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Jordanian – Palestinian Confederation?

12 June 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

While everyone is discussing Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the possibility of war in the near future, everyone has forgotten about Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom is one of the most important pieces in the Middle Eastern regional stability puzzle. Over a month ago King Abdullah II suggested a federation/confederation style arrangement with the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) extending Jordanian influence back into those areas lost to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. The plan is not new. The late King Hussein, father of the present monarch, suggested a similar arrangement in 1972. Israel rejected the overture since it was conditioned on a full Israeli withdrawal from all areas, including the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem, the strategic Latrun junction and the security region along the Jordan River.

So why the renewed initiative? Jordan is seen as a staunch Western ally, who although small in numbers and territory, can play a role in containing rising Islamic fundamentalism especially as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Palestinian national enmity towards Israel and the internal Palestinian hatred towards the hopelessly corrupt secular Fatah have been major factors in the rise of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other fundamentalist movements. Conceivably the West (esp. the US and Britain) could funnel billions of dollars to the Palestinians through the Jordanians and wean them away from the growing Islamist movements.

Jordan’s territorial demands were similar to those of 35 years ago. They cannot relinquish what they view as “Palestinian territories” to Israel, only representatives of the Palestinians could do that, something which is not about to happen. From a Western perspective, the idea looks good – outmaneuver the Hamas and then show the Palestinian population how beneficial it is to work through Jordan. The Palestinians trade independence for stability, economic development and an expanded autonomy. Jordan would take it upon itself to crush the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and anyone else who gets in the way.

Israel would end its presence in Judea and Samaria (and this time keep the Jewish Quarter in a territorial swap) but have no security line along the Jordan River. After all, then PM Ehud Barak was willing to concede the Jordan Rift area to Yasir Arafat and the PLO during the negotiations at Camp David in July 2000. The central Israeli premise was to arrive at “End of Conflict”. Had Abdullah II offered his plan seven years ago with minor border adjustments Israel would have certainly considered it. But today it is a different world after 9/11, the rise of the Hamas, the activism of Ahmedinejad and the American – British entanglement in Iraq (and future rise of extremist Islam – both Sunni and Shi’ite in Mesopotamia).

Jordan may be seen as stable at the moment, but Amman is certainly being targeted in the sights of the world Islamic movements. Nothing could be better than to have a Jordanian – Palestinian federation/confederation with the Palestinian West Bank city of Tulkarm 9 miles (15 kilometers) from Netanya. Today should the present Jordanian regime collapse Israel has a defensive line along the Jordan River. However if the operation backfires after the confederation with the Palestinians and the Hashemite Kingdom were to fall due to radical Moslem Brotherhood pressures Israel will find itself with Islamists supported by Iran, Al-Qaeda or both, pressing its back to the Mediterranean.

Today the Islamic extremists are challenging the Egyptians and supplying weapons, ammunition and terrorists to Gaza by way of their underground tunnel highways originating in Sinai. Egypt is unable or unwilling to stop them. Today the border with Jordan is quiet and there is a joint interest in keeping it that way. Any change in the equation stands the possibility of destabilizing Jordan and turning the West Bank into a strategic threat to Israel should the king be overthrown.

Furthermore even should the Jordanians and their Western allies get the upper hand in dealing with the Palestinians, no one can guarantee that in the next few years (and yes, after an American pullout) that an Islamic Iraq will not turn its attentions towards Jordan, thereby unraveling European and American Middle East policy for good. A collapse of the Jordanian regime through joint Iraqi and Palestinian Islamic aggression would be a setback for the West and a strategic catastrophe for Israel.

Hence the West is willing to make the gamble but Israel cannot. In the overall picture the Eastern Front will rise again, but this time include Iran and the radical Sunnis. The West is naïve in believing Jordan can control the Palestinians and bring them around into being good liberal democrats. Jordan will find itself in the Islamic gun sights in the not too distant future. The US should turn its attentions to strengthening Jordan without burdening the king with security responsibilities which could boomerang and let Israel deal with the Hamas/Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.