Realignment - what's in it for Jordan?

Amman's position as a force for moderation will be enhanced if the king supports a W. Bank pullout.

abdullah 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abdullah 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jordan seems adamantly opposed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's realignment plan. That's a position Amman would do well to rethink. In mid-May, King Abdullah sent a letter of protest against the scheme to President George W. Bush prior to Olmert's Washington visit. In response, the White House issued an immediate call on Israel to take Jordanian concerns into account. Two weeks ago Prime Minister Olmert traveled to Amman as part of his tour to drum up support for realignment, or convergence. He spent a 90-minute working lunch with Abdullah, the first visit by an Israeli prime minister since March 2004. A day earlier, the king gave an exclusive interview to Yediot Aharonot, focusing on Olmert's realignment plan and the peace process in general. More recently, Jordan joined Egypt in an initiative to replace realignment with an Arab alternative. Jordan has been strident in its opposition to realignment because of the plan's unilateralism and the suspicion that it might cause further destabilization within the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan itself. Yet in opposing realignment Jordan is also opposing Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. That's inconsistent with Jordan's longstanding negation of the legitimacy of Israel's West Bank presence. The fact is realignment could be very good for Jordan. IN AN opinion piece in Le Monde published in February 2005, the king outlined his vision of Jordan as "an open, modern civil society rooted in true Arab-Islamic values: peace, the equal dignity of all people; the rule of law; and the pursuit of excellence." Abdullah has repeatedly emphasized a two-state approach to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict and has consistently aligned himself with the road map as the best platform available for moving forward. He has also said repeatedly that the interests of regional players need to be taken into account in resolving the conflict. Finally, he regularly brings up the issue of sustainable development for both Jordanians and Palestinians. JORDAN IS strategically tied to whatever happens on the West Bank because of three factors: the historic connection between Jordan and the West Bank stemming from its occupation between 1948 and 1967; the dominance of Palestinians in Jordanian society; and the consistent and effective military cooperation on the Jordan-Israel border, based on common strategic interests of the two states. Olmert's plan - if successfully implemented - presents Jordan with an important opportunity for leveraging its own political and strategic priorities vis-a-vis Israel, the Palestinians and the region. • First of all, the Jordanian model of a modernist state based on the values of Islam can only be realized in the context of a reliable and secure border regime with Israel as well as with the PA. Recent nervousness in Amman regarding leakage of Hamas's influence into Jordan emphasizes the desired separation of the two political entities. The king told Yediot: "Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine." But precisely for that reason, the clarity regarding permanent borders that Olmert seeks through realignment is consistent with Jordan's interest. • Secondly, direct Jordanian access to Palestinian markets, as well as Palestinian social, cultural and political life will be an important outcome of a successfully-implemented realignment plan. Once clear boundaries are established, (even prior to the stage of permanence), Jordan and the PA will be much freer to initiate mutual trade and personal travel, even if there's an Israeli or third-party presence at the border crossings. • Thirdly, Jordan's overall strategic position in the region as a moderate force for economic prosperity and political stability will inevitably be enhanced as a result of both direct and behind-the scenes cooperation with Israel, should the king decide to support realignment. There are important connections waiting to be made in this respect, in the context of Israeli and US geopolitical interests in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran. THESE THREE potential gains take on even more attractiveness for Jordan once that country's leadership realizes that Jordanian support for realignment does not need to be explicit. For Olmert's purposes, even behind-closed-door agreements with Jordan, properly communicated to the Quartet and others, would be helpful in garnering the required international legitimacy for the convergence process. This last point leads us to the dovetailing of Israeli and Jordanian strategic interests. As the Arab state closest to the reality on the ground, and the country most vulnerable to the plan's impact and ramifications, Jordan's backing of realignment would have unique credibility. The US, as noted, has already publicly acknowledged the importance of Jordan's position. Thus, should Israel succeed in garnering strong Jordanian interests in implementing the plan (possibly with US or other third-party help), Jordan would likely become an important source of international legitimacy for the plan. At the end of the day, Israel needs to invest in a strategic, multi-textured relationship with Jordan that goes beyond the traditional realm of ensuring a safe mutual border. A realignment that's good for Jordan and potentially positive for Israel can only bring the countries closer. The writer is an attorney and senior analyst at the Reut Institute in Tel Aviv.