Relations between Jordan and Palestine have evolved through a series of changes and challenges that continue over the years. While Palestine before 1948 used to be the focus of attention because of its strategic position and religious importance, today the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan—which is celebrating its first centennial—enjoys a much better position than that of occupied Palestine. Jordan was a mere gateway for many who wanted to reach Jerusalem, the jewel in Palestine’s crown. Today, Jerusalem’s Palestinian population is stateless and isolated politically. They are also under pressure to yield more and more to the dictates of the Israeli occupiers who want to de-Arabize and Judaize the city, particularly the walled part of the holy city. Even the international community, which decided in 1947 at the United Nations General Assembly unilaterally to divide Palestine into what it termed a Jewish and an Arab state, had no choice but to keep Jerusalem’s status as a corpus separatum.
Because of this uniqueness of Jerusalem, the government of Jordan’s late King Abdullah I decided in April 1950 to annex the entire areas west of the Jordan River that remained in Arab hands after the 1949 armistice to become part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Unlike the Gaza Strip, which the Egyptians were administering at the same time, the annexation of the West Bank provided direct control over Jerusalem and its holy places. The move was not widely welcomed internationally, and it is not clear whether the decision has helped or hurt the cause of Palestine. Only Great Britain recognized that annexation, with the exception of Jerusalem, as did Pakistan and Iraq. Apologists for Israel have regularly compared its occupation to this aspect of Jordan’ policy in Palestine, despite major differences. The Jordanian annexation was done after a token supportive conference in Jericho, and Jordan’s rule over the West Bank did not have the colonial land-grabbing illegal settlement enterprise of Israel’s occupation.
When the first intifada erupted in 1987, Jordan’s King Hussein realized he had to reverse his grandfather’s decision; one year later in 1988, Jordan severed its legal and administrative ties to the West Bank.
The loss of the West Bank in the 1967 war, coupled with the 1974 recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), at the Rabat Arab League summit, as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, weakened Jordan’s role. When the first intifada erupted in 1987, Jordan’s King Hussein realized he had to reverse his grandfather’s decision; one year later in 1988, Jordan severed its legal and administrative ties to the West Bank, leaving Palestine to be the responsibility of Palestinians, namely the PLO, to which the people of the intifada declared their allegiance. Jordan’s parliament, which included representatives from the West Bank, was dissolved and a nationwide effort to validate Jordanian citizenship to those who resided on the East Bank of the Jordan River was initiated through the issuance of national identification numbers to Jordanians. A special yellow card was also given to those deemed to be Jordanian but still residing in Palestine (mostly in East Jerusalem). All other Palestinians wishing to travel to or through Jordan were granted a green travel card and treated as Palestinians, which initially included having to obtain a permit with the sponsorship of a relative in Jordan. This was later scrapped for a token fee of 10 Jordanian dinars for Palestinians crossing into Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge.
Jordan Always Was an Option for Israel
As Palestinians and Israelis were trying to work out their relationship, Israel did not cease to prefer a Jordanian option of sorts as a solution for the question of Palestine. So-called moderate Israelis, mostly those of the Labor Party, preferred the Allon Plan, named after the Labor Party minister, Yigal Allon; it called for large swaths of the Jordan Valley to be annexed to Israel while the remaining parts of the West Bank to become part of Jordan. The more right-wing Israeli Likud Party and its allies had an even more sinister plan, namely, to keep all of the West Bank and declare Jordan the Palestinian state.
Despite it being authoritatively debunked by Sheila Ryan and Mohammad Hallaj in 1983,1 the “Jordan is Palestine” idea became—and in some ways continues to be—an existential concern for Jordanians, who fear a potential increase in the number of Palestinians in Jordan. To them, the result would be the de facto elimination of their country to appease Israeli Zionists. Additionally, Ryan and Hallaj argued that this plan places the burden of Palestinian homelessness on Jordan and exonerates Israel.
The “Jordan is Palestine” idea became—and in some ways continues to be—an existential concern for Jordanians.
Both Palestinians and Jordanians publicly and practically rejected this threat. At the same time, they pursued various efforts to coordinate foreign policy aimed at ending the Israeli occupation and reaching an equitable settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. An attempt in 1985 to form a combined Jordanian-Palestinian effort and jointly seek international support to end the Israeli occupation failed. Discussions about a possible Jordanian-Palestinian confederation received some initial traction but would eventually fail. Senior Palestinian leader Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) would often repeat a call for five minutes of independence before beginning negotiations with Jordan on a form of confederation. According to senior Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin, the idea of a Palestinian confederation fell apart because of differences on whether it could be done after the establishment of a Palestinian state or before, and who would be the leader. Writing in the US-based Al-Monitor in September 2018, Beilin says that the Palestinian National Council authorized the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat to negotiate the details of this possibility with King Hussein. Beilin wrote that Arafat told him “that the king insisted on being head of the new political framework, whereas Arafat demanded rotation. According to Arafat, King Hussein responded that kings ‘don’t do rotations.’ Nor did [King] Hussein agree to his request that a Palestinian state be established first, and only then unite with Jordan in a confederation.”
While Jordanians were trying their best to be rid of the responsibility for Palestine, Israel was not about to give up. When the Madrid Conference was about to take place in 1991, Israel’s prime minister who hailed from the Likud Party, Yitzhak Shamir, insisted that Israel would only participate if Palestinians were represented by a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation and, further, if no Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were part of it. Since 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, passed Israeli civilian law in the occupied city, and provided permanent Israeli residency to the Palestinians living there. In the end, US Secretary of State James Baker persuaded the Palestinians to create a steering committee headed by Faisal Husseini, a Jerusalemite, that would give direction to the delegation but would not be part of it. The Palestinians agreed after working out the details of having full rights to make their own positions within that joint delegation.
When asked where he saw the future of the Palestinian areas in the next 15 years, Rabin inserted the idea of Jordan.
Although Shamir would be replaced by the more moderate Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin, the idea of Palestine as part of Jordan never disappeared from Israeli strategic thinking. This author was the first Palestinian to interview him for the leading Palestinian daily Al-Quds in June 1993. Even then, while PLO officials were secretly negotiating with their Israeli counterparts as a prelude to the Oslo Accords, the idea of Jordan was never lost on Rabin. When asked where he saw the future of the Palestinian areas in the next 15 years, Rabin inserted the idea of Jordan, saying that the majority of Palestinians living in the occupied territories “would be linked with some sort of cooperation with Jordan. If there will be a possibility of having Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan in some setup.”
Trump Revives the Jordan Option
For most Jordanian nationalists, the Palestine-Israel Declaration of Principles in 1993, followed by the Jordan-Israel peace agreement in 1994, lowered their defenses and fears of the “Jordan is Palestine” option. After all, Israel agreed to the demarcation of the borders and the two countries exchanged ambassadors and became peace partners. But all this did not totally kill various forms of a Jordan option or the idea of a confederation of sorts. US President Donald Trump’s efforts to railroad a peace plan included the revival of the confederation idea. As reported by Al-Monitor, during a meeting on September 2nd, 2018, in Ramallah, “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surprised his Israeli guests from the Meretz Party and Peace Now movement on two separate occasions. The first surprise came when he told them that the members of US President Donald Trump’s peace negotiations team raised the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. The second surprise was when he told them his response: He would only be willing to enter such a confederation if Israel is a part of it.”
Jordanian officials wasted little time to react. Jumana Ghunaimat, spokesperson for the Jordanian government, responded immediately that “the idea of a confederation between Jordan and Palestine isn’t a subject for discussion.” She added that the two-state solution informed Jordan’s position, in addition to establishing a Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem.
While the Trump confederation plan was quickly defeated, the efforts by this most pro-Israeli US administration succeeded in breaking up Arab consensus, as articulated in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
While the Trump confederation plan was quickly defeated, the efforts by this most pro-Israeli US administration succeeded in breaking up Arab consensus, as articulated in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, that normalization with Israel should only take place after Israel withdraws from Arab areas occupied in 1967 and agrees to a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. The decision by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco to reward the anti-peace Netanyahu government and initiate normal relations with Israel caught many off guard and caused damage to Palestinian diplomatic efforts.
Apparently embarrassed by what they had done, and in a move to appear to support the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian businessman Hasan Ismaik—a long-time resident of the UAE with strong ties to the Emirati leadership—revived the confederation idea in a Foreign Policy article on October 15th titled “Unite Jordan and Palestine—Again.” The article was almost immediately debunked in the same publication by Zeid Omar Nabulsi, a Jordanian lawyer and a member of the most recent Royal Committee for Modernizing the Political System. Under the title “Jordan Is Not Palestine,” Nabulsi argued that “Reannexing the West Bank is an impractical idea that would threaten Jordan’s stability, deny Palestinians the right to self-determination, and reward Israel’s illegal settlements.”
The Problems with Confederation
Indeed, the concept of Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation sounds good on paper, but in reality the argument of confederation is disingenuous. It is suggested as a solution to help Israel rather than reflect the desires of the peoples of the region, particularly Palestinians and Jordanians.
A confederation is an agreement between two sovereign states, like the current situation with the European Union, for instance. Those pushing for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation—before ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinians territory and the establishment of a genuinely sovereign state of Palestine—are actually talking about a federation in which Jordan would take over the security and political affairs of Palestine and thus negate the very concept of national self-determination, which is an inalienable right to Palestinians.
The idea of transferring onto Jordan the problem that Israel created, while shifting further the demographic balance, fits well in the “Jordan is Palestine” right-wing plans. However, it has nothing to do with the rights of people to determine their form of government. If Jordanians want to continue as a Hashemite Kingdom, why should the world force them to absorb Palestinians and infringe on their own type of government?
It is important to note that once the Israeli occupation ends and a Palestinian state is established, then Palestinians and Jordanians could cooperate in any form they freely choose.
It is important to note that once the Israeli occupation ends and a Palestinian state is established, then Palestinians and Jordanians could cooperate in any form they freely choose to help improve their economies and make the movement of people and goods between the two sovereign states easier. To be sure, there is no doubt that Palestine and Jordan are forever connected. Palestinians and Jordanians are extremely close, have intermarried for generations, and retain a shared history. But all of this should not obscure solutions that elevate the inalienable right of Palestinians to determine their future, especially political fixes that push aside their rights within such a joint solution. As Palestinian President Abbas affirmed to a visiting Jordanian parliamentary delegation2 in 2011, “Palestine is for the Palestinian people and Jordan is for the Jordanian people.”
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Arab journalist, runs the Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan. He is the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC or its Board of Directors.