The Jordanian option is back
by Michael BAR-ZOHAR
May. 12, 2009
In a speech in Turkey, US President Barack Obama stressed his commitment to the "two-state solution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like him, many world leaders and Israeli statesmen keep repeating the two-state formula as if it were a magic spell.
One wonders if all those who parrot that mantra also understand what it means. In his speech Obama said the Israelis should try to see the problem through Palestinian eyes. But he should have done the same; if he had really tried to understand the Palestinian plight, he should have looked for a different solution.
The total area of the West Bank is 2,270 square miles, less than half the size of Los Angeles County. Out of this territory, the Judean desert occupies more than a third - 775 square miles. Does anybody believe that this tiny slice of territory, sandwiched between Israel and Jordan, will provide enough living space for the local 2.4 million Palestinians, and for millions of Palestinian refugees who will return to their homeland?
Moreover, 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, on a territory of 141 square miles; those who want to give them a decent chance in life will have to transfer most of them to other parts of Palestine, namely the West Bank. Would the West Bank will be able to absorb another million Palestinians on its poor, arid territory?
One can imagine the poor masses of Palestinians looking over the border at the flourishing State of Israel, or coming to do manual work in its cities and watching the high-rises, the shiny new cars, the hi-tech tycoons, the elegant women, the investors flocking from all over the world. Wouldn't they be bitter and frustrated? Wouldn't they listen to the inflammatory speeches of hatred or revenge by their radical leaders, accusing Israel of taking their land? Wouldn't they be inclined to choose once again the path of terror and violence?
It appears that the supporters of the two-state solution are determined to give the Palestinians a state that would not be able to sustain itself economically.
But this isn't all. Everybody agrees that the state of Palestine should be demilitarized forever, and denied the right to sign defense agreements with other Muslim countries. Thus from its inception, the Palestinian state will have limited sovereignty. The very symbol of independence - the right to have their own army - will be denied to the Palestinians. That will be another source of frustration, and young Palestinians will be deeply hurt in their pride. Moderate Palestinian leaders who will try to reason with their people will find themselves overpowered by extremist leaders preaching violence.
IS THERE no solution, therefore, to the plight of the Palestinians? There is one, but it goes far beyond the childish two-state approach. It must be a regional solution, and it has to include at least Jordan or, even better, Jordan and Egypt.
The main part of the solution is a plan that some Israelis have named "the Jordanian option." It is based on the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian federation.
The Palestinian state will have to enter into a federation with Jordan. Jordan is a largely uninhabited country that possesses huge tracts of land where the excess population of the West Bank, Gaza and the returning refugees can establish new towns and villages and find a little breathing space. Most of Jordan's citizens are Palestinians. If a West Bank Palestinian would like to serve in his nation's army, all that he'll have to do would be to cross the Jordan River (that is much deeper in history than in water) and become a soldier in the federation army. Thus the young Palestinians will feel that they are part of a sovereign nation and not impotent marionettes of two hostile states that encircle them.
Will Jordan agree to enter into a federation with the West Bank? King Hussein yearned to regain control over the West Bank. His son, King Abdullah II, should follow in his footsteps, not by regaining control but by creating a federal nation. He must realize that if he doesn't, the Palestinians may become a threat to his kingdom. If they can't get any more concessions from Israel, which is strong, they may try to spill into the weaker state of Jordan and get by force what they can't get by negotiation - participation in the life and government of Jordan.
WE ALSO have to tackle the painful issue of Gaza. If the peacemakers wouldn't be able or willing to evacuate the majority of Gazans into the West Bank and Jordan, they must give them more land to develop and settle. That land exists: the empty spaces of northern Sinai, between Rafah and El-Arish. This land belongs to Egypt, which fiercely refuses to cede even one inch of its territory to the Palestinians. But if Egypt wants to avoid a conflagration on its border, it must give Gazans a better solution than eternal confinement in their squalid, overpopulated refugee camps.
It turns out that the two-state solution will become one only if Jordan and Egypt join in creating a viable Palestinian nation that will not be suffocated in the teeming Gaza Strip and the inadequate West Bank. Israel should also join in that effort, by relinquishing a major portion of the West Bank, keeping only the small pieces vital for its security and compensating the Palestinians with equal territorial concessions. The outside world should participate in that endeavor by helping build the Palestinian economy and securing the federation's survival.
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.