Jerusalem is not Byzantium: A thoughtful reading- Again

[30-10-2021 10:14 AM]

By Dr. Riad Shreim

In form and content, “thoughtful reading”, might be one of the most arduous challenges for the Arab writer, especially if it is established based on an “objective” methodology that attempts to read the “subject” critically and analytically by editing it, first, from a lot that was not part or included in it.

The topic presented for reading here is again Hasan Ismaik’s article “Unite Jordan and Palestine - again”, which was published on Foreign Policy. While the first reading was published on the (Ammon News) website on 10/20/2021 under the title “A Quiet Reading of a Hot Topic,” this reading deal with the topic from "Criticizing the Criticism" perspective, and through choosing Oraib Al-Rantawi's article that is published on the (Amman Net) website on 10/24/2021, under the title “On Hasan Ismaik’s thesis… What is left of the bearskin to fight for.” A “smart” article by an expert writer who does not lack experience nor distinctive eloquence.

In its general context, Al-Rantawi’s article begins the writer’s excusing for his “ignorance” of “Hasan Ismaik,” the author of the thesis, which he had never heard of before, and then ends with an expression of the right to “legitimate skepticism” of the thesis due to several connotations, including the “identity of its author”! And between the contradiction of the introduction and the conclusion, Al-Rantawi writes about the “sensitivities, fears, and concerns” that the thesis awakened - although just describing it as “thesis” means that it carries something “new”, regardless of the position on it, contrary to what Al-Rantawi mentioned that it "is neither new nor absolutely serious" - then devotes two paragraphs to talk about a meeting that took place twenty years ago in the house of the late Asim Ghosheh to prove that the idea is not new and to prove that the idea is not serious.

Al-Rantawi then mentions four historical facts to recall: the incident of the first Jordanian initiative to restore the occupied territories, in return of a Jordanian-Israeli peace immediately after the June defeat, which won the support of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, unhesitatingly, the late King Hussein bin Talal’s attempt to annex the West Bank by the “step by step” path following the October 1973 war, the late King’s attempt to regain the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1987, two years after the Palestinian-Jordanian Joint Action Agreement, and the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat attempted to extract, at Camp David, an Israeli pledge to withdraw from the West Bank, but to no avail. The conclusion is, as Al-Rantawi writes, that “Israel will not budge one iota from its project to swallow up the West Bank and Jerusalem,” which was confirmed “after nearly three decades of frivolous Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.”

The reason, or Israel's problem, according to Al-Rantawi, is that “the West Bank, and in particular Jerusalem, lies deep in the national and religious ideology of the Zionist movement,” not “who will rule the West Bank or manage it after its evacuation.” Then he points out that he went too far in citing the evidence of theoretical misery of "Unite Jordan and Palestine", it is understood that he meant here the above-mentioned four historical facts, and the previous observations. Then he provides explanations for presenting such a thesis/theory, such as impotence, a sense of defeat, conspiracy theory, and the significance of the thesis’s location, time, and the identity of its owner, in addition to that the thesis was maybe “designed” out of premeditation, to create a wedge between and between Jordan and Palestine, and between Jordanians and Palestinians, and to weaken the immunity of both sides, in the climates of the “extended deal of the century” and “Abraham’s normalization path,” and efforts to install an alternative leadership to the PLO and to target Jordan with the “sedition” project.

The conclusion of Al-Rantawi’s article focuses on the conclusion that "those who call us to unite Jordan and Palestine again, are wearing this beautiful dress, to cover up the essence of the only “real” and “possible” project: Israel wants to separate from the Palestinians and keep their land at the same time", and that they" don't dare to clarify: which Palestine are they talking about."

Let's start a quiet reading again from criticizing the criticism perspective contained in Rantawi's article for Ismaik's thesis, and start it with what is supposed to be "intuitive", "logical" and "objective" in the world of professional writing, i.e. discussion of "ideas" not "persons" and away from a priori recording “situations”, starting from proven “premises” and directly related to the case, to the desired “results” as truthful or logically real results, adhering to the limits of the “topic” under discussion, and not deviating from it except for a necessity dictated by the same topic, and thus, we do not fall into dancing around it.

In this context, we are not concerned with the personality of the author of the thesis, neither insult nor praise will help us, because the proposed “idea” imposes itself (as old or new) by its nature related to the “destiny” of all of us in Jordan and Palestine, and it goes without saying that all of us has the “right” to discuss it. In the same context, it does not seem “logical” to start from a prejudicial “conclusion” that ridicules the discussion that was raised about the idea, describing it as a lot of “ambiguity”, and then goes back to talking about the “sensitivity” of the thesis and the place of residence of its author who nobody ever heard of before, in the beginning, then who is well-known and his identity constitutes a sign of suspicion, in the conclusion, as a reason to care about the idea, and the contradictions, and even the logical fallacies, are not hidden in all of that, all just in first paragraph of the article.

The second paragraph talks about the fears and apprehensions of another aspect: the blocked paths of the "two-state solution" and the increased need to develop options and alternatives, as well as the "Abrahamic context" of Arab-Israeli normalization, and anticipation of a "new Dahlanism" (in reference to Mohammed Dahlan). The question here, and based on our agreement with Al Rantawi regarding (the blocked paths of the “two-state solution”) is: Is the need to formulate options and alternatives to that blockage “exclusively” linked to the same Abrahamic context? Is every attempt to think of options and alternatives is classified as “new Dahlanism”? Why and how was the link between these two in the second paragraph of Al Rantawi's article?

In the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth paragraphs, we agree with Al Rantawi that the idea in itself is not new, and it doesn't need evidence randomly chosen. However, we shall ask a question about the “seriousness” of the idea, as Rantawi links its seriousness to “proving that Israel will show a willingness to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and hand them over to the Jordanian leadership.” The question is: On what basis is the author of the idea required to prove the “seriousness” of Israel? And why? Unless the "seriousness" here is directed towards Israel and not to the idea of getting rid of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and this is clear "arbitrary" in linking - between the owner of the idea and the Israeli position - and the conclusion, not to mention that achieving this "proof" solves the problem in the first place and ends the debate about the "feasibility" of the idea, and it's meaning.

Al Rantawi devoted paragraphs seventh to the twelfth to four important historical facts, after which he refers that he “went too far in citing the evidence of theoretical misery of "Unite Jordan and Palestine", from that it is understood that that evidence is those four historical facts previously discussed. Here the “arbitrary” in linking the premises and their result, or between the evidence and judging the “misery” of the theory that results from it, emerges again. How does Al Rantawi conclude that the failure of the Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian attempts to restore the occupied lands in 67 are evidence of the theoretical misery of Unite Jordan and Palestine? Or where is the logical link between this evidence and the conclusion on which it was based? By a way of analogy, does the failure of attempts to liberate Palestine, since the moment of British colonialism in 1917, then the Zionist occupation in 1948 until today, mean describing the national liberation project as “misery”? It seems that Rantawi has gone further than simple logic can bear!

In the thirteenth paragraph, Al Rantawi writes: “The problem is that the West Bank, and in particular Jerusalem, lies deep in the national and religious Zionist movement’s ideology,” and “the growing weight of the (settlement lobby) in Israeli politics turns what was difficult before into something impossible today.” We may partially agree with Al Rantawi here, but we add that this is “part” of the problem and not the whole problem, but even if we agree that this is the current problem, shouldn’t the questions then be directed towards ways to “defeat” that thought and its settlement project on the ground, and not standing at the threshold of “impossibility” beyond which there are no options?

Again, Al Rantawi writes about the problem in the fourteenth paragraph as it "lies in the continuing and ruling repercussions of the Nakba and defeat, and the problem lies in the conviction of increasing segments of the Israeli public opinion, that they can preserve the results of the two wars." The question here: Don't these "repercussions and consequences" need some careful clarification by Al Rantawi? Then: How does Al Rantawi see the way to solve this "doubled" problem in its two dimensions: after the repercussions and consequences, and the Israeli public opinion? That is what the article did not answer.

The fifteenth and sixteenth paragraphs contain “explanations for the presentation of such a thesis by its author, such as impotence, a sense of defeat, conspiracy theory, and the significance of the thesis’s place and time, and the identity of its author...”. With regard to the conspiracy theory, which is “justified”, according to Al-Rantawi, the reader has the right to be fully informed of these justifications and judge them by virtue of the high gravity of the issue, and not rely on Al-Rantawi’s “convince” that the thesis may have been “designed” from premeditation and insistence ... etc. Because this conviction based on "maybe" is not an objective "argument" for constructing such a big assumption. As for the issue of powerlessness and a sense of defeat, who among us does not suffer from them? And “wasn’t it more appropriate and appropriate to admit defeat,” says Edward Said, instead of drowning in the labyrinth of illusions of false victories from which there is no other way out?!

The seventeenth paragraph, which is short, is summarized to “the most dangerous and bloodiest civil conflicts are those that acquire an (identity) character, and we have seen how anger flared up in Jordan and Palestine as a result of the attempt to (move) this issue again.” The straightforward question is: Where is the burning anger while the topic is not going further than some few virtual salons on the Internet? And how did that anger appear when the whole issue did not go beyond the degree of "agitation" in the reactions, as described by Al-Rantawi himself at the beginning of the article? Why is the "identity" character being inserted in this context?

As for the eighteenth paragraph, it is ambiguous, as it indicates (that those who call us to unite Jordan and Palestine again, are using with this beautiful dress, to cover up the essence of the only “real” and “possible” project: Israel wants to break away from the Palestinians and keep their land at the same time.) The ambiguity appears in using the terms “realistic” and “possible” to describe the Israeli project. The question is: Does this description of the Israeli project represent Al-Rantawi's point of view? Or does it represent the viewpoint of those who call for a reunification of Jordan and Palestine, as Al-Rantawi sees it? Or is it the point of view of Israel itself? The first case means a real "disaster". The second is nothing more than an arbitrary claim mired in generalization, in regard of “those who call for a reunification”, and ignores "objective citation" in relation to Ismaik's proposition, which called for annexation of both the land and the citizens. The third case is not part of our discussion, as the Israeli project remains the problem, regardless of how it is described.

The paragraph before the last is rhetorical, non-objective and repetitive of the conspiracy theory. It is rhetorical as it uses the concepts of "the holy river" and "relationship desecration" in the context of criticizing a political idea; and subjective in claiming to know the "advocates!" Moreover, the idea of idea of the limits that Israel will allow for the Jordanian role or " option" despite that the "advocate" of the idea clarified his position on that option in the sense referred to by Al-Rantawi, repeats a hypothetical conspiracy theory without evidence.

The main point of the last paragraph is when Al-Rantawi says: “Those who call for the unification of Jordan and Palestine do not dare to explain: Which Palestine are they talking about?” Even though I have substantially disagreed with those whom Al-Rantawi refers to, they had the courage to clarify that the Palestine they are referring to is "the West Bank and Gaza Strip". However: Did Al-Rantawi explain to his readers which "Palestine" he is talking about? What are his premises on which he bases his positions, so that the dialogue will be very transparent and clear?

All the above brings us back to the first reading of Hasan Ismik's idea again, which in the opinion did not go beyond the limits of an "idea", basically gaining its significance from the context, timing, subject, and possible effect. It came in the context of the “death” of the two-state solution, and at a time of unprecedented acceleration in the annexation and Judaization of the West Bank. Also, it dealt with an old topic with a new approach that was full of loopholes, thus having the potential to change the political waters that have stagnated for years.

The death of the two-state solution is no longer an opinion but a "fact" supported by numbers on the ground, together with clear Israeli positions both from the government and opposition, which have publicly declared the solution dead. As for the numbers, it is enough to say that the area of the occupied West Bank, with Jerusalem at its heart, is about 5860 square kilometers (21 percent of the area of historical Palestine), and the number of its original citizens is more than 3.2 million. According to Khalil Tafakji, settlement expert and director of the map department at the Orient House in Jerusalem, 60% of the West Bank area is under Israeli control, as natural reserves, closed military zones, or C Areas under Israeli administrative and security control.

As of the end of 2019, there were 151 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and 688,262 settlers, according to the report of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Noting that their number increased from 268,756 settlers in 1993 to 379,099 in 2000, and then to 688,262 by the end of 2019.

At the same time, Israel has been accelerating annexation and Judaization in the occupied West Bank in an unprecedented manner. The latest example was the announcement of tenders for the construction of about 1,300 new settlement units on October 24, 2021, and the discussion of proposals for an additional 3,000 units. Before that, construction was underway on a central bus station for settlers near the Za'tara checkpoint that separates central from northern West Bank. This project will include more than 300 bus stops to transport settlers between the northern West Bank, Jordan Valley, the south, and Tel Aviv. In addition to the expansion of Street 55, which runs from Street 6 (aka Trans-Israel), which connects the Israeli city of Kfar Saba to settlements in the northern West Bank, to Road 60, east of the Qedumim settlement to Nablus. Moreover, 5650 settlement units are planned to be built adjacent to this street. According to Israeli media, all of this is part of the so-called "Transportation Revolution" for settlement roads in the occupied West Bank, as well as improving infrastructure services within the framework of the Israeli government's plan to bring one million new settlers to West Bank settlements.

As for the old, yet ever recurring topic raised by Ismaik's idea, it would be sufficient to recall the my most important criticism of the first reading in terms of the absence of a legal justification for annexing the Gaza Strip to the union; ignoring the major settlement blocs in the heart of the occupied West Bank (Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim, and Gush Etzion); ignoring Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon; ignoring Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons; the attitude toward the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people on the basis of Arab and international recognition, having the legal and political guardianship over the Palestinian National Authority; the mechanisms for ensuring the democratic nature of the solution (elections, referendums); as well as remaining silent about how to implement such a solution and the mechanisms to obligate Israel in all its details.

The possible effect of the "idea" remains, in my opinion, which should be referred to in extensive points, which are:

First, Although flawed, the idea offers a unique opportunity to stir up political waters that have stagnated for many years, to confront what is happening on the ground every day in the occupied West Bank, and by creating possibilities for "salvation" from occupation, settlement, and Judaization. This requires expanding the discussion on the subject until it reaches “those who it may concern” of leaders, decision-makers and the masses in Jordan, Palestine and abroad.

It is okay if the idea is “blasted” to its foundations if the context of the road towards “salvation” requires so, but not before that, and it is not from the gates of the hypothetical “Byzantine debate” about the size of Satan and the eye of the needle, because Jerusalem is not Byzantium, and it should not be.

Second, solidly standing in tandem behind the real Palestine, historical and natural Palestine, or raising the slogan (all or nothing) which does not award “holiness” upon its advocate or exempt him from liability, or place him above the levels of criticism and questioning.

Third, let the battle begin from the heart of the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, and in the name of Jerusalem. Let the first practical step be to develop the concept of religious “custodianship” over Jerusalem and the holy sites, which is agreed upon by Palestinians and Jordanians, to be an entry point for full political sovereignty (Jordanian / Palestinian, Arab, Islamic) through the channels of international legitimacy and the International Criminal Court and others. First, Jerusalem must be "liberated" from the cancer of occupation and settlements, (So for this let the competitors compete).

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