Jordan: the ubiquitous partner - the Jordanian option resurrected.

AuthorTalhami, Ghada
PositionRole of Jordan in Middle-East peace process

SEVERAL FACTORS COMBINED TO INSURE a perpetual role for Jordan in the affairs of neighboring Palestine. Although a young state created from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, Jordan and its dynasty harbored territorial ambitions dating back to the Arab Revolt of 1916. Throughout its history, Jordan chafed at the international borders drawn by the colonial powers to separate one Arab entity from the other. Created as a state in order to provide partial compensation for the pro-British policies of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, Jordan, as well as Iraq, became the two Hashemite Kingdoms of Hussein's two sons Abdullah and Faisal. Abdullah, founder of the Jordanian dynasty, clung to a modified version of a great Arab Kingdom which his father espoused by developing the Greater Syria concept. This design included Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. As the two republics of Syria and Lebanon went their own way under the control of local elites, only British-controlled Palestine remained susceptible to Abdullah's intrigues.

Thus, the dynastic factor combined with the greater geopolitical realities of Palestine and Jordan, especially the Jordan River as a shared border, to keep official Jordanian interest alive. Added to this was Britain's role as the Mandate power over the two entities, a situation which provided limitless opportunities for maneuvering and deal-making. Specifically, Jordan's rulers began to intervene in the affairs of Arab Palestine by posing as the intermediaries cum spokesmen for Palestinian Arab factions. This role began during the impasse of the 1936 Arab Strike in Palestine, when the Jordanian ruler began to support the more accomodationist Palestinian faction and advise a gradualist approach to the Palestinian national question.

Jordan, finally, realized its greatest opportunity with the withdrawal of the British from Palestine in 1948 and the outbreak of Arab-Jewish hostilities. As one of several Arab armies which joined the hostilities, Jordan emerged in physical control of eastern Palestine, including the eastern portion of Jerusalem. This reality resulted from Jordan's commitment of its best British-trained troops to the battlefield, and from Jordan's willingness to abide by the United Nation's partition plan of 1947. Its willingness to defend only that portion of Palestine which was designated as Arab Palestine in General Assembly Resolution 181, earned for Jordan the appreciation of the Powers. As the only Arab state to accept the partition plan de facto, Jordan's willingness to play by the West's rules separated it from the rest of the Arab states in the eyes of the Powers. Technically speaking, Jordan rejected the partition plan as all the other Arab states did, since the resolution denied the historic rights of the Arabs of Palestine. Thus, Jordan's annexation of eastern Palestine, which it proceeded to call the West Bank, was much more acceptable to Britain and the U.S. than an independent Palestine. What facilitated Jordan's plans was the collapse of the Government of All Palestine which represented Palestinian aspirations for independence, after a brief tenure in Gaza. However, this Jordanian dependence on Western goodwill came at a price, namely an undeclared Jordanian policy of avoiding military confrontation with the state of Israel.

Jordan, nevertheless, was never insulated from internal public pressure or the powerful external currents of Arab nationalism. These forces combined to secure Jordan's participation in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, that resulted in the loss of the West Bank to Israel. Later on, Jordan began to lose its West Bank bases of support. This did not happen because of Jordan's failure to defend the area militarily, but because of its failure to prevent the economic integration of the West Bank with Israel or to prevent severe Israeli abuse of Palestinian human rights. By 1987, when the Intifada broke out, Jordan held the West Bank by a tenuous thread. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Intifada was waged in the name of the P.L.O. In recognition of this reality, the Jordanian monarch applied a surprising diplomatic stroke which gravely altered the relative power of all groups engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Claiming that Jordan had merely exercised a quasi-trusteeship over Palestine until such a time when the Palestinians were able to determine their own future, King Hussein declared in July 1988 that the Intifada was an expression of the Palestinian will to be on their own. The King, thereby, declared that the West Bank was now the responsibility of the P.L.O. What the King did not do was request the Jordanian Parliament to dissolve the Act of Union of the two Banks, embodied in the 1952 Jordanian Constition. Thus, the Israelis and the U.S. were now forced to face the P.L.O. as the only party responsible for the fate of the people of the West Bank.(1)

Jordan's greatest significance to the region, thus, emerged as its readiness to represent the Palestinians at any international discussions on the future of the region. No sooner did the P.L.O. acquire international stature in 1974 as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, than both the U.S. and Israel's Labour Party began to cultivate relations with Jordan as an alternative to the P.L.O. By 1977, intense U.S. pressure to involve Jordan in the Camp David negotiations was clearly aimed at satisfying Israel's antipathy toward the P.L.O. Yet, despite Jordan's resistance to this mode of negotiating outside the framework of the Arab League of States, the three signatories to the Camp David Accords specified a role for Jordan in any future U.S.-sponsored peace settlement. The Framework for Peace in the Middle East, signed by Egypt, Israel, and the U.S. in September 1978 specifically linked Jordan to any negotiations leading to autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan was supposed to be one of the major negotiators, along with "the representatives of the Palestinian people", a clear reference to a new leadership which would be allowed to emerge in place of the P.L.O.(2)

In the same document, Jordan was made responsible for the fate of Gaza, as well as the West Bank, a step with no historical precedent. The Government of Jordan, according to the Framework for Peace, was to be invited by Israel and Egypt to negotiate the transitional arrangements which were to move the West Bank and Gaza from Israeli military rule to autonomy. Jordan was allowed to bring to the negotiating table Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, or any other Palestinians. The exclusion of the P.L.O. was strongly implied, and the whole spirit of the document was based on recognizing Israel's security needs, especially during the transition from rule by Israeli authorities to a Palestinian authority.(3)

Since the Camp David Agreements were met with general opposition throughout the Arab World, Jordan was able to maintain its distance. But the pressure on Jordan resumed in the wake of the grave events resulting from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hints of a determined effort by the U.S. Government to sponsor a new Arab-Israeli peace plan were evident in President Reagan's address to the nation on 1 September 1982. Here, the President referred to "the successful evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Beirut", as a new opportunity to launch another Mid East peace effort.(4) He added:

It seems to me that, with the agreement in Lebanon, we had an opportunity

for a more far-reaching peace effort in the region, and I was determined to

seize that moment in the words of the scripture, the time had come to "fol-

low after the things which make for peace."(5)

Reagan also made it clear that he viewed his peace initiative as the next step of Camp David, a step which was delayed because of President Sadat's assassination and general turmoil in the area. Events in Lebanon, he continued, convinced him of two things. First, the Palestinian people's yearning for a just solution of their claims was not diminished by the recent P.L.O.'s military losses. Second, while Israel's recent military successes in Lebanon demonstrated the superiority of Israel's arms in the region, this fact alone could not guarantee that peace would prevail. The Lebanon War also convinced Reagan that the Palestinians yearned for something more than refugee status and that to reconcile this with Israel's security needs required the participation of Jordan and the Palestinians in the peace process. Furthermore, Reagan stated that beyond the transition period from Israeli military rule to Palestinian autonomy over the West Bank and Gaza, peace would not be achieved either by the establishment of a Palestinian state, nor by the imposition of permanent Israeli control. Thus, neither a Palestinian state nor the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel would be tolerated.(6)

Secretary of State George P. Shultz clarified more issues related to U.S...

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