By Eleanor Beevor
This week, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan bluntly declared that there was no chance at all of a confederation combining Jordan and Palestine.
He commented: “Every year we hear a renewed talk of confederation. I say: “Confederation with whom? This is a red line for Jordan and all know Jordan’s firm and courageous stand on this. I am not worried regarding this matter”. The fact that King Abdullah has ruled out such a possibility is hardly surprising. More surprising are the circumstances behind his being forced to do it again.
The surprise involved Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announcing that the Trump administration had proposed to him a confederation-style arrangement as part of Trump’s “deal of the century”. More surprisingly, Abbas – in an apparent departure from his historical support for a two-state solution – said in a meeting with Israeli peace activists last week that he would be prepared to accept a tripartite confederation with Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
Abbas’s words should not have been taken too seriously even before Jordan shot down the idea. Certainly, this is the view of those present at the meeting. MK Ksenia Svetlova, of the Zionist Union, who had attended, later told a radio program: "It was merely a trial balloon thrown at him which he bounced at us. This is not about a real statement by the administration".
And, as Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el pointed out, it’s useful for Abbas to be seen making suggestions such as this. He is able to fight the perception of being “intransigent”, as Trump likes to call him, but without having to worry that his suggestion might actually go anywhere. In the end, the Jordanians saved Abbas the trouble of further explaining himself by shooting down the idea instantly.
This affair ultimately says more about the American position than it does the Jordanian or Palestinian one. If the confederation suggestion is being floated this late in the day, even just to test the mood, it proves what observers have suspected all along – that Trump’s “deal of the century” contains nothing new other than more willingness to capitulate to the Israelis. Dr. Curtis Ryan, a political scientist focusing on Jordan at Appalachian State University, told Al Bawaba:
“I think the Jordanian government doesn't take the idea of confederation seriously at all. In some ways it sounded like a Trump/Kushner trial balloon, that Jordan is trying to shoot down as quickly as possible. But it's also like déjà vu, because Jordan has said this for decades. But it's a popular idea often revived on the far right in Israel, and occasionally by various novice US presidential administrations, who then seem to think that they have a clever new idea. The Jordanians are trying to politely but firmly indicate to their US ally that this is a very old idea and that it is a non-starter.”
It’s easy to see why the Israeli right-wing, and their backers in Washington, are fond of the idea of a confederation and keep coming back to it. In their view, a confederation could mean that Jordan effectively absorbs the Palestinian population, and responsibility for it. Jerusalem would become the Israeli capital. And whilst the confederation would - in theory - include the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank, this is contingent on what the Israelis would be ready to accede in practice, and is complicated by the question of settlements.
Extensive settlement building in the Jordan Valley area makes clear that the Israelis have no intention of surrendering the West Bank as a whole. Rather, the confederation - in the hopes of the Israeli right - will take the patches it was given. And above all, the Israeli right hope that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state would be avoided under a confederation. They do not want to risk any future Palestinian entity claiming rights to its former homeland.
The confederation’s defenders like to point out the undeniable interconnectedness of Jordan and Palestine. A majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and they embrace this aspect of their identity. Eastern Jordan was also formerly Palestinian territory itself - it had been annexed by the British in 1921 and made the Emirate of Transjordan, the precursor to the present Hashemite monarchy. And those who forward the confederation also like to point out that when the idea was first floated, it was by none other than King Hussein of Jordan and Yasser Arafat in the early 1980s.
What the defenders usually fail to elaborate on is the fact that the plan was abandoned because it could not resolve any of the most intractable issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The predominant question is that of statehood. Will the components of this “confederation” be individual, sovereign states? And if not, what are they?
Those pushing the confederation as a solution prefer to avoid this question altogether, presumably hoping that Jordan will eventually accept to be the new Palestinian state.
King Abdullah II (AFP)
Unfortunately, that question of statehood is paramount for both the Jordanians and the Palestinians, and it isn’t going to go away. A confederation between these nations would have some genuine advantages so long as both Jordan and Palestine were sovereign states. However, it simply won’t work until Palestine has a sovereign state of its own. Palestinians will not accept a transfer from Israeli to Jordanian rule.
On the practical front, Jordan cannot and does not want to absorb the Palestinian population. Jordan is already hosting a huge population of refugees that it cannot afford to look after, many of whom are Palestinian. As the deep cuts to UNRWA funding will inevitably make clear, the struggling Jordanian economy is simply incapable of taking on the needs of hundreds of thousands of registered Palestinian refugees.
Moreover, there will be ideological opposition to such a plan from both Jordanians and Palestinians. Both nations have a keen sense of national identity and have no plans to jeopardize that. And while the Palestinians are unlikely to water down demands for a sovereign state even in the event of a confederation, Jordan stands to just as much in such an event. Laith Al Ajlouni, a researcher on Jordanian political economy told Al Bawaba:
“Historically, and since the Jordanian disengagement from the West Bank, we have learned a harsh lesson in Jordan which is that the confederation must be between two states, not a state and stateless people. The Trump Administration’s proposal of a confederation between Jordan and PA is treacherous, and if it happens its results will be extremely perilous.
Firstly, I think that Trump's administration is proposing the confederation in order to transfer the risk of the high Palestinian population growth in the face of the Israel, and to exploit it against Jordan. Hence, this will absolutely lead to an alternative Palestinian homeland, and the assassination and the dissolution of the Jordanian national identity where the Palestinians well become the overwhelming majority.”
The confederation idea itself is only worth revisiting when Palestinian statehood is a given. At this point, there are infrastructural, economic and diplomatic efforts that a confederation could help to boost.
But until then, no amount of American or Israeli right-wingers telling Jordanians and Palestinians that they are effectively the same people is going to motivate either one to put their nationality on the line.
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