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Jordan’s instability and the ‘Palestine’ states

Israelis go about their lives without giving much thought to the kingdom next door, but what happens in Jordan may not stay in Jordan.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II review an honor guard in Ramallah, Aug. 7, 2017. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II review an honor guard in Ramallah, Aug. 7, 2017. Photo by Flash90.
Daniel Tauber
Daniel Tauber

Long live King Abdullah II. Sincerely. Though it is not clear that he needs our well wishes. As “painful” as he said that recent events in the Kingdom of Jordan were for him, reports of an attempted coup were conflicting at best.

Whatever happened, Jordanian officials were sufficiently concerned about the “security and stability” of the kingdom to arrest a number of high-profile Jordanians, including the king’s own brother, and publicly expose the drama.

Even with this episode behind Jordan, the fears driving the response to it should worry Western countries that see Jordan as an important and reliable military host and contributor to a stable, if not democratic, Middle East. It should worry Israel the most, due to the long border that it shares with the kingdom, and because Jordan is home to a population that, to put it frankly, hates the Jewish state.

While Israeli citizens go about their lives without giving much thought to the kingdom, the Jordanian parliament is busy passing anti-Israel resolutions or trying to veto the agreement to import Israeli natural gas. Whenever an Israeli even sneezes on the Temple Mount, Abdullah and the parliament condemn Israel, despite the heavy restrictions on Jews at the site.

Then there are Abdullah’s routine calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, to pressure the country that he has called “fortress Israel,” and his complaints about relations with Israel.

Meanwhile, polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Jordanians hold negative views about normalization with Israel at both state and individual levels, and a majority, even a large majority at times, supports Hamas.

Jordanians would cite a laundry list of alleged Israeli affronts, but the deep-seated ill-will towards Israel cannot be divorced from the fact that Jordan’s population is between 51 and 70 percent Palestinian or of Palestinian origin.

This Palestinian population appears to drive Jordanian attention to Israel in two main ways. First, Palestinian identity is tied to resentment towards the state that, to their mind, stole their country and oppresses their people, some of whom may even be family. This makes this population especially inclined to dislike and focus on Israel. The U.S. Congressional Research Service’s 2011 report on Jordan, therefore, noted that the “issue of Palestinian rights resonates with much of the [Jordanian] population, as more than half of all Jordanian citizens originate from either the West Bank or the pre-1967 borders of Israel.”

The second is that because of Jordan’s large Palestinian population, the Hashemites, as well as the non-Palestinian tribes, fear that Jordan will be made into the “alternative homeland” for Palestinians. Experts have called this a key or even dominating issue in Jordanian politics and policy.

To prevent this, in 1988, Jordan disengaged from Judea and Samaria (so-called the West Bank because for a brief period it was the part of the country on the western bank of the Jordan River) stripping 1.5 million Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship. In announcing the policy, King Hussein declared that “Jordan is not the Palestinian homeland.” King Abdullah has reiterated his father’s policy, saying that “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.”

Along similar lines, according to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, Jordan revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians. Reasons given for this policy included maintaining Palestinian rights and Jordan’s “demographic balance.” The unmistakable undertone was that Jordan was laying the groundwork for the transfer of these (ex)-citizens to a future West Bank Palestinian state.

To a certain extent, these are Jordanian policies, Jordanian citizens and residents and internal Jordanian matters. The problem is that all of this betrays the fact that what happens in Jordan may not stay in Jordan.

If a Palestinian state is established west of Jordan, then one or both of the following scenarios are likely to occur: First, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians or more, especially among the almost 2.3 million Jordanians still registered as Palestinian refugees, will be expelled or encouraged to migrate to the West Bank. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from other countries like Lebanon, where they are denied citizenship, property rights and the right to practice many professions.

The West Bank and Gaza are among the most densely populated and poorest places in the world. Many Palestinians there would like to immigrate but are not permitted to do so. Instead of releasing that pressure, a Palestinian state would see a large influx of persons who hate Israel and who are likely among their current host countries’ poorest residents. This would ensure that the Palestinian state is a failed state that relies on Israel economically, maintains grievances against Israel and unleashes terror against Israel or worse.

Second, the Hashemite regime may fall or undergo a shift in favor of Palestinian identity. This may only be a matter of time since the king’s children are half-Palestinian and the kingdom is half (or more) Palestinian.

If this occurs, a union of some kind between the “West Bank” and “East Bank” Palestinian states might also be inevitable. Confederation between a Palestinian state and Jordan has been discussed favorably in the past and has even been discussed by Jordanians and Palestinians in recent years. A majority of Palestinians have even favored it in polls.

But whether or not a Palestinian Jordan formally ties itself to a West Bank “state of Palestine,” the dangers posed by the Palestinian state(s) would surround Israel and its capital. In the push for Palestinian statehood, Israelis are told that such worries constitute mere fear-mongering by right-wing extremists.

Tell that to Jordan.

Daniel Tauber is an attorney and Likud Central Committee member.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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