Dire Jordanian straits

Dire Jordanian straits, Israel Hayom, Daniel Pipes, March 14, 2017

Palestinians, according to most estimates, constitute a substantial majority of the population and present the deepest division. It’s common to speak of “Jordanians” and “Palestinians” even though the latter are citizens and children and grandchildren of citizens. As this suggests, the sense of being separate from and superior to the mostly tribal peoples of the East Bank has not diminished over time, especially not when Palestinians have achieved economic success.

I asked nearly all of my 15 interlocutors (who represented a wide range of viewpoints) about a return of Jordanian sovereignty to the West Bank. I regret to report that every one of them strongly rejected this idea. “Why would we want that headache?” they all seemed to say. Accepting their verdict means Israel has no practical solution to its West Bank conundrum, so its reluctant and unwanted sovereignty over Palestinians will likely continue into the distant future.

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“We’re in dire straits,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said half a year ago. After recently completing a week of intensive travels and discussions throughout Jordan, I found no one disagreeing with that assessment. Jordan may no longer be hyper-vulnerable and under siege, as it was in the past, but it does face possibly unprecedented problems.

Created out of thin air by Winston Churchill in 1921 to accommodate British imperial interests, the Emirate of Transjordan, now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for almost a century has led a precarious existence. Particularly dangerous moments came in 1967, when pan-Arabist pressures led King Hussein to make war on Israel and lose the West Bank; in 1970, when a Palestinian revolt nearly toppled the king; and 1990-1991, when pro-Saddam Hussein sentiments pushed him to join a hopeless and evil cause.

Today’s dangers are manifold. Islamic State lurks in Syria and Iraq, just beyond the border, attractive to a small but real minority of Jordanians. The once-robust trade with those two countries has nearly collapsed — and with it, Jordan’s lucrative transit role. In a region bountiful in oil and gas, Jordan is one of the very few countries to have almost no petroleum resources. City dwellers receive water just one day a week and country dwellers often even less. Tourism has declined, thanks to the Middle East’s notorious volatility. King Abdullah’s recent assertion of authority grates on those demanding more democracy.

The core issue of identity remains unresolved. As a country of massive immigration for over a hundred years (even exceeding the numbers going to Israel), it has received waves of Palestinians (in 1948-1949, 1967, and 1990-1991), Iraqis (2003), and Syrians (since 2011). Palestinians, according to most estimates, constitute a substantial majority of the population and present the deepest division. It’s common to speak of “Jordanians” and “Palestinians” even though the latter are citizens and children and grandchildren of citizens. As this suggests, the sense of being separate from and superior to the mostly tribal peoples of the East Bank has not diminished over time, especially not when Palestinians have achieved economic success.

The country’s strengths are also formidable. Surrounded by crises, the population is realistic and wary of trouble. The king enjoys an undisputed position of authority. Intermarriages and the influx of Iraqis and Syrians are eroding the historic divisions between Palestinians and others. The population enjoys a high level of education. Jordan has a good reputation around the world.

Then there’s Israel. “Where are the fruits of peace?” is a common refrain about Jordan’s 1994 treaty with Israel. Politicians and the media may not say so, but the answer is blindingly obvious: Whether it is using Haifa as an alternative to the Syrian land route, the purchase of inexpensive water, or the provision of plentiful gas (which is already being delivered), Jordan benefits directly and substantially from its ties with Israel. Despite this, a perverse social pressure against normalization with Israel has grown over time, intimidating absolutely everyone and preventing relations with the Jewish state from reaching their potential.

One Jordanian asked me why Israelis accept being treated like a mistress. The answer is clear: Because Jordan’s welfare ranks as a paramount Israeli priority, successive governments accept, even if through gritted teeth, the calumnies and lies told about Israel in the press and on the streets. Though they are too polite to say so, they clearly wish the king would take hold of this issue and point to the benefits of peace.

On a personal note: Since 2005, I have been advocating for “Jordan to the West Bank, Egypt to Gaza: The Three-State Solution” as a way to solve the Palestinian problem.

Accordingly, I asked nearly all of my 15 interlocutors (who represented a wide range of viewpoints) about a return of Jordanian sovereignty to the West Bank. I regret to report that every one of them strongly rejected this idea. “Why would we want that headache?” they all seemed to say. Accepting their verdict means Israel has no practical solution to its West Bank conundrum, so its reluctant and unwanted sovereignty over Palestinians will likely continue into the distant future.

Summing up the visit: Jordan has muddled through many crises and may do so again, but the concatenation of current dangers pose an extraordinary challenge to Jordan and its many well-wishers. Will Abdullah cope with these “dire straits”?

Explore posts in the same categories: Israel and Jordan, Jordan and Palestinians, West Bank

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