Is Jordan-Palestine Confederation Back on Negotiating Table?

19-12-2012 12:00 AM

Ammon News - By Daoud Kuttab

AMMONNEWS - The decision by the vast majority of UN members to recognize Palestine as an “observer state” has paved the way for more creative solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

One of the less-talked-about advantages of the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution recognizing Palestine on the 1967 borders is that it permanently ended Israeli claims that these are disputed, rather than occupied, territories. Israel’s convoluted claims are based on the legal statuses of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to their occupation in June 1967. Before Israel’s occupation, the Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt, while the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Although Israel has unilaterally withdrawn its settlers and troops from Gaza, it has annexed East Jerusalem and has no intention of ceding most of the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and considers this land God-given territory for the Jewish people.

Israel’s claims that these are disputed territories are based on the fact that only two countries, both allies of Jordan (Britain and Pakistan) recognized Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank. This argument was advanced to lend legal status to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories as late as June 2012 by an Israeli government-appointed panel headed by Judge Edmund Levy.

By siding with the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which emphasized the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” the world body has restored logic to the debate over the state of the occupied territories. And by recognizing Palestine based on the 1967 borders, 138 countries, including three permanent security-council members, have totally dwarfed Israeli apologists' claims that this was a disputed area because only two countries had recognized Jordanian sovereignty over it.

But while Jordan has since 1988 formally ceded any claims to the West Bank, it remains a key player to any political breakthrough. For years, Israelis from both left and right have wished for a role for the Hashemites in Palestine. Those from the Israeli Labor Party, like Yigal Alon, have suggested a direct role for Jordan in controlling the West Bank, whereas right-wing Israelis have repeatedly called for a Palestinian state to be set up in Jordan.

Suggestions for a Jordanian-Palestinian agreement as a way of ending the Israeli occupation have fluctuated. The idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation was negotiated at the summit level without any conclusions. The late PLO leader Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) was quoted as saying that Palestinians want "five minutes of independence" before agreeing to confederate with Jordan. At the Madrid peace talks, Palestinians acquiesced to an Israeli request to have a joint Palestinian-Jordanian team to negotiate the status of the Palestinian territories. But when the issue of confederation became an Israeli precondition, the late King Hussein said that he didn’t want to ever hear the term “confederation" again.

For years, King Hussein had his wish, and the topic was muted, until now. With the majority of world countries recognizing Palestine on the 1967 borders, and with the change of leadership in both the PLO and Jordan, the idea has again started to creep back into political discourse. Former crown prince Hassan Bin Talal broke the issue last October speaking at a charity event of Palestinian citizens of Jordan, saying that the West Bank was constitutionally still part of Jordan. One of the Fatah founders, Farouk Qaddoumi, followed weeks later in an interview with the London-based Al Quds al Arabi supporting a Jordanian role in the West Bank. While the prince and Qaddoumi have no official standing these days, the topic of confederation received new life last week when it was revealed that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked senior Fatah officials to prepare for a possible Palestine-Jordan confederation.

The trust that Israelis have in the Jordanian leadership will reduce some opposition by Israelis to cede West Bank territory, but is unlikely to be enough to please Palestinians, nor will it fulfill the requirements of a confederation, namely that it is an agreement between two independent states.

But while a plan to enter into a confederation with Jordan will put many Israelis at ease, it is unlikely to play well in most nationalist Palestinian or Jordanian circles. Palestinians might reluctantly agree to any process that will ensure the end of the four-decades-old Israeli occupation, East Bank Jordanian nationalists will strongly oppose it, fearing that it will further erode a unique Jordanian identity because of the fact that more than half of Jordanian citizens are of Palestinian origin.

Foreknowledge of the long-term status of the Palestinian territories might play well in the hands of local, regional and international negotiators. Nevertheless, the road to a truly independent and contiguous Palestinian state in the West bank and Gaza, including Jerusalem, and the resolution of the refugee problem are still far off.

* Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and media activist. He is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University. Kuttab is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit media organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region.

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