It is hard to separate Jordan, at least ethically, from the U.S.-brokered Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Jordan is the third inseparable party in the ongoing talks though not there on the negotiating table. The fact that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has concluded most every single tour to the West Bank and Israel with a visit to Jordan is the least proof of the kingdom’s inseparability from the peace talks. For many Americans, Israelis, Palestinians and even Jordanians, Jordan’s involvement in the peace process is a necessity for any peace deal to be reached.
With the increasing speculation recently about Kerry nearing a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, talks of transforming Jordan into a “substitute homeland” for the Palestinians or a confederation between the West Bank and Jordan, referred to in many historical documents as the East Bank, has resurfaced again.
The "substitute homeland"
Newspapers in Jordan have been filled with op-eds, some by former ministers, expressing concerns about a peace deal being drafted between the Palestinians and the Israelis speculated as lacking any consideration of Jordan’s higher interests. Jordanians’ concerns reached the climax with a group of deputies sending a memorandum to the government, inquiring about the authenticity of such gossip and urging for the rejection of any peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis that does not serve Jordan’s interests.
In response to such disclosed worries, the government of Jordan has reassured Jordanians that the entire Kingdom's higher interests, which lie at the heart of all final status issues including refugees, borders and Jerusalem, will be safeguarded in any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. However, all such “rhetorical assertions” have been seen as inadequate with the “concerned” op-eds and the “worried” interviews still being published and aired in newspapers and TV channels.
The sudden visit the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has recently paid to Jordan following Kerry’s meeting with King Abdullah was seen by many observers as attempt to ease Jordanians’ concerns of a behind-the-scenes Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.
The “substitute homeland” was neither a Jordanian nor a Palestinian invention and is not anyway part of the Middle Eastern people’s indulgence in the “conspiracy theory.” It exists in the Israeli thinking as an option – probably the best option – to settle the Palestinian question. On many occasions, Israeli senior officials and MPs have talked about the transformation of Jordan into a homeland for the Palestinians which, for Jordanians, mean resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the expense of Jordan or betraying the Palestinian cause according to Palestinians.
To alleviate Jordanians’ and Palestinians’ concerns about the “substitute homeland,” King Abdullah and President Abbas refuted such Israeli plotting, describing it as nothing but a “myth,” emphasizing that “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.”
However, despite the strong historical and geographical bonds between the Jordanians and the Palestinians at the non-official level with peoples of the two countries described as one nation, the two sides’ official relationship has gone through many ups and downs, including Jordan’s 1988 legal and administrative disengagement from the West Bank and the 1993 Oslo Accords.
As lamentably expressed by many Jordanian officials, the Oslo peace deal was signed unilaterally and secretly by the Palestine Liberation Organization without any consultations with the Jordanian side and that is why they still have fears of the reoccurrence of another a behind-the-scenes Palestinian-Israeli deal.
The “substitute homeland” was neither a Jordanian nor a Palestinian invention and is not anyway part of the Middle Eastern people’s indulgence in the “conspiracy theory.” It exists in the Israeli thinking as an option – probably the best option – to settle the Palestinian question.Raed Omari
The same can be said about the 1988 disengagement decision that, although described at the time as a milestone move centered around enabling the Palestinians to fight for their cause as independent people, left the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship open to all problematic possibilities as it did not clearly and fully addressing the refugee dilemma. In other words, the Disengagement Law, which is still shelved, needs to be enforced or revisited to help the two sides avert any future disagreements over the refugee issue.
Inseparable from the whole scene is the fact that Jordan decided to sign its Wadi Araba Peace Treaty with Israel in 1994 after the Palestinians signed the Oslo peace deal with Israel in 1993.
Under the surface, tension between Jordanians and Palestinians
There is in fact a sort of embarrassment and high sensitivity always engulfing the Jordanian-Palestinian official and even non-official relationship, especially when it comes to matters such as refugees and borders, all due to the strong historical bonds between the two peoples to the point in which it is always difficult to talk about Jordan’s history in separation from that of Palestine or vice versa.
It is as if Jordanian decision-makers are afraid to tackle the issue of refugees and borders boldly to avoid being described as resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the expense of its country’s interests. The same applies to the Palestinians who are afraid that making any decision over such sensitive matters would end them being “stigmatized” as traitors to their peoples’ cause.
Inasmuch as discussing such a matter has long been embarrassing; the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship isn't an easy topic at all. However, such things need to be fully clarified as they lie at the core of the Jordanian and Palestinian identities. For Jordanian veteran political analyst Hassan Barari, Jordan is targeted by the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud Party and, to stand firm against such scheming, Jordan needs to boldly reject any role in the West Bank and constitutionalize the Disengagement Law. For the veteran scholar, rhetorical assertions and embarrassment do not serve.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2