The Huffington PostMay 20, 2009
Richard Z. ChesnoffPosted: May 20, 2009 01:38 PM
A Stairway to Paradise: A Palestinian/Jordanian Union
Analysts are comparing Monday's White House meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to a new couple's first dance. The duo went out of its way to avoid stepping on each other's toes and walked off the floor smiling broadly to the public. But O & N were far from mutually infatuated. Obama failed to warn about a military option if Tehran continues nuclear weapons development, and Netanyahu spoke about "immediate negotiations" with the Palestinians, but fell short of agreeing to Obama's impassioned call for a two state peace formula.
We're bound to be seeing more fancy two-way Terpsichore in the months to come.
One way up the stairway to Mideast paradise might be by reviving some old steps rather than tapping to ones that are certain to trip us up.
Take for example the idea that the long festering Israel-Palestine sore can be cured by simply establishing an independent Palestinian state. That might have worked a long time ago but the Palestinians have rejected it whenever it was offered and today they are so economically bereft and so politically divided between the PLO of Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas rejectionists of Gaza that the idea of a viable unified Palestinian state is all but doomed to failure.
The answer may not be in establishing a tiny politically unworkable, economically unsustainable demilitarized Palestinian state, but by forming one that exists in federation with neighboring Jordan. That idea has been around for years and often only whispered - or laughed at as it was when I broached it in a column of mine some years ago. But a few Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian opinion makers are now beginning to talk cautiously again about renewing the so-called "Jordanian option": the establishment of an autonomous West Bank/Gaza Palestinian province/state linked politically, economically and even militarily to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Israeli political scientist Michael Bar-Zohar even proposed the idea recently in an op-ed column in the influential Jerusalem Post. A former Knesset member and the official biographer of both Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion and current President Shimon Peres, Bar-Zohar points out that the total area of the West Bank is 2,270 square miles, less than half the size of Los Angeles county! A third of that paltry plot is desolate desert. "Does anybody believe that that this tiny slice of territory, sandwiched between Israel and Jordan will provide enough living space for the local 2.4 million Palestinians" - not to mention the millions of Palestinian refugees who supposedly want to return to a Palestinian homeland?
Bar-Zohar also points out that the mostly arid Gaza Strip - which is separated from the West Bank by a sizable stretch of Israeli territory - is a mere 141 square miles with 1.5 million Palestinians already living there. "Those who want to give them a decent chance in life", suggests Bar Zohar, will have to transfer good numbers of them to the West Bank. Would it be able "to absorb yet another million Palestinians on its poor, arid territory?"
Bar-Zohar's solution "goes far beyond the childish two state approach." He proposes a regional solution that would involve Jordan and possibly even Egypt. Jordan would federate itself with the West Bank. Egypt - which borders Gaza - would ideally involve itself by giving Gazans land to develop in the vast, empty spaces of Northern Sinai.
Linking Jordan and the West Bank would not be for the first time. The Hashemite Kingdom itself was carved out of the Palestine Mandate which originally included all of what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Transjordan. Jordan's legendary Arab Legion seized the entire West Bank during Israel's 1948 War of Independence (Egypt took the Gaza Strip). For 19 years, Jordan's King Hussein firmly ruled the West Bank as part of his kingdom (there was never talk of an independent West Bank Palestinian state back in those days).. During the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jordanian monarch foolishly listened to Egypt's Gamal Nasser and attacked Israel. The IDF promptly defeated the Jordanian forces and raised the blue & white flag over the West Bank.
Even then, King Hussein left his West Bank options open, claiming a "special relationship" as the official guardian of the al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem's other Muslim holy places. Jordan also became home to more than 1.6 million Palestinian refugees and was one of the only Arab states to ever allow Palestinians to become equal citizens. Today, more than 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin -- including the kingdom's elegant young queen, Rania.
Jordan's Palestinian welcome mat has not been problem-free. During the 1970s, Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization became such a threat to the Hashemite king that Hussein launched a deadly counterattack, forcing Arafat and his band to retreat from Jordan.
Eventually, the late Hussein grew weary of Palestinian whining and manipulating. I was one of the foreign correspondents at the Hashemite palace in 1988 when he announced that he was "divorcing" the West Bank. The Palestinians would be on their own.
Hussein's son, the young King Abdullah, has never been as interested in the West Bank as his father once was. But Abdullah increasingly warns of a major new Mideast war if the Arab-Israeli conflict is not settled. And he is also said to understand that the Palestinians are presently incapable of ruling themselves. No doubt he doesn't want the Palestinians pushing him and his family out of their jobs. But he is believed to have taken a renewed interest in the West Bank and in finding a fail safe way to play a role there.
A Jordanian-West Bank union, in which some Palestinians loyal to the king could even serve in the Jordanian forces, may be just that. It will take US initiative. Why not offer financial compensation to West Bankers and Gazans willing to to move to unsettled parts of Jordan? Why not a border with Israel secured in part by Jordan? Why not a Palestinian West Bank and Gaza linked to Jordan with an economic union that bonds both to Israel's burgeoning economy?
Anything would be better than existing options offer the Palestinians: more bloodshed, more corruption, more hatred, more suffering for all sides.