jordan River under Hashemite rule.

The kingdom also periodically releases trial balloons to gauge the feasibility of renewing the Jordanian option. The last balloon occurred on May 21, 2016. In a highly publicized event, former Jordanian prime minister Abdel Salam Majali met 100 notables in the West Bank city of Nablus. Even more notable, Ghassan al-Shak’a, a Nablus-based member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, arranged the meeting. He stressed that such a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation could only be established after a Palestinian state is created. Another meeting took place in the Hebron area, where a Jordanian member of parliament, Mohammed Al-Dawaimeh, launched the One Million Hebronites initiative to promote a confederation. Following the meeting, the Hebron delegation was expected to discuss the issue with King Abdullah II in Amman, but this did not occur due to both Palestinian and Jordanian opposition to the confederation.

Three actors can play a critical role in making Jordan re-engage the Palestinians in some kind of an autonomy within the kingdom, a prosperous state. Prosperity is necessary to dissipate opposition to the federal framework. All three actors have a vested interest in strengthening Jordan. The Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, could provide the finance to a Sunni ally that borders Syria. They should be urged to do so by the United States, which, under President Donald Trump, has recommitted to maintaining the U.S. security umbrella the Gulf states have been living under since former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and which is so critical to cope with the much larger threat posed by Iran. Trump, throughout his campaign, had stressed that he wants U.S. allies to pay for the security the United States provides. This is one way the Gulf states can reciprocate.

Jordan would become the major recipient of aid earmarked for the Palestinians. Not only would this be an economic boon to the Jordanian economy as aid was in the past, Jordanian control of these funds would also improve transparency and reduce the amount of money supporting incitement and terrorism. Control of these flows at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, would allow Jordan to deepen its political influence in the West Bank. Jordan can also play a vital role in securing the cooperation of the security forces operating under the Palestinian Authority; and both Jordan and Israel can integrate them into the overall pattern of Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation, which has been extensive in the past and mutually beneficial.

In its relationship with Israel, Jordan could conceivably be more willing to make the concessions that are likely to make peace possible, such as maintaining Israeli settlements beyond the three blocs of settlement (Gush Etzion, Ariel, and Ma’aleh Adumim) and conceding Israel sovereignty over these blocs.

The path to such a peace will not be easy, but the potential benefits in renewing the Jordanian option outweigh the increasing costs of conflict related to a two-state solution neither side can live with.

Hillel Frisch is a professor in the Department of Politics and Department of Middle East Studies and researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Bar-Ilan University.

Notes

1 The next four paragraphs draw on Hillel Frisch and Yitzhak Sokoloff, “Comment: Trump, The Mideast Conflict and the Jordanian Option,” Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2017, http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Trump-and-the-Jordanian-option-477146.

Palestinian Nationalism: Regional Perspectives