Hassan Barari
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
December 8, 2011 - 1:00am

For Jordan, the impasse of the Israeli-Palestinian track could not be more threatening. Time and time again, King Abdullah II has stressed that the failure of a two-state solution would be detrimental to the national security of his country. For this reason, Amman has pushed both Palestinians and Israelis to get their act together and hammer out an historic deal to allay the fears of Jordanians.

Two weeks ago, the king made a rare visit to Ramallah to meet President Mahmoud Abbas and discuss ways of resuming peace negotiations with Israel. Implicit in this visit was Jordan's desire to play a role after Egypt had pulled back from its longstanding status as third party and bridge between Israel and the rest of the Arabs. Also, the king received Israeli President Shimon Peres in Amman to discuss ways of reviving the stalled peace process.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jordan--after having been kept in the dark for years regarding Palestinian-Israeli interactions--is looking for ways to expand its regional role. Indeed, Jordanians have begun to feel that they cannot afford to sit idly by while regional developments sweep the region at an alarming rate. The timing of the Ramallah visit was very important as Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political bureau in Damascus, is expected to visit Jordan soon. Almost ten years after being expelled from Jordan, Hamas leaders seek to mend fences with Amman in case the regime in Syria falls. Explicit in the king's latest moves is a message to Hamas leaders that in reconciling with them Jordan is not about to shift gears and change its diplomacy concerning the desired outcome of the peace process.

Public debate in Jordan has focused for some time on threatening Israeli moves in Jerusalem. The Mughrabi bridge issue is a source of concern for Jordanians who have little faith in the Israeli government. Additionally, statements coming from Israeli right-wing politicians have reinforced deep-seated suspicions of Israel's intentions vis-a-vis Jordan. The notion that "Jordan is Palestine", reiterated recently by the Israeli right wing, is seen as a recipe for instability in Jordan. Islamists and anti-Wadi Araba peace treaty forces never miss an opportunity to play up these statements. They feel that they are vindicated by anti-Jordan statements by Israelis like Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad, who has publicly demanded the transformation of Jordan into a Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine.

Thus Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's statement to the effect that Jordan is not Palestine resonated well with the palace. He is quoted on November 14 as having said that "those who say that Jordan is Palestine are mostly harming Israel . . . . [T]hat would create a continuous Palestinian state which would endanger us. It is in our interest for this not to happen." This statement seemingly urged the king, after bilateral relations had reached a low point, to finally accept dialogue with an Israeli representative. Needless to say, the Jordanian public views Lieberman in particular as someone who will not hesitate to destabilize Jordan if this serves his concept of Israel's interests.

Domestically, the king feels weakened by the protest movement. His obvious ineffectiveness in swaying the Israeli government has only further rendered the kingdom vulnerable to unpredictable regional developments. Against this backdrop, the king has been proactive in creating the conditions for peace negotiations.

Yet, far from feeling assured, Amman does not fully trust the Palestinian Authority. Jordan-PLO relations have always been uneasy. Mutual mistrust between Amman and the Palestine Liberation Organization has led many Jordanians not to trust the Palestinians to negotiate final status issues. Some Israeli strategists such as Major General (res.) Giora Eyland suggest a Jordanian role, complicated as it may look, in the West Bank. This new thinking is a reflection of the eclipse of a two-state solution. In his many meetings with Israelis, the king has made it clear that he has no ambition whatsoever to control any part of the West Bank.

The idea of Jordan-Palestine unity or confederation is seen by a majority of Jordanians as a euphemism for implementation of the "alternative homeland". The Jordanian press contains a plethora of articles and op-ed pieces making the case against any type of confederation with the Palestinian territories lest this trigger evacuation of Palestinians from their land across the Jordan.

If anything, Jordan seeks a solution that can strengthen its stability and national identity. The official thinking in Amman is that rapprochement with Hamas, coordination with the PA, and intensifying relations with Israelis help serve Jordan in its bid to avoid the regional ramifications of stalemate in the peace process.


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