Rejection of President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” by Palestinian leaders has resulted in a stalemate that leaves Palestinians who desire national self-determination frustrated and angry. The problem is because of the fixation on creating a Palestinian state only west of the Jordan River. This has prevented thinking about any other options.
For the last three decades, based on the Oslo Accords, the international community has tried to resolve the dispute over Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) by creating an autonomous area for Palestinians under a “Palestinian Authority” – but not a state – while allowing for some Israeli settlements.
Promoted as a “peace agreement,” it soon proved to be a failure. The reason is that it was based on the false assumption that Arab and Palestinian leaders wanted peace with Israel. Rather than moving toward peace, the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations only made the situation worse. Unsatisfied with what they were given, local autonomy, they continue to condemn Israel and support terrorism.
Empowering the PA/PLO, while ignoring Jordan’s role as the essential part of the “two-state solution,” was a conceptual mistake. This denied the reality that there already is an Arab Palestinian state: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Created in April 1921 by the British during their rule over the Palestine Mandate, Jordan declared war against Israel in 1948 and occupied Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967. After Jordan attacked Israel in 1967 and lost the war, many Arab Palestinians moved to Jordan; in 1988, the king renounced all claims to the West Bank, and in 1994, he signed a peace treaty with Israel. Arab Palestinians in the West Bank demand a state along the 1949 armistice lines, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of those who fled. Israel has refused.
A new perspective that focuses on helping Jordan become more productive will strengthen the monarchy, bring regional stability and security, and offer an alternative to empowering corrupt, terrorist-supporting dictatorships run by the PA/PLO and Hamas.
Although Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has many excellent aspects, it is too expensive and wasteful. Instead of supporting a failed Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, funding should be directed to projects that would help Jordan develop its vast uninhabited areas. Only 3.3 % of Jordan’s land is arable, and only about 1.2 % is planted for permanent crops. Out of Jordan’s nearly 92,000 square kilometers, only 750 square kilometers are irrigated for seasonal crops.
Jordan’s public debt is 96% of its GDP. Its GDP growth is a dismal 2%. Unemployment varies between 20% and 40%. Heavily dependent on foreign aid, Jordan needs help to become thriving, successful and independent.
In order for Jordan to flourish, however, it needs water. Providing water would enable it to extend its population centers to its desolate North and East. Abundant water sources in Turkey and the Caspian Sea – the largest body of freshwater in the world – could be tapped and piped to Jordan, turning it into an oasis, providing jobs, building cities, producing agricultural products, enabling business, hi-tech and industrial centers, and creating regional stability and economic development. The cost would be a fraction of what Trump’s plan proposes to give the PA/PLO – and it can and should be funded by Arab countries.
Moreover, A precedent for this project exists – the Jordan Compact, a program sponsored by the international community (mostly EU countries and the World Bank) to contain the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq who moved to Jordan. In return for caring for them, Jordan receives billions of euros in assistance, loans and export advantages. Similar programs exist in African and North African countries. The idea behind the Jordan Compact is to meet a humanitarian crisis, but eventually (hopefully) the refugees will return to their countries of origin; Jordan is not interested in integrating them. Arab Palestinians from the West Bank, however, are different. Many have relatives who are Jordanians and they could help develop Jordan’s economy. Israel can also contribute to this process.
A rail link between Haifa and Jordan would connect Jordan with European markets, and from there to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, making it an economic trade center. The recently rebuilt rail line between Haifa and Beit She’an is the beginning of this plan.
Jordan has the largest Palestinian population in the world, more than the West Bank and Gaza together; nearly three-fourths of its inhabitants are “Palestinian,” and Jordan has granted them citizenship, the only Arab country to do so. Even their national flags are almost the same. Another Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, and an additional one in the Gaza Strip, are not only unnecessary, but they would remain volatile failures and further attempts to destroy Israel.
A Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines would threaten Israel’s existence. Moreover, it would not resolve the issue of Arab Palestinian “refugees” and their descendants living in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, supported by UNRWA. Creating a failed PLO state, therefore, would not solve any problems; it would compound them.
Arabs living in UNRWA-administered towns in Lebanon and Syria should be allowed to become citizens in their host countries, or allowed to emigrate. International-aid programs should be operated only by countries, not by UNRWA. Arabs who live in Israel and PA-controlled areas and consider themselves to be “Palestinian” and seek “self-determination” can move to a Jordanian-Palestinian state if they wish. Those who prefer to stay under Israeli control can do so with full civil, but not national rights – as is now the case. Non-Israeli Arabs who wish to remain under Israeli sovereignty as permanent residents could apply for Israeli citizenship; or, if they choose, they could remain as citizens in PA-administrated areas, or as Jordanian citizens living in Israel. The choice is theirs. They need other options.
A two-state solution – Israel and Jordan – is in the national interests of both countries and Arab Palestinians. It would bring peace and prosperity and ensure the security and stability of the region.
A Jordanian-Israeli confederation would replace failure and despair with hope and opportunity; it would inspire creativity, cooperation, and freedom – the raison d’être of nation-states.
To honor Jordan’s upcoming centennial, King Abdullah should proclaim to Arab Palestinians: “My brothers and sisters, the Nakba is over; let’s work together to build our nation, Inshallah. Welcome Home!”
*Moshe Dann is a Ph.D. historian, writer, and journalist in Israel.
*This commentary was published by The Jerusalem Post on March 15, 2020, and re-published here with the author’s permission.