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The terror attacks in Amman several weeks ago highlighted the realization that Jordan has now become a key factor in the development of long-term stability in the region and therefore also a prime target. But the unwavering response also demonstrated that Jordan has enough internal cohesion to withstand the assault. Acting in its own national interest, and extremely wary of Islamic and Palestinian radicalism, the Hashemite Kingdom has become far more assertive, both with respect to Iraq and concerning the continuing chaos in the Palestinian Authority.
The al-Qaida attack was triggered by Jordan's role as a close ally of the US, and the main staging area for the American efforts to promote stability and economic recovery in Iraq. Intelligence coordination with the US has increased out of necessity, and not sentiment, although press reports about Jordan having replaced the Mossad are exaggerated.
King Abdullah, perhaps even more than his father, is a realist, who recognizes the dangers inherent in this unstable and violent region. While moving carefully towards greater openness and democracy, the government has also maintained and strengthened its internal security capabilities. After many successes in preventing terror attacks, they failed to stop last week's assaults. But the mukhabarat recovered immediately, locating the surviving member of Zarqawi's suicide squad after her failed bombing attempt.
Jordan's rising influence is also reflected in its reengagement on the West Bank, particularly in the political and security dimensions. For many years, Jordan's leaders have recognized that Jordan's security is inseparable from Israel's, and that violence quickly spills across the border.
The Quartet's blind rush towards a failed state of Palestine (reflected in the unworkable agreement signed last week), and dominated by Hamas, the Aksa brigades, and Islamic Jihad will threaten Jordan as much or more than Israel.
AS A result, a serious Jordanian alternative or option is back on the table, after having been hidden for the last 20 years. But unlike the situation after the 1948 war, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and until the 1967 war, the current scenarios focus on a Jordanian-Palestinian federation or confederation.
Economically, Israel might also join this structure, in the form of a customs union or even common market for goods, and perhaps labor. The main Jordanian contributions to this relationship would be stability, security and experience in providing necessary government services.
This is not another utopian peace plan, but rather a reflection of events on the ground. During the past year, Jordanian police and military officials have been increasingly involved in the Palestinian cities and towns of the West Bank to help reduce the chaos and train law enforcement personnel.
Over the years, the governments of Jordan and Israel have also developed crisis management mechanisms, and demonstrated their success in different areas. The lines of communication at all levels work far better than is the case in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and there is less emotional baggage to block rational negotiation and agreements.
These relations go back to the 1940s, even before the departure of the British forces, and continued in secret for decades. The 1994 peace treaty finally brought the contacts out into the open and gave them legitimacy. There are still differences, such as over Jordan's effort to move Palestinians into the West Bank under the guise of security forces (the Badr brigade), but these disputes are resolved through negotiation - not terror. On sensitive issues such as ensuring that the city of Jerusalem remains freely accessible to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the history of Jordanian-Israeli cooperation in the past 30 years is particularly encouraging.
In the rapidly changing regional context, Jordan's influence is likely to rise significantly, as the Syrian regime becomes weaker, and the future of Iraq remains uncertain. In the past, Jordan's freedom of movement and the ability to extend its regional role, including through more cooperative links with Israel, was hampered by the involvement of Saddam Hussein, on one side, and Hafez Assad on the other. With both now gone, Jordan has the opportunity to become a significant regional actor, terror attacks not withstanding. In this context, institutionalizing the political relationship between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority would contribute measurably to regional stability.
At the same time, it is not in Israel's interest to press Jordan to take on political tasks that are overly demanding and unrealistic. The Jordanian government cannot be seen as a replacement for the Palestinian leadership, with whom Israel will have to eventually negotiate directly on borders and the resolution of refugee claims. But if these issues are discussed in the federative framework that includes Jordan, the chances of a realistic and workable outcome will increase.
The writer directs the Program on Conflict Management and Resolution at Bar-Ilan University and is the editor of NGO Monitor.
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