Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Jordanian Option

Two-state solution unfeasible? Zionist expansion the road to endless war? What about the Jordanian option?

It may well be that the two-state solution has been overtaken by Israel's apartheid scheme for the West Bank and simply will not work. On the other hand, continuation of the Zionist plan for ethnic cleansing of Palestine and constant expansion of Israel may well be the road to insecurity for both Israelis and their neighbors, endless war, and the transformation of Israeli democracy (for Jews) into a garrison state dictatorship. An idealist might counter that a secular, multi-ethnic democracy in which Jews and Palestinians relearn the art of living together (something that actually occurred before WWII) is the solution. If you don't believe that the extremists of Hamas and the Zionist movement can be persuaded to accept such a compromise, there is still...the Jordanian option.

The problem with the two-state solution is the difficulty of finding room in the small land area available to construct a viable Palestinian state. Admittedly, there are also several additional problems. The whole nation-building process sounds a lot more feasible if Jordan, already half Palestinian, merges with the West Bank - not under its current leadership but as a genuine Arab democracy. Instead of two poor countries (Jordan and the new Palestine), there would be one country - and one that already has structure, armed forces, etc. Ambitious? Yes. But unlike the first three options, the Jordanian option sounds feasible. At least, it is worth a look.

A few people have actually begun to consider this idea. Richard Chesnoff has written a persuasive argument but omitted what to me is a critical point: only via union with Jordan are the Palestinians likely to have any immediate hope of being able to defend themselves against an Israeli state addicted to war. Perhaps settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute will transform Israel; after all, that would be one of its primary purposes. But "perhaps" will seem on day one of Palestinian independence, slim consolation. It is critically important to grant a new Palestinian state sufficient defensive capacity to reassure them. A demilitarized Palestinian state facing the Israeli superpower, which will no doubt contain many very angry extremist ex-settlers and many politicians very willing to exploit their anger, will be desperate for support. There is only one practical place from which a new Palestinian state might get such support: Iran.

Surely it must be obvious to everyone that setting up a Palestinian state bereft of friends and the ability to defend itself will only open the door to further Iranian-Israeli tensions and thus accomplish exactly the opposite of what Israel, the U.S., or the Palestinians would want. The first two obviously won't want to make Iran an even greater champion of Palestinian rights. But relying on militant Shi'ite power Iran would hardly be an appetizing road for religiously moderate, Sunni Palestinians either.

Israeli historian Michael Bar-Zohar has also advocated this idea and makes the important point that the kind of defenseless and impoverished rump state that seems to be on the minds of short-sighted (my word) politicians in Israel and Washington is highly likely to induce Palestinians to turn with a vengence on Jordan, since taking over Jordan will be the drop-dead obvious solution to everyone in Palestine. Much better to figure out a way to pull off such a deal by agreement and peacefully right up front.

How on earth might this be accomplished? Well, there are half a million Israelis to be moved out. That will take time. Simultaneously, with the wheels well greased by U.S. and Saudi taxpayers, one could imagine a slow process of offering Palestinians new homes in open Jordanian land. Perhaps some deal could even be achieved that would persuade Palestinians to sell certain territories to Israel in return for a generous quid pro quo. The point is simple: once you accept the concept of transforming the situation, detailed steps toward that transformation suddenly become visible...

There is a larger point here: the whole enterprise of creating a Palestinian state must not be just for show. It must be a real state, able to stand on its own outside of Israel's orbit, or the exercise will become a disaster, not just for Palestinians but for Israel as well.

Marc Lynch presents a dissenting view. I concur that the Jordanian option will mean the end of the kingdom. But this is not about whether or not a particular individual gets to be king. What does Lynch mean by "Jordan is bitterly opposed?" The pertinent question is not what certain politicians currently in office think. I suspect no poll of the whole Jordanian population on this subject exists. I suspect he is referring to the political crowd currently in charge. This is not about the politicians: they always prefer to be big frogs in a small pond. This is not about the king. That king has the option of making the most inspired decision of his life: giving up his kingship for the opportunity to create something new. All this definitely requires opening one's mind...

And then, there's the "Jordan option." Everyone I spoke to seemed highly agitated about and adamantly opposed to any suggestion of Jordan returning to the West Bank. Almost everyone thinks that the Israelis want Jordan to do this, and almost everyone says that Jordan is bitterly opposed. One of the officials went on at some length explaining that the idea was not being considered by Jordan, was not acceptable, was rejected, was a non-starter, was not on the table, would be refused if put on the table (and so on).

But nevertheless, talk of the Alternative Homeland (al-Watan al-Badil, "Jordan is Palestine") was everywhere - fueled by Gaza, Netanyahu, and fears for the future of the two-state solution. Most journalists and political commentators brought this up at the top of their list of concerns, that even though everybody in Jordan (sic) opposed the idea, the government might be forced into it by Israel and the U.S. and that would mean the end of the Kingdom. They really do mean this – this is deeply rooted in Jordanian political identity and has been for many years dating back to the 1988 severing of ties with the West Bank. I was told one anecdote (which I can’t verify) that late last year a leading Jordanian politician infuriated the King by telling him that going to the West Bank could cost him his throne. I heard lots of identity talk: one journalist, for example, explained that the problem with democracy was that Palestinians represent a majority in the Kingdom and thus democracy would lead inevitably to the Alternative Homeland… a retrograde view which I associate with a much earlier period in Jordanian politics.

I think everyone in the U.S. would do Jordan and the Palestinians alike a serious favor if they would stop talking about the Jordanian option.

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