Comment: Trump, the Mideast conflict and the Jordanian option

Instead of the fixation on an independent Palestinian state, the new administration should look east to the Hashemite Kingdom as a stabilizing influence on Palestinian politics.

King Abdullah (photo credit: REUTERS)
King Abdullah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IN HIS first meeting with President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to stake out common ground on the issues that have most troubled American-Israeli relations during the last eight years, namely Iran, and Israel’s settlement policy in Judea and Samaria. Particularly in light of the recent Security Council Resolution 2334 labelling Israel’s settlement activity illegal, he will need to seek American support for renewed Israeli building in Jerusalem and the blocs, and a renewal of the guarantees of the “Bush letter.”
Far beyond that, the inauguration of a new American administration also presents the opportunity for Israel to take the lead in advocating a far more ambitious initiative – a major investment in the economic prosperity and political stability of the Kingdom of Jordan.
The gravitational force of a prosperous Jordan would expand the functional links that have always existed between the cities of the West Bank and Amman. It would encourage Palestinians in the West Bank to look to a link with Jordan as the best guarantee of their political and economic future.
Because of this, Jordan has the potential (once again) to become a major stabilizing influence on Palestinian politics, which would serve the interests of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian people itself.
The reemergence of a Jordanian role in the disposition of the West Bank is much preferable to the present international fixation on the concept of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state whose border is based on the 1967 line. Such a Palestinian state is no less of a long-term strategic threat today than it was before the advent of Oslo. So too is Palestinian irredentism a threat to Jordan’s security. A Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is likely to succumb to a Hamas takeover, to Iranian influence, and become a theocratic and autocratic state along the lines Hamas presently rules in Gaza. Moreover, it is unobtainable.
Despite Israel’s acceptance of the two state concept and its agreement to unprecedented territorial dispositions, Israeli concessions have not met the minimal Palestinian demands required for a peace agreement, nor are they ever likely to do so if the Palestinian Authority is seen as the only possible partner in the peace process.
The inauguration of an American administration uncommitted to the principle of an independent Palestinian state provides Israel with the opportunity to advocate a long-term strategic vision of building up a prosperous Jordan that could provide an alternative to the model of a two-state solution based on the Palestinian Authority.
Such a vision will not only attenuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but, equally importantly, it will bolster a Jordan whose importance to regional stability has never been so crucial.
Even more critical is Jordan’s role in containing growing Iranian influence, especially after Iran, along with its terrorist arm Hezbollah, succeeded in placing its candidate in Lebanon’s presidential palace making Beirut the fourth capital Iran basically controls in the Arab world. The recent rout of the rebels from eastern Aleppo and the complete takeover of the city by Syrian, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed forces have major implications on the Sunni- Shi’ite balance of power.
Actually, the two pivotal roles Jordan plays in the fight against ISIS and against the Iranian- Syrian axis are interrelated. The Jordanian population is Sunni, extremely fearful of the growing Shi’ite menace to the point that if the Jordanian state fails to appear sufficiently strong in stemming the tide, they might turn to ISIS to do so, as indeed many of the Sunni tribes in Iraq did in the past.
Jordan has traditionally been a pro-Western state ruling through cooption and consensus.
Though Jordan is not quite a Jeffersonian democracy, it is far closer to that ideal than any other Arab state in the region. Critics of such a plan will quickly point out that a role is being thrust on the key player, Jordan, that it does not want in the first place. This is certainly the case rhetorically.
Jordan has been committed to a two-state solution since the Oslo Accords. Yet, there are two pieces of evidence that the Hashemite Kingdom is flexible and open to political opportunities. The first is that the Hashemite Kingdom, throughout the past twenty-five years since its announcement of the severance of ties with the West Bank, has refrained from amending the 1952 constitution, which enshrines a Kingdom that unites the two banks of the Jordan River – the East and West Banks.
The second is the trial balloons the Kingdom releases from time to time regarding the feasibility of renewing the Jordanian option. The last was released in May this year, when former Jordanian prime minister Abd al-Salam Majali met 100 notables in Nablus in a meeting arranged by Ghassan al-Shak’a, a Nablus-based member of the Executive Committee of the PLO. Simultaneously, in the Hebron area Jordanian MP Muhammad Al-Dawaimeh launched the “One Million Hebronites” initiative to promote a confederation, and the Hebron delegation was to meet with King Abdallah to discuss this issue. Though it should be noted that al-Shak’a stressed that such a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation could only come into being after a Palestinian state is created.
Four actors can play a critical role in making Jordan prosperous, and all four have a vested interest in making it happen.
The Saudis and the Gulf states should provide the finance. The United States should prod them to do so certainly for their own good but also to reciprocate for the American security umbrella under which they have been living since Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. President-elect Trump, throughout his campaign, has stressed that he wants US allies to pay for the security umbrella the US provides. This is one way the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia can reciprocate.
Channeling money to the Palestinians through Jordan would also improve transparency and assure that less money is channeled to incitement and terrorism. It will be important to gradually wean away international aid from the PA to Jordan to enable the latter to extend its influence in the West Bank. Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation, historically extensive, can also play a vital role in securing the cooperation of the security forces presently operating under the Palestinian Authority.
Recent trends bolster the prospects of such a project. Locally, the possible breakup of the PA into north and south as a result of the struggle over Abbas’s succession could revitalize the links between Nablus and Amman, and Hebron and Amman. The PA’s inhabitants by that time will pine for the stability Jordanian influence can offer. Regionally, Jordan has never been a more important strategic asset for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, well-worth investing in. It defends what remains of these states’ northern flank against Syrian-Iranian encroachment, and helps balance the threat Shi’ite Iraq poses to Saudi Arabia’s eastern border crucially near to its major oil fields. Internationally, the current leadership of the European Union, the champion of the two-state solution (almost to the point of being an obsession) has been considerably weakened by events such as the takeover in Crimea and Brexit. With the vast increase in Islamic terrorism on its home ground, the European Union might be inclined to join a venture that will be part of the front against terrorism rather than creating a state that might well promote it.
Above all, a new president, new to politics, beholden to no political establishment and a seasoned businessman with a history of making opportunities come true is moving into the White House. The vision of making Jordan prosperous and the gains of such a venture to the interests of the United States and its allies might well fire his imagination. 
Prof. Hillel Frisch is senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Yitzhak Sokoloff is a fellow of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University.