Whether or not Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip takes place, and whether or not Egypt's projected involvement in Gaza Strip security reaches fruition--Jordan's parallel involvement in West Bank security will, at best, be a far more modest undertaking. The contrast between the Jordanian approach to security involvement and that of Egypt is illustrative of the different ways in which the Palestinian dynamic affects the Palestinians' two Arab neighbors.
Egypt is motivated to offer to intervene in Gaza by the perception that post-disengagement Gaza will pose a security danger: a radical Islamist takeover that threatens to overflow into Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a major potential threat to the regime. Egypt also apparently considers its growing involvement with security planning for Israeli disengagement as a means of buying American good will at a time when it cannot satisfy United States demands for democratization and human rights reforms. Egypt, after all, gets over two billion dollars a year in US aid, and recently received an additional large sum linked to its role in the 2003 Iraq war. Moreover Egypt sees its involvement in Gaza as a way of reasserting its traditional inter-Arab leadership role at a time when the US presence in Iraq has shattered any pretension on the part of the Arab world to be in control.
Jordan, in contrast, perceives no similar security danger emanating from the West Bank. Not only is Israel not withdrawing from most of the West Bank, but Hamas has been rendered much weaker there than in Gaza, and in any case Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood is integrated into parliament and is not viewed as a threat to the regime. Nor does Jordan feel any obligation to compensate Washington for a perceived failure to deliver on reform. Indeed, its model of gradual, top-down reform is highly regarded and has given it leadership status in western eyes. And at the inter-Arab level Jordan, a small country that has been maneuvering successfully among the larger and more powerful states that surround it, perceives no need to compete with Egypt.
Jordan will continue to train Palestinian security personnel: King Abdullah II confirmed this with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei in late June. But Amman apparently does not intend to exceed the parameters of security assistance it provided in the past--it has in any case reportedly trained more than 5,000 Palestinian policemen and officers over the past 10 years. It might be prepared to consider deeper involvement--meaning a security role on the ground in the West Bank, similar to what Egypt is contemplating in the Gaza Strip and on its side of the Philadelphi road--but only if, and when, Israel withdraws from all of Judea and Samaria and/or reengages with the Palestinians in a roadmap-like peace process. In that contingency, Amman would have a profound demographic security interest in ensuring a stable transfer of power in the West Bank and preventing the kind of chaos that is liable to push Palestinians to seek to cross the border into Jordan.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is hardly likely to implement such a comprehensive West Bank disengagement that includes the Jordan Valley. In any case the Hashemite Kingdom has, since the 1980s, abjured any patronage role or other form of direct involvement in the affairs of Palestine--a policy currently expressed in the "Jordan first" slogan seen everywhere in the kingdom. Yet some Israeli strategic planners and political leaders, who apparently are not listening to the Egyptian and Jordanian leadership, persist in thinking that what's best for Egypt and Jordan is to intervene in Palestine and help ensure security and stability where Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed, and to that end even to absorb excess Palestinian population!
Egypt may have its own reasons for accepting a role on the ground in Palestine--but it is hardly likely to open its border with Gaza to Palestinian migration. As for Jordan, it apparently has every reason to ignore the invitation.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
Palestinian-Jordanian relations are more complex than the relations the Palestinian people have with any other Arab country. The relations between the two sides have taken two extremely different forms during the last 50 years. They have ranged from the Jordanians fighting side-by-side with the Palestinians on behalf of the Palestinian cause against the Israeli occupation to the Jordanians fighting against the Palestinians, as happened in 1970.
The most recent and significant turning point in these relations was the disengagement decision made and implemented by the late King Hussein in 1988. Since then, relations between the two sides have gradually begun to take a more normal and stable form. On a public and official level, the Palestinians have begun to realize that there is no longer reason to fear a Jordanian desire for a role in the West Bank. The Jordanians have also begun to feel the tension between the two sides dissipating.
Jordan has played an especially positive and constructive role vis-a-vis the Palestinians in the peace process. At Madrid, the Jordanians accepted to form a joint delegation with the Palestinian side, to which they gave complete freedom of maneuver in terms of negotiations with Israel.
What brought a possible Jordanian role back into discussion was the desire of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to invite the Egyptians to play a role in the Gaza Strip and the Jordanians in the West Bank. In Gaza, there was a place for such a role, simply because Israel has some intention of making a certain kind of withdrawal. In the West Bank, however, Israel does not have any intention of making a serious withdrawal, which leaves its invitation to the Jordanians devoid of meaning.
Jordan, for its part, has not expressed interest in this Israeli invitation except within the limits that its coordination with the Palestinian Authority allows, which is simply the possible Jordanian training of Palestinian security. The June presence of Jordanian military officers with Israeli military officers on the West Bank side of the Jordan Valley created suspicion among Palestinians when reported in the media. Immediate, precise Jordanian assurances helped remove the concerns created by the incident among Palestinians, particularly on the official level. The fact remains that Israel has no intention of giving up its occupation in the West Bank, which leaves no room for competition between anybody concerning the replacement of that occupation.
Throughout the history of Israeli occupation since 1967, a Jordanian political role in the West Bank has been a tempting idea for Israeli governments. More than one--including those led by Labor and Likud--entertained this possibility. It has never and will never work, in spite of the very special relationship between the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples.
Sharon's rule makes both Jordanians and Palestinians particularly sensitive to any Jordanian role, because Sharon is the author of the "Jordan is Palestine" theory. For this reason, it is a waste of time for any country to try to find alternatives to the solution of giving the Palestinian people their right of self-determination in their homeland, Palestine. The Palestinian people have already made it very clear that they reject any attempt to affect them in deciding on their leadership and their future. So while deviating from the principle of self-determination might buy time for this extremist government in Israel, it will never bring either of us any nearer to our objective--if that objective is peace and security for Israel, freedom and independence for Palestinians.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
Ever since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, there has been a possibility of its return to Jordanian sovereignty or--at later stages--a possibility that Jordan would resume an active role in its affairs. Notwithstanding the Arab League's decision in November 1974 to "delegate" the PLO as claimant for the future of the territories, Jordan remained the most salient candidate for a return of the territories to Arab sovereignty.
This finally changed only with the failure of the Hussein-Peres initiative of 1987 (which was rejected by Prime Minister Shamir) and the outbreak of the first intifada, following which Jordan formally declared its disengagement from the affairs of the territories. The Oslo accords appeared initially to create a positive framework for Israeli-Palestinian agreement, thus finally settling the conflict. The course of events since then, and especially the outbreak of the second intifada, led to a major deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations and to increased doubts that they could be repaired.
Until Jordan decided on its disengagement from the West Bank in the late 1980s, its interests there were clear and understandable. First, the West Bank was an integral part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which sought to restore its sovereignty there. Second, control over the holy places in Jerusalem had been one of the main reasons for the Jordanian intervention in Palestine in 1948 and remained a critical goal for the kingdom. Third, the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank that could become irredentist toward the East Bank might be a cause for concern unless arrangements were made that would effectively limit such tendencies. These goals and concerns indeed dictated an active policy of engagement by Jordan.
Presently however, in view of the enormous tasks and problems that the kingdom faces--national consolidation, the buttressing of a specific Jordanian national identity, and severe economic challenges--the tendency of the regime and political elites in Jordan is to reject significant reengagement in the affairs of Palestine. This position appears indeed to be realistic and to possess internal logic.
Clearly, therefore, Jordan is not currently ready to shoulder a major responsibility for the West Bank or to seek to assign itself the role of principal interlocutor with Israel concerning its future. Yet at the same time any major development in Palestine would ineluctably affect Jordan, thus requiring a measure of Jordanian activity or at least prior planning. For example, extreme Israeli punitive actions in reaction to Palestinian terrorism might lead to Palestinian migration to Jordan. (Jordanian concern about the location of the separation fence is a case in point.) Indeed, precisely for the very reasons that Jordan now prefers non-engagement, it might have to modify its position if circumstances change.
Analytically, one could differentiate between several categories of possible Jordanian involvement. First, following the establishment of a Palestinian state, there might be moves toward the establishment of some type of deep cooperation between Jordan and Palestine. While such a scenario does not require very salient short-term activity, it might nevertheless call for a measure of planning as well as Jordanian attention to the conditions attendant on the formation of a Palestinian state, be it as a result of unilateral Israeli withdrawal or of an agreement.
Second, Jordan may wish to be active in well-defined issue areas where its interests are paramount, such as the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Jordan has never given up its interests there; they are recognized formally in the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty.
Third, Jordan could play an active role in the process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. While this is less likely, it is not impossible, insofar as it is difficult to predict and assess future developments.
One might wonder whether Jordan--precisely in order to protect its vital national interests as a Jordanian state--might not find itself compelled to reengage if critical circumstances changed: first and foremost, if there were a readiness on the part of significant sectors in the Palestinian community to accept such a Jordanian role. This could result, for example, from continued deterioration of the situation in the West Bank and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or, alternatively, as a consequence of advanced Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that touch on important Jordanian interests, and a decision to invite Jordan to take part in them. In any event, the objective would be the establishment of a stable Palestinian state.
The part of the Israeli public that is genuinely interested in peace and security would most probably prefer some form of Jordanian reengagement in developments in the West Bank. It should be clear, however, that the best way to facilitate such a move--to the extent that it depends on the Israeli side--is for Israel to be more accommodating in terms of withdrawal from territories and concessions in Jerusalem and the holy places.
Jordan, the Palestinian community, and Israel find themselves in a bind. Political, strategic, demographic, and economic developments in the West Bank affect all of them. There is a need for much more thinking and planning on the part of all three actors with regard to their future interrelationships.
Professor Yair Evron teaches international relations and strategic studies at the Department of Political Science, Tel Aviv University, where he is also associated with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
bitterlemons: According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his cabinet on June 1st that his plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip might include a Jordanian presence in the West Bank. What would be the advantage to Israel of such an arrangement?
Khriesheh: I think that what Sharon says is just for Israeli and international public opinion to market himself as a peacemaker, but nothing will happen in the next six to seven months. Sharon is always talking about peace while doing things on the ground [that contravene peace]. About a Jordanian, Egyptian, or any Arab role, this is not clear. He may plan for a Jordanian role, but the other parties have to participate in these plans. The Egyptian side has agreed to a role; up to now we haven't heard from Jordan.
Sharon can't put conditions on Egypt or Jordan in order to disengage from Gaza. The Israelis are disengaging because they have come to the conclusion that they cannot rule over the Palestinian people. This statement was made for the benefit of the public and his party.
bitterlemons: What would be the pros and cons of such a role--training police, advising, etc.--for Jordan?
Khriesheh: There have been no arrangements for disengagement from the West Bank, so the Jordanian role of giving advice on security is not clear. It will be two to three years before Israel's plans for the West Bank are clear. Sharon wants to leave the Gaza Strip and continue occupying the West Bank forever while declaring it legal according to the Americans. The real battle will be in the West Bank.
The Jordanians will not be interested in a role in the West Bank, because history is going forward, not backward. Jordan is stable now, and its government will think many times before taking on such a role in the West Bank. Jordan has no interest in the West Bank at this time, because the Palestinian issue could threaten the stability of the kingdom and upset the delicate balance between majority and minority.
bitterlemons: Would the Palestinian Authority welcome a Jordanian role in disengagement? Where could Jordan be useful?
Khriesheh: The PA will accept a Jordanian role in training the security forces in Palestine. We want Arab participation in the building of our own state and the training of our people, but any other role is not accepted. The Palestinian people want all Arab countries to stand on our side against the Israeli occupier. We will not accept for any Arab country to be a mediator. We accept them as partners.
bitterlemons: What about the militias and the Palestinian street?
Khriesheh: We have good relations with all Arab countries and Arab people; they all help us in this catastrophe in which we live. Jordan and Egypt are good supporters of the Palestinian cause. Having good relations with Jordan is acceptable to everyone, but any other role is not appropriate at this time.
Sharon's plan is just a bluff to show the world that he is a peacemaker, but we are sure that he is a killer. He is trying to involve Arab countries in this conflict as mediators.
Dr. Hasan Khriesheh is the first deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and former chief of the Oversight Committee.
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