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Jordan's renewed peace involvement - Ed. 21

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    ... bitterlemons-international.org - Middle East roundtable ... Jordan s renewed peace involvement May 31, 2007 Volume 5 Edition 21 The following articles may
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      bitterlemons-international.org - Middle East roundtable
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      Jordan's renewed peace involvement

      May 31, 2007 Volume 5 Edition 21

      The following articles may be republished with proper citation given to the
      author and bitterlemons-international.org.

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      IN THIS ISSUE
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      || "The rationale of the Jordanian initiative" by Mahdi Abdul Hadi
      It would be political suicide for both Jordan and Egypt to take any direct
      administrative roles or security missions in the oPt.

      || "Jordan's excess baggage" - by Riad al Khouri
      To expect a full-blown business relationship to thrive without genuine peace
      is naive if not maliciously disingenuous.

      || "Jordan and the Palestinian question" - by Oraib Al Rantawi
      Proposals of federalism and confederalism have reappeared in the deliberations
      of some Jordanian circles.

      || "Jordan and the Arab initiative" - by Asher Susser
      This does not imply that Jordan is readying itself to negotiate instead of the
      Palestinians.

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      || The rationale of the Jordanian initiative

      by Mahdi Abdul Hadi
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

      In the last few months, Palestinians of different stripes received invitations
      to cross the Jordan River for a dialogue with the Jordanian monarch. However,
      coming back, many of these Palestinians were confused as to the timing and the
      content of the Jordanian message and where it might lead us all.

      There are four major aspects of Jordanian/Palestinian relations that will
      continue to govern each side's positions, interests and needs depending on the
      vision, mission and power of their respective leaderships.

      * Geographically, Jordan and Palestine lie at the heart of the fertile
      crescent in the Middle East and they share each other's longest borders.
      * In spite of having developed their distinct national and domestic
      identities, both Palestinians and Jordanians are deeply rooted in the Arab
      house.
      * The Zionist movement challenged both entities, wanting Palestine as an
      exclusively Jewish homeland and Jordanian territory to be used either to
      assimilate the Palestinian people (starting with the refugees of 1948) or to
      "Palestinize" Jordan.
      * The Palestinian and Jordanian relationship went through rough and tumultuous
      stages due to the above-mentioned three factors. Their battles opened wounds
      that will not easily heal.

      Arab unity was built around two concepts: one was unity itself and the other
      was liberation for Palestine. But this idea of Arab unity failed to resurrect
      itself after the Syrian disengagement from the UAR in 1961 and the Palestinian
      liberation movement was crippled as it has been crippled since by both
      internal and external conflicts.

      Thus, today the world's longest-running occupation, that of the West Bank,
      including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and the absence of a political
      horizon, are creating a regional culture of fear because of the uncertainty
      they create for Palestine and the Palestinians and the impact this might have
      in the region, particularly in Jordan.

      Jordanian officials have already conveyed their "disappointment" with the
      performance of the Palestinian leadership and their concern regarding the
      Islamist rise to power and those parties' growing connections in Amman as well
      as with the vacuum of law and order in the occupied Palestinian territory. At
      the same time, Jordanian officials re-affirmed their traditional position of
      no ambition and no interest in any future re-involvement in Palestine.

      Jordan has enough problems with the flood of refugees from Iraq, Lebanon and
      Palestine as well its cold relations with Syria.

      King Abdullah's initiative to personally meet with various Palestinian
      groups/professionals/semi-officials and businessmen allowed the monarch to
      gain first-hand knowledge of the post-Arafat Palestinian agenda and to
      introduce the Arab summit initiative of 2007 as an Arab "umbrella" to free
      Palestinians from the prison they are in. It is a similar initiative to the
      Jordanian "umbrella" for the Palestinians during their intifada of 1987 and
      the formation of the joint delegation to the international Madrid conference
      in 1991.

      But Islamists and misleading western reports have found fertile ground in
      Jordan's rational approach to the crisis in Palestine. In particular, the
      question of Jerusalem and the holy places--one of the major components of
      Jordanian/Palestinian concern, especially in light of the "Israelization"
      policies and practices of recent years in the city--has been a target of
      Islamist criticism. The Jordanian/Israeli peace treaty of 1994 emphasized that
      Jordan is to enjoy custodianship over the holy sites in occupied East
      Jerusalem. This legal responsibility for Jordan is to be respected by Israel
      and for the time being shared with the Palestinians. In other words, there is
      a confused relationship over the issue between the occupier Israel, the
      indigenous inhabitants the Palestinians, and the "guardians" the Jordanians.

      To the Islamists, the question of Jerusalem is a political card, providing the
      movements with fodder to criticize the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships
      for failing to stop Israel's creeping Israelization of the city. In addition,
      Islamists have argued that Israeli-Jordanian relations on the matter amount to
      nothing other than a business relationship.

      One cannot help but notice that in the recent Aqaba meeting of May 2007 there
      was no discussion of Jerusalem and no cohesive Palestinian position on the
      various ideas put forth during the meetings. Only a small window for
      businessmen opened in which a "Palestinian-Israeli Business Council" was
      established with a vague agenda contradicting the current political
      environment.

      The issues of security and the economy, meanwhile, prompted rightwing Israeli
      voices to call for greater Jordanian involvement in the oPt in the hope that
      in time this would lead to a "Jordanian solution" for what is left of the West
      Bank. Today we have four isolated Palestinian cantons: in the north, Nablus,
      in the center, Ramallah (excluding Jerusalem), in the south, Hebron, and in a
      different world, Gaza. These cantons have no leaderships, no political elites,
      no family notables as in the 1950s and 1980s. All of these cantons have
      special "border crossings": Jericho for the West Bank and Rafah for Gaza
      Strip.

      In this confused atmosphere, the "Jordanian solution" has seemed strangely
      attractive to some. In large part, this is due to the internal Palestinian
      situation. The occupation has encouraged Palestinian infighting, and
      Palestinian-Palestinian clashes have led to a devaluation of the Palestinian
      cause among Arab countries as well as in the West, in addition to creating an
      ever-growing gap between Hamas and Fateh, in spite of the supposed unity
      government.

      Both political illiterates and shortsighted business opportunists, in a
      reflection of their wishful thinking and interpretation of the Jordanian
      initiative (as well as the Cairo faction talks), have thus seized on Jordanian
      and Egyptian activities and spread rumors in the hope of influencing public
      opinion to push the two countries to make dramatic moves.

      But it would be political suicide for both Jordan and Egypt to allow these
      circumstances to lead them to take any direct administrative roles or security
      missions in the oPt. It should continue to be the responsibility of the
      Quartet and regional parties to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and to
      apply the two-state solution. The Arab initiative came 40 years late, was sent
      to the wrong address and arrived in both Palestine and Israel at a time when
      there is an absence of charismatic leaders. It is time to re-address the Arab
      initiative to an international conference and to pressure the UN Security
      Council to apply its own resolutions to end the occupation.- Published
      31/4/2007 (c) bitterlemons.org

      Mahdi Abdul Hadi is the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study
      of International Affairs, PASSIA, in Jerusalem.

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      || Jordan's excess baggage

      by Riad al Khouri
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

      The Jordanian economy may finally be ready to take off into sustainable
      growth. Efforts at reform and boosting the business environment are bearing
      fruit: the latest indication of this came at the recent Dead Sea World
      Economic Forum gathering, which witnessed the signature of investment deals
      for Jordan totaling $2.5 billion. By comparison, all of last year's direct
      foreign investment into Jordan totaled $3 billion. Given that and other strong
      economic signs, Jordanian GDP looks set to continue expanding at six percent
      or more in 2007 and over the next few years; and with population growth
      decelerating, a rising economy means higher per capita incomes.

      Jordan's economic skies have never been so cloudless, but--to extend the
      aviation metaphor--its economy cannot continue gaining altitude while there
      are major problems nearby in the region. Jordanians worry about stormy
      political weather, especially over Baghdad, as well as the country's own
      massive excess baggage, the Palestinian issue.

      The Iraq problem is too much for Jordan to get directly involved in, and,
      though important, is mainly at arm's length from daily life in the kingdom.
      Not so Palestine, hence Amman's push for Palestinian-Israeli peace is logical.
      The latest effort by Jordan in that direction consists of selling the Beirut
      Arab Summit peace initiative to Israel. Amman always supported the 2002 plan,
      but five years on, Jordanians have even more to gain from reaching a fair
      solution to the Palestine problem. For a start, political disaffection on the
      East Bank--more apparent under democratization--would ease with a
      Palestinian-Israeli peace that gives all sides their own turf to play on. As
      things stand now, the Palestinian majority in Jordan can neither aspire to
      real authority in a quasi-democracy east of the river, nor credibly hope to
      project power in the West Bank/Gaza quagmire. A just peace, whatever the
      formula, would help solve East Bank Palestinian problems and lead to a more
      relaxed si!
      tuation on both sides of the Jordan.

      Economically, peace would also benefit Amman through a real opening up of
      Palestine to Jordanian business. As things stand today, Jordanian-Palestinian
      trade is meager, with Palestine not even figuring among the top ten customers
      or markets of Jordan. As for investment and other forms of business, Jordan
      does not have much in the West Bank or Gaza, with the notable exception of
      Jordanian banks, of which branches and affiliates do the lion's share of
      Palestine's financial business.

      On paper, the two sides are committed to expanding commerce, and the
      Palestinian Authority has an agreement with Jordan to bolster and liberalize
      trade. In 2003, Jordan exempted all Palestinian goods from duties and fees in
      line with the decisions of the 2000 Arab Summit and canceled quotas governing
      the entry of Palestinian agricultural products into Jordan. However, four
      years later, even with the easing of tariff and non-tariff barriers,
      Palestinian-Jordanian merchandise trade is still paltry, not having moved much
      beyond its pre-Oslo 1993 level of $60 million annually.

      The reasons for this lack of business between Palestine and Jordan are
      various, some of them purely economic. For instance, it is sometimes the case
      that adjacent developing economies do little business with each other because
      their products are so similar. To take two examples, Jordanians do not export
      many tomatoes to the West Bank because the latter grows so much of them; nor
      do Palestinians buy a lot of building stones from the East Bank, when the
      stuff is abundant at home anyway.

      However, such factors only partially explain the weak trade flows between the
      two, and this brings us back to the overriding issue of peace. One of the
      great illusions (or deliberate mendacities) of the peace bandwagon of the
      mid-1990s was that you could do good business without real peace. The lesson
      of the past decade or so has been that token commercial deals may help to
      break the ice between protagonists and lead to a feel-good atmosphere. But to
      expect a full-blown business relationship to thrive among all sides on both
      banks of the Jordan without genuine peace is naive if not maliciously
      disingenuous.

      That brings us back to Jordan's pushing the 2002 peace plan, which is doomed
      without Israeli concessions to match those of the Arabs. However, with the
      present US administration playing tough, Israel has no choice but to stall on
      peace, to the detriment of all. That includes Jordanians who for the first
      time can glimpse sustainable development, but not achieve it without a
      solution to the Palestinian issue that makes all parties on both sides of the
      Jordan feel part of a brighter future.- Published 31/5/2007 (c)
      bitterlemons-international.org

      Riad al Khouri is director of MEBA wll, Amman, and senior associate of BNI
      Inc, New York City.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      || Jordan and the Palestinian question

      by Oraib Al Rantawi
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

      Of all the regional and international players, Jordan is particularly keen to
      push the peace process forward after a standstill of at least seven years.
      Jordanian diplomacy has played and continues to play an active role in
      focusing international and regional attention on the Israeli-Palestinian
      conflict. King Abdullah II continues to warn of the consequences of losing
      this opportunity, even going to the point of saying that if lost, the region
      will descend into a new spiral of violence in just a few months.

      According to Jordanian political discourse the continued tension, the growing
      influence of extremist groups and the worsening conflicts in the region are
      the result of the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and the
      failure of the international community to resolve the Palestinian problem.
      Jordanian diplomacy claims that it has succeeded in convincing the American
      administration to move this conflict to the top of its agenda. Additionally,
      it has succeeded in unifying the attitudes of Arab moderates within the
      framework of the so-called Arab Quartet, motivating them to make strenuous
      efforts to reactivate the peace process.

      There are many concerns that explain the attention given by Jordan to the
      peace process and clarify the concerns of its decision-making circles.
      Primary among these are threats to Jordanian national security, beginning with
      the rise of Islamic movements in the region, as evidenced by the Palestinian
      election and the victory of Hamas, the increasing influence of Hizballah in
      Lebanon, the armed Islamic groups--in particular al-Qaeda--in Iraq and the
      growing regional role of Iran. In addition, there is the threat of Israel's
      "unilateral" policy in dealing with the Palestinian issue, which from the
      Jordanian point of view would reduce the chances of establishing a viable
      Palestinian state within the framework of US President George W. Bush's vision
      of two states for two peoples, the roadmap and the Arab peace initiative.

      The decision-making circles see these two threats--the growing role of
      fundamentalist forces in the region backed by Iran on the one hand, and an
      increasing Israeli inclination toward unilateralism on the other--as
      connected: each develops and depends on the other. This further weakens the
      already declining hope for a just solution to the Palestinian issue. This in
      turn encourages extremist political Islamic movements in the region to
      increase their influence, thereby further raising levels of concern in Israel
      and prompting its decision-makers to opt for extreme policies and impose
      one-sided solutions. Some ground-level manifestations of these policies are
      settlement expansion, continuing construction of the separation wall in the
      West Bank and the Judaization of Jerusalem.

      Jordan watches with increasing concern the political and security chaos in the
      Palestinian territories, especially following Hamas' victory in the last
      elections. Jordan, where the Islamic movement is among the most popular
      forces, is concerned about the presence of al-Qaeda, Salafi Jihad and the
      "Islamic State of Iraq" on its eastern borders. It does not wish to see an
      "Islamic State of Palestine", led by a mix of fundamentalist forces--Hamas,
      Jihad, al-Qaeda--to its west. From this perspective, Jordan strongly supports
      the effort to strengthen the Palestinian presidency of Mahmoud Abbas and the
      Fateh movement in order to forestall the Islamist movements from governing
      Palestinian society.

      Jordan has displayed its concern regarding the state of mutual collusion
      between the extremist forces in Israel, who want to impose unilateral
      solutions, and fundamentalist groups in Palestine that reject negotiated
      solutions, preferring unilateral policies under the slogan of a long-term
      truce and transitional solutions that keep the struggle alive. In other words,
      Jordan fears that Israeli unilateralism will produce Palestinian
      unilateralism, thus creating a situation where one feeds and spurs the other,
      especially with the continuing decline of the peace camp's influence within
      Israel and with the Palestinian Authority on the brink of collapse.

      It is probably this factor that has prompted some circles in Jordan to come up
      with ideas that suggest a Jordanian role, in coordination with regional,
      Palestinian and international players, in overcoming the current intractable
      status of the peace process. Accordingly, proposals of federalism and
      confederalism have reappeared in the deliberations of some Jordanian circles,
      provoking debate among the public and political officials.

      The proponents of these proposals believe that if Jordan is given a direct
      role, this would help bridge the confidence gap between Israelis and
      Palestinians. Jordan, which has historically shown its commitment to respect
      agreements with Israel, would be able to provide guarantees to implement the
      agreements reached between the two sides, especially those related to Israeli
      security. Jordan would have the opportunity to expand its regional role and
      overcome the problem of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom, providing them
      with economic and financial support.

      Supporters of this Jordanian role also believe that the Palestinian public
      mood is becoming more willing to accept a Jordanian role in the West Bank and
      that the Arab situation is no longer an obstacle to this kind of role.
      Jordan's relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in general are at their
      best. Egypt's regional role is declining due to its preoccupation with the
      issue of "succession". Iraq has been ousted from the arena of the Arab-Israel
      conflict and Syria, in isolation, is no longer a restraint to any future
      Jordanian role.

      The opponents of this scenario have different concerns, the most crucial of
      which is their fear of the Jordanian role being used by the Israelis as a
      solution for their Palestinian demographic predicament rather than as a method
      of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They do not hide their fear
      that Israel, which is obsessed by security and settlement building, would not
      give Jordan much more than was offered to the late President Yasser Arafat or
      could be offered to Abbas, thereby limiting any Jordanian role to providing
      security for the separation wall and settlements.

      The opponents also have concerns regarding the consequences of extending
      Jordanian identity to the majority of the Palestinian population, not least
      because the question of integration and identity remains unresolved in Jordan
      and the issue could become more dangerous if it was decided to expand the
      kingdom's boundaries to include the West Bank. And they wonder about the fate
      of the Gaza Strip and whether Jordan would also end up providing solutions for
      a few additional millions of Palestinian refugees.

      Jordanian diplomacy thus confronts an increasingly heated debate on this
      issue. It encounters uncertainty surrounding the future of efforts to revive
      the peace process and the absence of a clear vision concerning the future of
      the internal Palestinian conflict and the political instability within Israel,
      as well as the Iraqi quagmire where the American administration, soon to
      depart the White House, is stuck. It prefers to avoid discussing, at least
      publicly, the future scenarios and their prospects, and falls back on old and
      well known attitudes toward proposed solutions regarding the Palestinian
      question.

      Yet Jordanian officials are no longer able to deny the existence of new policy
      thinking or rethinking of diverse scenarios and alternatives that are not
      confined to the scenario of one independent Palestinian state. The latter has
      so far been the only perspective in Jordan under King Abdullah II, based on
      the premise that this state is the first line of defense for the kingdom. This
      is no longer true, especially since it has become clear to policy-makers in
      Jordan that such a state might never be established, and that if it were
      established it could be led by Hamas and other fundamentalist movements. Thus
      it would become an Islamist safe haven and a threat to regional peace and to
      Jordanian national security rather than an element of stability in the region
      or Jordan's first line of defense.- Published 31/5/2007 (c)
      bitterlemons-international.org

      Oraib Al Rantawi is a media columnist and director of the Al Quds Center for
      Political Studies in Amman.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      || Jordan and the Arab initiative

      by Asher Susser
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

      Jordanians today have a profound sense of strategic anxiety, with Iraq to the
      east in seemingly endless turmoil and Palestine to the west in confrontation
      with Israel and often on the verge of total breakdown into civil war between
      its own rival factions. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are already
      bringing immense pressure to bear on the kingdom's infrastructure. The
      Jordanians are hardly in need of another flood of refugees from a
      disintegrating Palestine.

      Jordan has never been able to shape the regional context in which it operates
      and it is therefore invariably on the receiving end of regional trends shaped
      by others. The fact that this has always been true and remains so is no
      consolation for the Jordanians who are desperately looking for ways and means
      to stabilize their environment. There is precious little they can do about
      Iraq, and thus they are focusing with ever increasing urgency on Palestine in
      an effort to extricate the Palestinian-Israeli peace process from its present
      moribund state.

      Way back in 1988, King Hussein announced Jordan's disengagement from the West
      Bank. But as Hussein knew then and as King Abdullah II knows today, Jordan
      cannot fully disengage from Palestine even if it would like to. Jordan is
      situated at the geopolitical core of the Palestinian question and its own
      large Palestinian community makes up about half of its total population.
      Jordan would be deeply affected by whatever developments took place in the
      West Bank, whether peaceful or otherwise.

      Jordan therefore still seeks to influence the ultimate outcome of any
      Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But Jordan's dilemma has for long been how
      to go about engineering a mechanism to exert such influence without actually
      assuming responsibility for the negotiations, which the Jordanians presently
      have no intention of doing.

      Led by the efforts of King Abdullah II, Jordan would genuinely like to help
      Israel and the Palestinians get their act together. But the Jordanians will
      not negotiate on the Palestinians' behalf lest they be accused, as they once
      were, of usurping Palestinian inalienable rights. The Arab initiative provides
      an ideal cover for Jordanian involvement in trying to revive negotiations
      between Israelis and Palestinians. The initiative has not changed in any
      material sense since it was initially approved by the Arab League in 2002. At
      the time it was received in Israel with considerable circumspection. But quite
      dramatic changes in the regional environment in the last five years have
      produced a more positive Israeli approach toward the Arab initiative.

      Iran looms ever larger as a regional menace, filling the void in the Arab East
      left by the declining Arab states of the region. Post-Baathist Iraq is in a
      shambles but is now also a Shi'ite-dominated state, thus changing the
      historical balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites in the fertile
      crescent. It was also this Iranian-Shi'ite thrust that Israel met in Lebanon
      last summer in the Second Lebanon War. Israel and key Sunni Arab states such
      as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states now have common cause to
      stave off this projection of Iranian influence. It thus makes sense for Israel
      to take a more positive stand on the Arab initiative for geopolitical reasons
      that have to do with the regional balance of power rather than with the
      textual specifics of the initiative itself, that leave a lot to be desired
      from Israel's point of view.

      This is especially true of the paragraph on refugees that Israelis across the
      board would find unacceptable. Not only does it refer to the "right of return"
      on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which Palestinians tend to
      interpret as an unqualified right of return to Israel proper, but it
      explicitly rules out all forms of refugee resettlement. If there is to be no
      refugee resettlement, it is hard to imagine how the initiative expects to
      arrive at a formula agreeable to Israel. For refugee return to be acceptable
      to Israel, any Arab initiative would have to specify that such return would be
      to the state of Palestine and not to Israel proper. For Israel, refugee return
      must be subordinated to a two-state solution based on UN Security Council
      Resolution 242. Israel will not accept implementation of 242 as well as
      refugee return to Israel itself.

      Jordanian nationalists are keen to see Palestinian refugees returning to
      Palestine. Israel, which today more than ever after the collapse of Iraq has a
      vested interest in Jordan's stability, has no reason to object provided that
      such return is part of the two-state solution and not an instrument to
      undermine it. In the meantime, the Arab initiative should serve as an umbrella
      for Israeli-Palestinian deliberations to stabilize the situation with at least
      a protracted ceasefire. If that holds, then one may consider further forms of
      diplomatic progress.

      The Jordanians are also looking further down the road. Influential figures,
      such as former prime minister Abd al-Salam al-Majali, have revived the notion
      of a future Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. This seems to suggest a
      Jordanian realization that, if and when Israel withdraws from the West Bank,
      this landlocked territory, when disengaged from Israel, would necessarily
      become increasingly dependent on Jordan. Jordanians and Palestinians may have
      no choice but to consider some especially close relationship in the future.

      This, however, does not imply that Jordan is readying itself to negotiate
      instead of the Palestinians. It is not.- Published 31/5/2007 (c)
      bitterlemons-international.org

      Prof. Asher Susser is director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern
      and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.


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