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Should Jordan claim the West Bank on our behalf? An old yet new question

Mar 31,2018 - Last updated at Mar 31,2018

For the past few weeks I have been sneaking 10 minutes here and there to read through the daily log documented by Adnan Abu Odeh, for many decades a recognised adviser to his Majesty King Hussein, God rest his soul, and a well-known advocate of a Jordan role in the resolution of the Palestinian issue. The log is published in an impressively intimidating thick book recently published in Arabic.

I am nowhere near finished. And it may have been a better idea perhaps not to comment on the book until I had read through the whole thing. But having riddled the first quarter of the book with colour-coded stickers, I decided that there is something to be discussed from this first phase of reading.

There appears to be two key trajectories in the first few years of the 1970s, which is where I am in my reading, that I suspect have set the tone thematically for the book: the regional political pressure on Jordan to drop its claim to the West Bank and hand that role over to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) despite Jordan’s clear legal authority to reclaim the West Bank per international law, and a parallel political movement in Jordan that built on that regional push to simultaneously “Jordanise” the Kingdom internally so that a clear demarcation line is institutionalised, separating Jordanians along origin considerations.

The PLO leadership, meanwhile, supported both those tracks, through its own parallel regional and international lobbying manoeuvres, as it saw an historic opportunity to build and cement its position as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO’s rise to that leadership role, again came at the expense of losing international legal claim to the land, which had been the established right of Jordan since the West Bank was occupied while under its rule. 

There is a disclaimer that has to be made at this point before going further down the track of extrapolating conclusions from that history. One must note that the historical narration provided by Abu Odeh comes through the eyes of one individual. Although Abu Odeh enjoyed rare and privileged access to Jordan’s political kitchen at historical moments relevant to this issue, and to all intents and purposes, he appears to have delivered an honest documentation of those times, he may have subjectivity towards the Palestinian issue that can be balanced if further historical research was undertaken and other recounts were documented.

Reading through the “daily accounts” published by Abu Odeh, however, one cannot help but feel that the question that must be asked is: Did the Arab world and the Palestinian leadership make a strategic mistake when they kick started a political process that drove Jordan to the 1988 decision to sever legal and administrative ties with the West Bank? That step has long been seen to have, perhaps irreversibly, removed Jordan from the table of any serious negotiations for a final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based in a “land for peace” formula. 

I believe that it can be credibly argued that it was a strategic mistake to focus Arab and Palestinian effort solely on creating an alternate and less legally legitimate claimant to the West Bank, regardless of how nationalistic and symbolic it was to have a Palestinian body representing Palestinian rights, instead of focusing on claiming the land itself as the most pressing priority — even if only for purely tactical considerations.

This is a controversial view I know. But I also believe that all controversial options must be put on the table today as we witness the futility and heart wrenching reality of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in Israeli-occupied Palestine, whether they are in the bit of land only nominally administered by the Palestinian authority or that under siege while managed by Hamas. 

Those, and other, Palestinian “leadership models” are still embroiled in a power struggle over representation of Palestinians to the detriment of the national claim of Palestinians to the land and their day-to-day survival, livelihood and safety.

By taking the analysis to a point where it appears to be making the argument that Jordan should be tactically empowered to step back in to stake a legal claim to the West Bank, it is important to also say that one must acknowledge the legitimate fears of Jordanians of an Israeli-prescribed “Jordanian option” that threatens to turn Jordan into Palestine and forever erase the “Jordanian identity”.

Is it realistic to assume that if the Palestinians came to Jordanians with a land they can claim as their own, through a negotiated resolution and regardless of how distorted and dysfunctional that land may be, it would be less about Jordan becoming Palestine and more about these two people, and two leaderships, coming together again within a negotiated political and demographic formula that would seek to address the fears and concerns on both sides. This solution has been historically referred to as a confederation between Jordan and Palestine of a few hours.

I believe a frank and open discussion over this option and a fair negotiation of the risks in a structured and strategic framework, at the three levels of Jordan and Palestinian leadership, the residents in the East and West Banks as well as among Jordanians of different origins, is necessary. It might actually also, once and for all, bring a resolution to the most discussed and least resolved issue in Jordan today, the status of Jordanians of different origins, and specifically where those of Palestinian origin fall.

Someone was saying this weekend that the Israelis are lucky to have us, meaning the Arabs in general and the Palestinians specifically, as their enemy. We, according to this argument, proved ourselves the least united in our decision making and the least strategic in our planning. In our disarray, we face a most united people, despite their ethnic and sub-cultural diversity, and the strictest and most focused leadership sticking together and fighting to keep hold of what is essentially our land not theirs.

One only has to look at the disregard, disrespect and violence Israel exercises against Palestinians every single day without a murmur of protest from leaders anywhere in the Arab world or internationally, to realise that drastic and controversial reviews, measures and assessments are necessary to devise and design alternate scenarios if we are to have any hope of putting the Palestine issue back on any credible and serious table. 

And for those who argue that the Palestinian issue is dead and is no longer a driver of instability in the Middle East, it may be prudent to consider again where everyone thinks the popular frustration over the daily injustice witnessed in Palestine, coupled with the anger at the political meddling in other countries in the region, is going to vent itself if this situation continues to be unresolved.

Without taking away from the complexity of any proposal, especially this one, it appears that the decision to squeeze Jordan out and undermine the legal opportunity that Jordan had to reclaim the West Bank back in the 1970s, is a relevant and important starting point in our review of our past strategies and a critical ingredient in our discussions of a way forward towards a solution. 


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