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A Palestinian-Jordanian confederation
By URI SAVIR
01/10/2013
Savir's Corner: There are many advantages to a confederative solution between a State of Palestine and the Kingdom of Jordan from the perspective of Palestinians and Jordanians, of Israel, and of the international community led by the United States.
 
Prominent Israeli Knesset candidates, many of them most probably part of the next coalition, are in these days of vigorous campaigning attempting to highjack us into their fata morganas (mirages) regarding the future of the West Bank; be it Naftali Bennett with his ridiculous proposal to annex 60 percent of the West Bank to Israel; or Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to do everything in his prime ministerial power to prevent a two-state solution through settlement expansion to the dismay of the whole world; or be it Arieh Eldad and Itamar Ben-Gvir’s suggestion to transfer the Palestinians from their lands, probably on trains and buses.

These proposals, though lacking any real political and moral basis, reflect the authentic worldview of today’s Israeli Right. One that believes in Jewish superiority, not considering Arabs as equals; one that sees strength in the crude use of force and weakness in democracy, respect for human rights and appealing to the world. If this will indeed be the pervading view of our next government, we risk endangering both our very Jewish and democratic being as well as our place among the family of nations.

On January 23, we will all wake up to reality; a reality in which seven million Jews and five-and-a-half million Arabs live between the Sea and the River; a reality in which Palestinians are demanding their national rights in opposition to Israeli occupation, some with pragmatism, some with growing extremism – rights that are being recognized by the entire world, believing, along with the United States, in a two-state solution; a reality in which, given our size and economy, we are highly dependent on the world, primarily the United States; a reality in which history teaches us that racism and lack of morality lead to catastrophe.

It can be safely assumed that Netanyahu, most likely our next prime minister, in between his authentic right-wing ideological views and his grasp of reality, will opt for a national unity government.

It will be up to the next government to come up with a plan that takes into consideration the reality that we face, our real interests, and those of our No. 1 strategic ally, the United States. This need arises against the backdrop of a looming crisis in the Palestinian Authority.

The fact that so far we have been able to offer assets only to the extremist Hamas – a withdrawal from Gaza, negotiations, cease-fire, prisoner release – while “punishing” the more moderate Palestinian Authority of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) – with no withdrawal, no negotiations, no prisoner release, no transfer of funds and only settlement expansions – has led to the strengthening of Hamas and the weakening of Fatah. Palestinians in the West Bank are frustrated and are giving up hope for a political solution and may turn to support Hamas and rise in opposition to Abu Mazen and Israel.

Many in the Israeli Right see such a scenario as a welcome self-fulfilling prophecy.

Given this challenging reality and convoluted composition of views and expectations, it is highly urgent to think of new formulas to lead us and the region to a realistic plan of peace and security in favor of a two-state solution. It has lately been speculated in the Arab press, for example in the beginning of January in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi, that King Abdullah of Jordan has discussed with President Abu Mazen the possibility of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

These speculations may or may not be true, but the option deserves serious consideration. There is a clear and close link between the West Bank and the East Bank. About 70 percent of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin, almost two million of them in refugee camps, but generally they are well integrated into Jordanian society. Leading Palestinian businessmen play a key role in the Jordanian economy. The queen of Jordan, Rania, happens to be of Palestinian origin. There are often close family relations between West Bank and East Bank Palestinians. Many influential West Bank Palestinians have a second home in Amman. The infrastructure is often shared, at least in potential, for example transportation, energy, water, etc.

Yet what needs to be clear to anyone contemplating this option, and it also allegedly came up in Netanyahu’s most recent secret meeting with King Abdullah, is that no institutional link between West and East Bank is possible before the establishment of an internationally recognized Palestinian state. The last thing Palestinians will opt for is to move from Israeli rule to Jordanian rule. It seems that King Abdullah understands this and is open-minded toward the Palestinians and knows that a solution to the Palestinian problem is of prime interest to his kingdom’s stability and security.

There are many advantages to a confederative solution between a State of Palestine and the Kingdom of Jordan from the perspective of Palestinians and Jordanians, of Israel, and of the international community led by the United States.

From a Palestinian perspective, it would be a way forward to the creation of a Palestinian state, prior to confederation, while sharing some responsibilities with an experienced and internationally respected partner.

Jordan gained independence in 1946. Its leadership is viewed positively in the United States and in the world as moderate and pro-Western, which would probably accelerate the peace and negotiation process. Jordan, which is also respected in the Arab fold, would abide by Palestinian decisions regarding the creation of an independent state, borders, settlements and Jerusalem, on which the Palestinians and Jordanians in any case have identical views.

A Palestinian-Jordanian confederation would be a better basis on which to develop the economy for a new state in relation to infrastructure, trade, foreign investment, tourism and even the absorption of refugees. Given the effectiveness of the Jordanian security forces, the eventual confederation would contribute to Jordan’s security as well as to regional and anti-terror security arrangements.

Such a historic decision would strengthen the hand of the pragmatists on the Palestinian side at the expense of the fundamentalist organizations which cannot offer a horizon of statehood.

Jordan already has a peace treaty with Israel, signed in 1994, that can be a further basis for the establishment of real peace in the region. Peace with Israel is of prime interest for the Palestinians as the development of a more prosperous and democratic Palestine is also conditioned on peace. As Israel needs to rid itself, in its own interest, from occupation, the Arab states must rid themselves of their rejection of Israel and hostility toward the Jewish state. Peace is not a favor to Israel, but a Palestinian interest; it is also the only basis upon which the Palestinians can develop their democracy and economy.

Many of these factors are also in Israel’s favor, as this is not a zero-sum game. The Jordanians and their leadership are by far the most popular Arabs in the mind of Israel’s government and public alike.

This stems from the days of King Hussein and the respect he knew to show Israelis for their legitimate aspirations and security concerns. For years before the peace treaty, the Hashemite king conducted secret talks with Israeli leaders, and he also enjoyed close personal relations with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. This was never at the expense of his Arab patriotism and his solidarity with the Palestinians.

His son has inherited these characteristics.

It would be far easier for any Israeli leadership to convince its public of a solution to the Palestinian issue which includes a massive evacuation of settlers, a border based on the ’67 boundaries, and Jerusalem as a shared capital if Jordan would ultimately be partner to such a solution.

Israel’s legitimate security concerns would be addressed better in such a regional arrangement. It would make the security arrangement in the Jordan Valley easier and not necessitate a long-term Israeli presence along the river. Regional security can also be based on what is contemplated in the Jordanian- Israeli Peace Treaty, “a conference on security and cooperation in the Middle East” based on the EU model.

There are aspects of the relationship – in the aftermath of the creation of an independent Palestinian state and thereafter the Palestinian-Jordanian confederation – that could be dealt with in a trilateral way; this would include federative economic relations of free trade and major joint economic ventures, along the Dead Sea, for instance, addressing the need for water and energy. Moreover, trilateral security arrangements would facilitate addressing the difficult issue of border crossings as well as cooperation against terrorism. And a good peace relationship with economic development would send a strong signal of cooperation to the whole region.

The United States, in a second Obama term, has a strategic interest in a viable peace process with a realistic vision of regional peace that would undermine the rise of fundamentalism and radicalism in the region. A long-term prospect of a Palestinian- Jordanian confederation could ignite an American-orchestrated peace process in the foreseeable future.

While the advantages of this proposition are for all sides, the decision on the establishment of a confederation must fall only to Ramallah and Amman.

The leaders in the region, Arabs and Israelis alike, need to understand that on January 23 a long year of election campaigns in the United States and Israel will come to an end. This means a return to reality, rather than slogans, demagoguery and empty promises, and it’s a reality that demands fresh thinking and ideas from all sides.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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