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Jewish World Review
May 21, 2009
/ 27 Iyar 5769
Building a stairway to paradise: A West Bank/Jordanian federation
Richard Z. Chesnoff
Analysts are comparing Monday's White House meeting between President Obama and
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to a new couple's first dance. The duo
went out of its way to avoid stepping on each other's toes and walked off the floor
smiling broadly to the public. But O & N were far from mutually infatuated.
failed to warn about a military option if Tehran continues nuclear weapons
development, and Netanyahu spoke about "immediate negotiations" with the
Palestinians, but fell short of agreeing to Obama's impassioned call for a two state
We're bound to be seeing more fancy two-way terpsichore in the months to come.
One way up the stairway to Mideast paradise might be by reviving some old steps
rather than tapping to ones that are certain to trip us up.
Take for example the idea that the long festering Israel-Palestine sore can be cured
by simply establishing an independent Palestinian state. That might have worked a
long time ago but the Palestinians have rejected it whenever it was offered and
today they are so economically bereft and so politically divided between the PLO of
Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas rejectionists of Gaza that the idea of a viable unified
Palestinian state is all but doomed to failure.
The answer may not be in establishing a tiny politically unworkable , economically
unsustainable demilitarized Palestinian state, but by forming one that exists in
federation with neighboring Jordan. That idea has been around for years and often
only whispered - or laughed at as it was when I broached it in a column of mine some
years ago. But a few Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian opinion makers are now
beginning to talk cautiously again about renewing the so-called "Jordanian option":
the establishment of an autonomous West Bank/Gaza Palestinian province/state linked
politically, economically and even militarily to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Israeli political scientist Michael Bar-Zohar even proposed the idea recently in an
op-ed column in the influential Jerusalem Post. A former Knesset member and the
official biographer of both Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion and current
President Shimon Peres, Bar-Zohar points out that the total area of the West Bank is
2,270 square miles, less than half the size of Los Angeles county! A third of that
paltry plot is desolate desert. "Does anybody believe that that this tiny slice of
territory, sandwiched between Israel and Jordan will provide enough living space for
the local 2.4 million Palestinians" - not to mention the millions of Palestiian
refugees who supposedly want to return to a Palestinian homeland?
Bar-Zohar also points out that the mostly arid Gaza Strip - which is seperated from
the West Bank by a sizable stretch of Israeli territory - is a mere 141 square miles
with 1.5 million Palestinians already living there. "Those who want to give them a
decent chance in life", suggests Bar Zohar, will have to transfer good numbers of
them to the West Bank. Would it be able "to absorb yet another million Palestinians
on its poor, arid territory?"
Bar-Zohar's solution "goes far beyond the childish two state approach". He proposes
a regional solution that would involve Jordan and possibly even Egypt. Jordan would
federate itself with the West Bank. Egypt - which borders Gaza - would ideally
involve itself by giving Gazans land to develop in the vast, empty spaces of
Linking Jordan and the West Bank would not be for the first time. The Hashemite
Kingdom itself was carved out of the Palestine Mandate which originally included all
of what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Transjordan. Jordan's legendary Arab
Legion seized the entire West Bank during Israel's 1948 War of Independence (Egypt
took the Gaza Strip). For 19 years, Jordan's King Hussein firmly ruled the West Bank
as part of his kingdom (there was never talk of an independent West Bank Palestinian
state back in those days).. During the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jordanian monarch
foolishly listened to Egypt's Gamal Nasser and attacked Israel. The IDF promptly
defeated the Jordanian forces and raised the blue & white flag over the West Bank.
Even then, King Hussein left his West Bank options open, claiming a "special
relationship" as the official guardian of the al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem's other
Muslim holy places. Jordan also became home to more than 1.6 million Palestinian
refugees and was one of the only Arab states to ever allow Palestinians to become
equal citizens. Today, more than 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin
-- including the kingdom's elegant young queen, Rania.
Jordan's Palestinian welcome mat has not been problem-free. During the 1970s, Yasser
Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization became such a threat to the Hashemite
king that Hussein launched a deadly counterattack, forcing Arafat and his band to
retreat from Jordan.
Eventually, the late Hussein grew weary of Palestinian whining and manipulating. I
was one of the foreign correspondents at the Hashemite palace in 1988 when he
announced that he was "divorcing" the West Bank. The Palestinians would be on their
Hussein's son, the young King Abdullah, has never been as interested in the West
Bank as his father once was. But Abdullah increasingly warns of a major new Mideast
war if the Arab-Israeli conflict is not settled. And he is also said to understand
that the Palestinians are presently incapable of ruling themselves. No doubt he
doesn't want the Palestinians pushing him and his family out of their jobs. But he
is believed to have taken a renewed interest in the West Bank and in finding a fail
safe way to play a role there.
A Jordanian-West Bank union, in which some Palestinians loyal to the king could even
serve in the Jordanian forces, may be just that. It will take US initiative. Why not
offer financial compensation to West Bankers and Gazans willing to to move to
unsettled parts of Jordan? Why not a border with Israel secured in part by Jordan?
Why not a Palestinian West Bank and Gaza linked to Jordan with an economic union
that bonds both to Israel's burgeoning economy?
Anything would be better than existing options offer the Palestinians: more
bloodshed, more corruption, more hatred, more suffering for all sides.
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JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff was Senior Correspondent at US News & World Report, and is now a columnist at the NY Daily News and the Huffington Post. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. The paperback edition of his critically acclaimed book, "Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews & Committed the Greatest Theft in History" is now on sale. (Click on cover above to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.
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© 2009, Richard Z. Chesnoff