US Secretary of State John Kerry comes and goes, yet Palestinian, Israeli and American negotiators have yet to reach agreement on initial security arrangements in the strategically vital Jordan Valley that underpin negotiation of all other core issues.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has flatly rejected a US-designed security plan that Kerry brought with him last week on his 10th diplomatic junket in five months. According to Maariv, PA officials have now charged the US with being an unfair broker for adopting some of Israel’s security requirements in the Jordan Valley.
What does the latest Palestinian “j’accuse” mean for the peace process? Six months of a nine-month negotiation period to a final accord have passed, and deliberations over borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem are still grounded.
It is little surprise. Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have been aware of the likely unbridgeable gaps between the sides since Abbas revealed to The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that, “the gaps were wide” in rejecting unprecedented Israeli concessions made in the 2008 Annapolis peace talks in an effort to reach a final accord.
If past diplomatic failures are good teachers, and the current Islamic revolutions threatening Arab governments across the Middle East are good guides, a more stable “triangular” approach to a regional peace, that relies on Israel and Jordan as economic and security “anchors” to an emerging non-militarized federal Palestinian state between them, could help achieve a more realistic and viable peace agreement that can answer most of the demands of the parties.
The weakness of the current Palestinian-Israeli peace model and its concomitant dangers have been demonstrated convincingly for more than a decade. The failed Camp David summit in 2000 triggered a suicide terror campaign by Fatah, Hamas and other Islamic groups claimed thousands of lives between 2000 and 2005. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of soldiers and civilians from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 resulted in a massive increase in rocket attacks by Hamas and other jihadi groups against Israeli towns and cities and led to three limited wars with Hamas.
Hamas weapons and “kidnapping” tunnels continue to be burrowed from Gaza into Israel. Notwithstanding recent Egyptian security actions to close scores of tunnels, passages under the Philadelphi Corridor between Sinai and Gaza have become a two-way supply route for local Salafist networks.
The recent firefight and killing by the IDF of several Salafist terror operatives near Hebron, Hamas’ challenge to Fatah control of the PLO, and the intensifying protests of thousands of Islamic activists against the PA, led by the al-Qaida flag-waving “Hizb ut-Tahrir” pan Islamic Liberation Party in Hebron underscore the Islamist threat to PA governmental and security control, as Guy Bechor points out in Yediot Aharonot.
Mohamed Dahlan, a former PA security chief and a Fatah strongman, underscored PLO leader Abbas’ weakness in a recent meeting with journalists in Brussels. Dahlan said the current US brokered talks “were doomed to fail as Abbas has no legitimacy on the Palestinian street.”
While Dahlan is Abbas’ political rival, the same charges have been made by other Palestinian senior officials for several years, since Abbas unilaterally extended his presidency when 2009 PA elections were cancelled.
So where is the pathway to peace? Both internal Palestinian instability and regional Islamist destabilization of Arab governments suggest that any prospective independent Palestinian entity be anchored in a secure triangular federal/confederal relationship between a federal Palestinian state in the West Bank, Jordan and Israel.
This idea is not a completely new one. It has roots in the Fatah Central Committee’s 1985 approval of a Palestinian Jordanian confederation, which some former senior Fatah officials had pointed out as recently as 2006, following the Hamas electoral victory. In fact, in that same year, the Washington, DC-based American Enterprise Institute hosted a half-day conference on the prospect of federal-confederal arrangements between Jordan and an independent sovereign Palestinian entity.
It was the first time that senior Palestinian and Jordanian officials had discussed the idea since 1988 when King Hussein relinquished administrative responsibilities in the West Bank. Jordanian and Palestinian officials discussed a federal security and economic relationship between Jordan and the West Bank that included the emergence of a Palestinian federal state that would be demilitarized and independent, with a gendarmerie force but defended by the Jordanian army from external threats, just as American states depend on the US military for national defense.
Federal economic arrangements would ease trade, facilitate banking, commerce and encourage special tax regime between the states. The recent agreement on the $400 million “Red-Dead” water project between Jordan, the PA and Israel with World Bank assistance and oversight will pump water into the Dead Sea from the Red Sea and provide much needed water to each partner is a good example of the type of major three-way industrial project that can be undertaken.
Its important to emphasize that past Jordanian readiness to consider confederal arrangements with the West Bank have been conditioned on Palestinian’s achieving statehood first, even nominally.
In fact, that may have already taken place. Palestinian unilateral moves at the United Nations in 2011 that resulted in the UN General Assembly’s recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member state may satisfy the Jordanian prerequisite.
A confederal security and economic relationship between Jordan and a federal Palestinian state and accompanying defense and economic arrangements with Israel strengthen Jordanian sovereignty, protecting it from extremists threats on both sides of the Jordan River. Israel’s national security requirement to “defend itself by itself” particularly in the Jordan Valley and along the high ground of the Judea-Samaria hill ridge would remain in place.
While the exact political rights and responsibilities of the Palestinian and Jordan sides would need to be agreed upon, the 2006 Washington discussions had suggested that Palestinians would enjoy greater “strategic depth” in Jordan in the economic and security spheres.
The US federal system provides an model that can expand Jordan’s strategic reach without compromising its sovereignty and independence. The American state model also provides a political example for Palestinian independence. Israel’s economic opportunity and responsibility in the confederal relationship would create greater employment, freer trade, and access to previously inaccessible markets.
In a region that is currently confronting Islamist insurgencies as part of a fundamental realignment along family, sectarian, and ethnic lines, anchoring a peace agreement with the Palestinians in a more secure and stable triangular framework will benefit Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis equally.
The author is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism and a Foreign Policy Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress from 2011 to 2013.