The Jordanian-Palestinian relationship has always been driven by two major factors: that a considerable number of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin and that all Jordanians—East Bankers and those of Palestinian origin alike—fear that a solution to the Palestinians’ predicament might come at Jordan’s expense.
This explains why Jordan has always treated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a domestic affair and why it has been a strong advocate of the two-state solution that would lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. More than six decades after most Palestinian refugees arrived in Jordan and were granted Jordanian citizenship, the question of who is a Jordanian is still not settled in Jordanian laws and political culture. That’s because the political establishment fears that a hard-line Israeli government might one day declare that a Palestinian state already exists—in Jordan.
Current realities present Jordan with serious challenges. The two-state solution appears to be dead. Both Israeli right-wing parties and individuals have been calling for some time for Jordanian control over parts of the West Bank that they do not wish Israel to keep. This essentially promotes a solution that serves Israeli interests but is detrimental to those of the Palestinians and denies them any control over East Jerusalem. The current Israeli government has repeatedly expressed its lack of interest in a two-state solution, and the Palestinian leadership is too weak and divided to push that solution forward.
The demographics are also stark because the settlers’ numbers are daunting. About 588,000 settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—about 205,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem alone and about 250,000 live in the heartland of the West Bank, away from the border with pre-1967 Israel where land swaps may be possible to accommodate those settlers. This settlement population is significant when compared with an estimated Palestinian population of 2.7 million in the West Bank.
Finally, younger Palestinians are increasingly less interested in a two-state solution that might give them a Palestine without East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, any right of return, and limited sovereignty.
Palestinians in the West Bank are also divided over a relationship with Jordan. Some from the old generation who are tired of the fifty-year-old occupation and who had ties with Jordan when the West Bank was a part of the kingdom (1950–1967) are pushing for the Jordanian state to assume a role that would relieve their situation. The younger Palestinian generation, however, which has known only the Israeli occupation and has no political ties to Jordan, wants to be in charge of its own affairs.
None of these developments has caused Jordan to reevaluate its options. U.S. President Donald Trump, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2017, declared that the United States was not wedded to a two-state solution and was willing to entertain other options—including a one-state solution. This was viewed with alarm in Jordan. Considering that Israel would never agree to a one-state solution in which Palestinians and Israelis would enjoy equal rights, such an alternative can only mean an apartheid system that would perpetuate the conflict rather than achieve the Palestinian aspirations on their national soil. Jordan’s concern has caused it to reiterate in the strongest terms its steadfast commitment—along with that of the Arab states during the March 2017 Arab summit in Amman—to a two-state solution that would give Palestinians a homeland in the West Bank and Gaza. King Abdullah II also made this position clear in a meeting with Trump in Washington in April 2017.
Jordan is also facing serious economic challenges, including a national debt of about $35 billion, equivalent to a staggering 95 percent of its GDP. Many Jordanians are concerned about political arrangements that might compel the kingdom to accept a role in the West Bank in return for forgiveness of this debt, mostly owed to the West and international financial organizations. Despite Abdullah’s insistence that Jordan is not interested in playing any such role, these concerns have not been alleviated. Many from the East Bank establishment do not want to see the “East Jordanian identity” further diluted by adding more Palestinians to the Jordanian social or political fabric. Jordanians of Palestinian origin, in turn, do not wish to see a dilution of the Palestinian national struggle through a solution outside the borders of historical Palestine. For these reasons alone, it is extremely doubtful that the Jordanian state would accede to any potential pressures.
Jordan also faces domestic political problems. The political reform process has essentially been put on hold by the conservative forces that form the backbone of the regime—on the grounds that opening up the kingdom’s political space might empower Jordanians of Palestinian origin to a “dangerous” degree. It is not clear, however, how long such an argument can hold water with Jordan’s citizens—of East Bank or Palestinian origin. They are demanding a larger role in decisionmaking and might not be willing to wait for a successful resolution of the Palestinian conflict, a highly improbable outcome in the foreseeable future.
Amid these tensions, the future remains uncertain. Jordan will continue to resist any attempts to declare the two-state solution dead, despite current realities. The alternatives are all worse for the country. Of course, wishing for a solution because it offers the best possible way forward does not guarantee its realization. Facts on the ground can understandably be ignored by Jordan, and indeed by the international community, for a time. But the likelihood is high that a moment will come when that is no longer possible, leaving Jordan to strive to prevent Israel from implementing a solution against Jordan’s, or the Palestinians’, interests.
Jordan has so far skillfully managed its domestic Jordanian-Palestinian situation and has played a key function in regional and international efforts to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough on the Palestinian issue. However, demographic realities on the ground inside the occupied territories, the kingdom’s increasingly difficult economic situation, and an Israeli government that seems intent on having its cake and eating it too will severely test Jordan’s ability to maintain this position over time. While the death of the two-state solution is detrimental to Israel in the long run, Jordan’s challenge in the interim will be to keep at bay any Israeli attempt to solve the Palestinian problem at the kingdom’s expense.