Two weeks ago, at a meeting with members of “Peace Now” and MKs from the Zionist Union and Meretz parties, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told his guests that US President Donald Trump’s peace envoys – Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt – had asked him for his views on the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation as a solution to the Palestinian problem. Abbas reported that his answer was that he favored the idea as long as before the confederation is formed, Palestine would be recognized as an independent state, and that Israel would also join it.
The idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian state, in one form or another, is not new, and is based on the historical fact that after the First World War, the British Mandate for Palestine included the territories of present-day Israel (minus the Golan Heights), Jordan, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Only in 1922 did the League of Nations decide that the area of Palestine east of the Jordan River was to form the Emirate of Transjordan to be ruled by the Hashemite dynasty under the British Mandate for Palestine, to which the Jewish national home policy would not be applied. The UN partition plan for Palestine, on November 29 1947, applied only to Palestine west of the River Jordan.
The Revisionist Movement and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Herut Movement maintained that “Two banks has the River Jordan – one is ours, and so is the other.” However, when Herut united with the Liberal Party in 1965 to form Gahal the idea was dimmed, and after the Likud Party accepted the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan signed in 1994, the idea lost all practical meaning. Today, there is no party in the Knesset that claims trans-Jordan should form part of the State of Israel (though some individual MKs in Bayit Yehudi might believe so.)
However, since the Six Day War, at least in theory most of the parties, and most of the MKs would not object to the Kingdom of Jordan being part of a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yigal Allon (Labor Party) was the first Israeli politician, who after the Six Day War worked out a peace plan involving Israel returning most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Jordan, to form part of a Jordanian-Palestinian state. Allon believed that Israeli annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would create a demographic problem for the Jewish state, but also that there should be only two states in the territory of the former Mandate for Palestine. Pointing out that an overwhelming majority of the population of Jordan were Palestinians, he concluded that every nation has the right to self-determination, but that no nation has the right to two states.
Allon’s plan was never adopted as policy, and talks between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Allon and King Hussein on the possibility of returning most of the West Bank to Jordan in 1974 (the Jericho plan) came to naught, after the Rabat Arab Summit Conference decided that only the PLO was authorized to negotiate a solution to the Palestinian problem.
IN 1970 it was reported that Ariel Sharon, then still a general in uniform, was opposed to the agreement Israel had reached with King Hussein to help him rid his kingdom of the PLO, and supported the idea of helping the Palestinians gain control of Jordan, since according to him, “Jordan is Palestine.” Since then, the idea of “Jordan is Palestine” is part of the ideology of those who refuse to relinquish any territory in either Judea and Samaria, or the Gaza Strip.
It was reported that in a secret meeting held between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jordanian King Hussein on April 11, 1987 the two discussed the convening an international Arab-Israeli peace conference, in which Jordanians and Palestinians would form part of a single delegation, thus suggesting that a solution to the Palestinian problem might be reached within a joint Jordanian-Palestinian framework. However, the idea was subsequently rejected by the Israeli cabinet under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (Likud), and in July 1988, Hussein announced that Jordan had relinquished any claim to sovereignty over the West Bank, following the outbreak of the first Intifada.
Unsubstantiated reports in December 2012 claimed that during a secret visit to Amman that month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to King Abdullah, inter alia about the possibility of establishing a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. While it was not denied that such a meeting took place, Israel was only willing to admit that the situation in Syria, where civil war had erupted, and a possible Israeli attack on Syrian arsenals of chemical weapons were discussed. However, there might have been some basis to the reports, since around that time Abbas held talks with both Fatah and Palestinian Authority members on the confederation idea.
This is but a partial list of when, and under what circumstances, the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation was raised. It will be interesting to learn more about the American decision to raise the issue with Abbas. Does this mean that the Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is part of the American plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, or were Kushner and Greenblatt merely airing out all sorts of theoretical solutions?
It should be noted that while Jordan was willing until 1988 to consider returning to rule over the West Bank (which it ruled over from 1949 until June 1967) and taking over the Gaza Strip (which it had never ruled over), the Hashemites (who came originally from the Arabian Peninsula and are not Palestinians) were never willing to consider sharing power with the Palestinians as a separate entity, which the confederation idea would involve.
Today, King Abdullah undoubtedly considers the possibility of adding another 3 million Palestinians to his kingdom a nightmare, given that even today at least 70% of the Jordanian citizens are Palestinians, and that Jordan currently host hundreds of thousands (perhaps even more than a million) Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
THE PALESTINIAN Authority (though certainly not Hamas in Gaza) would be willing to consider the option only after gaining independence as a Palestinian State west of the River Jordan.
As to Israel, those who wish to apply Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, and possibly also to the Gaza Strip, are certainly opposed to the idea of handing large chunks of these territories to joint Jordanian-Palestinian sovereignty. The Israeli center-left, which is committed to the two-state idea, would certainly not object to a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, that would solve some of the problems inherent in a two-state solution without Jordan, such as the requirement that the Palestinian state be demilitarized (Allon stated back in 1968 that it would not be realistic to demand the demilitarization of the Palestinian state west of the River Jordan, but would be realistic if it were part of the Jordanian-Palestinian state.)
It is not clear what Netanyahu himself thinks of the idea, even though it was reported on several occasions in the past that he did not object to it on principle. It would be interesting to know what he said to Kushner and Greenblatt when they confronted him (if at all) with the same question they had posed to Abbas. One thing is certain: he would never agree to Israel joining such a confederation as demanded by Abbas.
Since I believe that unfortunately today the two-state solution west of the River Jordan is becoming increasingly less feasible, the Jordanian-Palestinian confederation seems the only solution that will save us from either turning into a bi-national state, or into a non-democratic Jewish state.