Jordanian entrepreneur: Jordan should reannex the West Bank and grant citizenship to every Palestinian

[17-10-2021 03:06 PM]

BY Hasan Ismaik

Occam’s razor, a theory that has helped many great thinkers for centuries, states that the simplest solution is almost always the best. In light of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s ultimatum last month at the United Nations for Israel to withdraw within a year from occupied territory, perhaps now is the time for both sides to accept the wisdom of a 14th-century logician and theologian.

William of Ockham would have approved of Jordanian King Abdullah I’s solution to the so-called Palestinian problem. It was brilliant, simple and logical: annex the West Bank and grant citizenship to every Palestinian.

When Jordan annexed the West Bank in April 1950 after the 1949 armistice agreements—and after the Arab state for Palestinians envisioned by the 1947 U.N. partition plan never came into being—the entire international community, save Britain and Pakistan, was aghast at the monarch’s brazenness and, I would argue, his genius.

Jordan’s 1950 unification was one of the most fluid and best-designed political annexation processes in modern history. All Palestinians in the West Bank immediately gained Jordanian citizenship and were recognized politically in its parliament, with 30 seats for both the west and east banks. Moreover, they enjoyed the same rights as Jordanians from the East Bank.

In comparison, every attempt at a solution since the Six-Day War in June 1967 has been deeply flawed, unnecessarily complex, or downright lopsided, causing decades of unrest and hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths to both Palestinians and Israelis.

During the Six-Day War, Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and conquered the Golan Heights from Syria. Yet these areas are considered occupied territory because they were not part of Israel before the war, and territorial conquest is forbidden by international law.

The difference between a proposed Jordanian annexation agreed to by all parties and Israel’s de facto annexation (or the de jure version some on the Israeli right advocate) lies in international law. The former would be legal; the latter has been declared illegal by every international court.

Moreover, Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.”

And, lest anyone forget, in May 1967 there were not any Israelis living in the West Bank, which was then home to about 1 million Palestinians, who had been living under Jordanian control for two decades and whose ancestors had lived and farmed in the West Bank for many centuries. It can be argued, ironically enough, that because the Israeli annexationist right likes to claim that “Jordan is Palestine,” then they should support giving Israeli-occupied Palestinian land to back to Jordan.

There would naturally be many objections—especially from members of the Jordanian monarchy, Palestinian nationalists, and die-hard Jewish settlers and annexationists—but as this article will show these challenges can be overcome.

Indeed, the best hope for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is to revisit King Abdullah I’s elegant solution: annex the West Bank and grant Jordanian citizenship to every Palestinian. But now, include the Gaza Strip as well—and any Jewish settlers who wish to remain.

Cultural assimilation would not be a barrier to Jordanian unification, as an estimated 50–70 percent of Jordan’s population—myself included—is of Palestinian descent. Slightly more than 70 percent of the kingdom’s 2 million Palestinian refugees are already Jordanian citizens. In addition, many members of Jordanian political parties, both secular and Islamic, have Palestinian ancestry.

Indeed, many Jordanian officials rose to power from humble beginnings in the kingdom’s refugee camps. And there has been little conflict, largely because Jordan is the closest nation to Palestine in terms of customs, traditions, and even family lineage. And despite Gaza’s proximity to Egypt, its people are still closer to Jordan than to Egypt.

Moreover, Jordanian annexation is logical given that a large majority of non-Jordanian Palestinians have a strong favorable opinion of Jordanian King Abdullah II: 68 percent of Gazans and 77 percent of West Bankers as of 2019. In addition, a poll by An-Najah National University in May 2016 found that 42 percent of Palestinians supported union with Jordan, while another survey the same year by the Palestinian online newspaper Al-Hadath found that 76 percent of Palestinians supported a confederation with Jordan.

If properly prepared, the unification scenario—provided, of course, that Jerusalem remains an open area for all—would greatly benefit Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, other Arabs, and the entire region. All would gain not only greater peace and stability in the region but also economic growth and increased commerce through newly opened markets.

Israel would finally rid itself of the legal, reputational, and public relations burdens of its control over the West Bank and could avoid the opprobrium of the international community. It would be assured that Palestinians would not have a standing military. And its negotiations with Palestinian representatives involved in the annexation agreement would ensure that Palestinians renounce violence and support the disarmament of militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad based in Gaza.

The agreement would also guarantee Jordanian security forces allied to the United States and Israel would, as they have previously, coordinate and cooperate with Israel to guard their common borders. As a result, Israel would no longer feel the need to spend 5.6 percent of its GDP on military defense, the second-highest percentage in the world.

Israel would profit for decades from selling technology to the Arab and Islamic worlds, just as Arab markets would profit from employing Israel’s highly trained and educated professional workforce. Commerce, cooperation, and economic growth would flow in both directions. Thus, Israel would not be busy fortifying its Iron Dome against the Arabs, its neighbors, and militias such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad; its economic sector would be busy building bridges with countries that offer hundreds of millions of new clients and customers.

Some might argue that economic integration after the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement was slow and not as robust as had been hoped for. But today, the nature of the global economy is measured in nanoseconds, not years. The world has noticed the lightning speed with which joint Israeli-Emirati economic cooperation began in 2020, and it could reach the same level with a unified Jordan—especially because the need for cooperation between the two nations would be greater and more strategic due to the geographical proximity between them.

Furthermore, economic incentives and cooperation would play a major role in the negotiations within the framework of a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This would be true at the Israeli-Jordanian level after the annexation and at the Israeli-Arab level, especially because Israel is a developed country and possesses an advanced technological sector. With Arab countries in need of their technology, Israeli companies could quickly become welcomed partners in joint projects.

Economic integration would not solve the issue of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Today, about 475,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, and more than 200,000 reside in East Jerusalem. Although they are a minority and threats surround them, they chose to stay in the settlements for two main reasons: due to ideology or because the cost of living in settlements in occupied territories is lower than in Israel.

Some in the first group may insist on returning to Israel, but the second may prefer to become Jordanians—along with settlers convinced that continuing to live on what they see as sacred land is a religious duty. As a newly minted minority sector of Jordan’s citizenry, these Jewish Jordanians could even be granted a quota in the Jordanian parliament. As for those who opt to leave, the Israeli government could take a sliver of the savings that peace would bring to its enormous defense budget and use it to absorb the cost of resettlement as well as to offer affordable housing options.

Ultimately, however, to solve the most complex political issue in contemporary history would require Israel to give up its illegal occupation and accept the abandonment of the West Bank and Gaza. Granted, the idea of Jordanian annexation of these territories would not appeal to Israelis on the radical right who insist on Israeli control of what are known as Areas A, B, and C. To appease them, the heavily populated settlements near Israel’s legally recognized borders could be ceded to Israel.

That alone may not be enough. Settlers may insist that they need to protect themselves by increasing their lands, and that they do not care about resolving the conflict. Putting aside the fact that increasing their land beyond their borders is, has been, and will forever be illegal, this a legitimate concern.

The solution provided by Jordanian annexation is equally legitimate: The settlers would gain a future of peace and shared prosperity with all their neighbors, the rest of the Arab countries, and even the Islamic world. While some Israelis may think peace and prosperity would not outweigh the benefits of ongoing occupation and the status quo, they are misguided. Perhaps this is because they have never known peace. According to a 2020 poll, 49 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of West Bank Palestinians and Israeli Jews prefer to “reach a peace agreement.” They recognize that the continuation of the occupation as it stands today is not possible. In today’s ever-changing world, the survival of any status quo is a fantasy, and it is far better to design a future rather than leave it to chance.

The new arrangement must ensure that Palestinians’ and Jordanians’ identities are not threatened. Everyone must feel that they reside in their own constitutional and institutional state based upon the principles of modern citizenship. Importantly, any equation for unification must include full Jordanian citizenship and complete equality before the law so Palestinians do not feel they are immigrants or refugees with no state. Likewise, consideration must be given so Jordanians do not feel that their resources will be depleted, their state stolen, or their identity threatened. The country could therefore be renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Palestine.

Unification would lead to great economic prosperity in Jordan, mainly with new contributions from the West Bank. Before the 1967 war, the West Bank, which represented 48 percent of industrial and 53 percent of commercial establishments in the kingdom, contributed 38 percent of Jordan’s GDP. Logically, this percentage would significantly increase under a renewed unification. As for the Gaza Strip, any agreement between Jordan and Israel would require a commitment from other nations, both in the region and the West, to invest in its economic renewal.

The unification would also increase the opportunities for Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation with regard to modernizing the infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as benefiting from the energy resources located in the Mediterranean Sea within the territorial borders of the Gaza Strip and the wells and water basins in the West Bank.

Certainly, with all the issues that may arise due to unification with Gaza—chief among them the entrenchment of radical Islamic extremist organizations within the kingdom’s borders—Jordan acquiring a spot on the Mediterranean is a very important strategic consideration. Whereas Israel now illegally exploits some of these natural resources, an internationally sanctioned agreement between Israel and Jordan would establish a more equitable arrangement agreeable to both nations.

Granted, Jordan would have various conditions for unification due to the economic, administrative, and demographic pressure it would put on the kingdom. Hence, Jordan should receive international guarantees of required assistance, both financial and operational. No doubt the United States, Europe, and the Gulf states would readily agree that any funding they contribute in foreign aid and economic investment would far outweigh the estimated trillions of dollars they have already spent on wars and conflicts in the region.

Reeling from the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Jordan’s national debt and unemployment rates—which rose from 19 percent unemployment in 2019 to 24.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with youth unemployment reaching an unprecedented 50 percent—it would naturally not be open to entering a discussion of unification without first discussing the necessary reconstruction costs in the West Bank. Also under discussion would be the Palestinian camps in Jordan that lack services and infrastructure—not to mention addressing the needs of the nation’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

The kingdom should also receive legally binding guarantees from Israel against any future clashes with its military and security services. In return, Israel would receive guarantees that the Jordanian military (and perhaps other Arab nations) would help defend both the monarchy and Israel against attacks by Palestinian militant groups—as the memory of the 1970 Black September conflict, which pitted Palestinian nationalists against the Jordanian military, no doubt haunts the monarchy.

With such assurances, today’s environment of mutually assured destruction in the Middle East would be replaced by an agreement that supports mutually assured protection. In this scenario, the only losers would be nonstate terrorist organizations.

Jordanians’ fears of their state being “stolen” through unification or worries that the Hashemite monarchy may be weakened are understandable but unfounded. To address these concerns, a special agreement could be prepared during the unification dialogue that ensures the rule of the kingdom will always belong to the Hashemite family.

An added benefit to the territory becoming part of Jordan is that it would render moot the argument the Jordanian government has employed to arbitrarily and without notice withdraw Jordanian nationality from its citizens of Palestinian origin. The excuse has been that it is helping maintain the birthright of Palestinians to live in the West Bank and thereby forestalling Israeli efforts to colonize the area.

Finally, there would be objections from Palestinian nationalists, both secular and Islamist, who would reject the effective end of their national movement. However, the trade-off of serving on an elected council that handles all affairs in the West Bank and Gaza region—not to mention the abolition of what is often humiliating and dehumanizing Israeli influence over daily life—should outweigh any objections to the demise of what many Palestinians already view as a nationalist pipe dream.

What unites Palestinians and Jordanians in particular is ultimately far stronger than what unites the rest of the Arab world. And to those committed Palestinian nationalists who would rather wage a never-ending war to secure an independent homeland, I would argue it is far better to embrace citizenship and peace in an adopted homeland than to fight another six decades for the mere possibility of one.

After all, the nationalist movements active in the Palestinian territories originated and developed in response to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the fear of obliterating the Arab identity of the Palestinians. Therefore, if an international agreement on the unification of the two banks is reached with international guarantees, the justification for these movements’ existence will end with the annexation process. A cynic might suggest that this is the greatest fear of nationalist movements.

Weak movements such as Hamas and Fatah would have no choice but to accept the fait accompli. Their only option would be to achieve their goals politically through parties and parliament. The energies and fervor of their leaders would better serve the Palestinian people in the Jordanian House of Representatives. Palestinian nationalism would not cease to exist, but its proponents could join a parliament through which they could help steer the destiny of their people—arguably more than at present under the Palestinian Authority’s undemocratic rule.

Finally, Jordanian unification does not in any way equate with what the Israelis called the “Jordanian option,” which aimed to kill the Palestinian cause and make Jordan a tool rather than a major party in it. And those who think that unification of the two banks is merely a process of annexing the Palestinian territories to Jordan in exchange for solving the kingdom’s economic crisis are also mistaken.

Palestinian leaders—secular, political, military, and religious—must have seats at the negotiating table with Jordan and Israel. As with any negotiation, no agreement should be deemed legitimate unless and until the concerns from all sides are heard and resolved.

While there are countless complex wrinkles to iron out, discussing Jordanian unification would be a vast improvement over the plan submitted in June 2020 by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump in which Israel would have unilaterally annexed up to 30 percent of the West Bank as well as a chunk of land along the bank’s boundary with Jordan.

The international outcry against the Netanyahu-Trump “deal of the century” was swift and unanimous. A month after the Palestinian prime minister warned that the Palestinians might declare an independent state on most of the West Bank if Israel annexed land there, the U.N.’s Middle East envoy declared that Israeli annexation and Palestinian countersteps “would dramatically shift local dynamics and most likely trigger conflict and instability in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab states at the time to have signed peace treaties with Israel, also warned that they would need to reconsider their relations with Israel if annexation went ahead, as did other countries.

Two months later, Israel suspended its plan. The next month, it signed historic diplomatic agreements at the White House with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Jordanian unification would bring an even greater economic and security dividend.

With all other attempted solutions having failed miserably, it is time to think creatively. The Occam’s razor of Jordanian unification could cut the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all.


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