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French Version

The siren song of a 'Jordan solution'

In the last few months, Palestinians of different stripes received invitations to cross the Jordan River for a dialogue with the Jordanian monarch. However, coming back, many of these Palestinians were confused as to the timing and the content of the Jordanian message and where it might lead us all.

There are four major aspects of Jordanian-Palestinian relations that will continue to govern each side's positions, interests and needs depending on the vision, mission and power of their respective leaderships.

First, geographically, Jordan and Palestine lie at the heart of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East and they share each other's longest borders. Second, in spite of having developed their distinct national and domestic identities, both Palestinians and Jordanians are deeply rooted in the Arab house. Third, the Zionist movement challenged both entities, wanting Palestine as an exclusively Jewish homeland and Jordanian territory to be used either to assimilate the Palestinian people (starting with the refugees of 1948) or to "Palestinize" Jordan. And fourth, the Palestinian and Jordanian relationship went through rough and tumultuous stages due to the previous three factors. The open wounds will not easily heal.

Arab unity was built around two concepts: One was unity itself and the other was liberation for Palestine. But this idea of Arab unity failed to resurrect itself after the Syrian disengagement from the United Arab Republic in 1961, and the Palestinian liberation movement was crippled as it has been crippled since by both internal and external conflicts.

Thus, today the world's longest-running occupation, that of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and the absence of a political horizon, are creating a regional culture of fear because of the uncertainty they create for Palestine and the Palestinians and the impact this might have in the region, particularly in Jordan. Jordanian officials have already conveyed their "disappointment" with the performance of the Palestinian leadership and their concern regarding the rise to power of Palestinian Islamists and their growing connections in Amman. The Jordanians are also unhappy with the vacuum of law and order in occupied Palestinian areas. However, they also reaffirm having no interest in future re-involvement in Palestine. It has enough problems with the refugees from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine as well its cold relations with Syria.

Saudi King Abdullah's initiative to personally meet with various Palestinians allowed the monarch to gain first-hand knowledge of the post-Arafat Palestinian agenda and to introduce the Arab summit initiative of 2007 as an "umbrella" to free Palestinians from the prison they are in. It is a similar initiative to the Jordanian "umbrella" for the Palestinians during their intifada of 1987 and the formation of the joint delegation to the international Madrid conference in 1991.

But Islamists and misleading Western reports have found fertile ground in Jordan's approach to the crisis in Palestine. In particular, the question of Jerusalem and the holy places - a major component of Jordanian-Palestinian concern, especially in light of the "Israelization" policies and practices of recent years in the city - has been a target of Islamist criticism. The Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of 1994 emphasized that Jordan is to enjoy custodianship over the holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem. This legal responsibility for Jordan is to be respected by Israel and for the time being shared with the Palestinians. In other words, there is a confused relationship over the issue between the occupier, Israel, the indigenous Palestinians, and the "guardians," the Jordanians.

To Jordan's Islamists, the question of Jerusalem is a political card, providing them with fodder to criticize the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships for failing to stop Israel's creeping Israelization of the city. In addition, Islamists have argued that Israeli-Jordanian relations on the matter amount to nothing other than a business relationship. At the recent Aqaba meeting of May 2007, there was no discussion of Jerusalem and no cohesive Palestinian position on the ideas put forth during the meetings. Only a small window for businessmen opened in which a "Palestinian-Israeli Business Council" was established with a vague agenda contradicting the current political environment.

Issues of security and the economy have prompted right-wing Israeli voices to call for greater Jordanian involvement in the Occupied Territories, in the hope this would lead to a "Jordanian solution" for what is left of the West Bank. Today we have four isolated Palestinian cantons: around Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, and in Gaza. These cantons have no leaderships, political elites, or family notables as in the 1950s and 1980s. All have special crossings: Jericho for the West Bank and Rafah for Gaza.

In this atmosphere, the "Jordanian solution" has seemed strangely attractive to some. In large part, this is due to the internal Palestinian situation. The occupation has encouraged Palestinian infighting, which has devaluated the Palestinian cause among Arab countries as well as in the West, in addition to creating an ever-growing gap between Hamas and Fatah, in spite of the supposed unity government.

There are those who have seized on Jordanian and Egyptian activities on the Palestinian front to push the two countries to make dramatic moves. However, it would be political suicide for Jordan and Egypt to take on direct administrative roles or security missions in the Palestinian territories. These should continue to be the responsibility of the Quartet and regional parties who seek to end the Israeli occupation and apply the two-state solution. The Arab initiative came 40 years late, was sent to the wrong address and arrived in Palestine and Israel at a time when there is an absence of charismatic leaders. It is time to re-address the Arab initiative to an international conference and to pressure the UN Security Council to apply its own resolutions to end the occupation.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi heads the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, PASSIA, in Jerusalem. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter

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