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Analysis

Is a PLO confederation with Jordan a viable solution to the Mideast conflict?

The idea of a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians has been discussed over the years. But to have a confederation, there needs to be two independent states, and the Palestinians don’t have one.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II review the honor guard in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Aug. 7, 2017. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II review the honor guard in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Aug. 7, 2017. Photo by Flash90.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas recently told a group of Israeli activists that the Trump administration proposed a confederation between the Palestinians and Jordan. For years, the idea of Jordan serving as a state for the Palestinians has been tossed around, with some prominent Jordanians and Palestinians themselves supporting the idea.

Former Jordanian Prime Minister Zayd ar-Rifa’i did when he said in 1975 that “Jordan is Palestine.” King Hussein did when he asserted in 1981 that “Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan.” Even Abbas himself did. According to a 2012 article by Daoud Kattab in The Atlantic, “Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Abbas informed several PLO leaders ‘to be prepared for a new confederation project with Jordan and other parties in the international community,’ and that his office has already issued reports that evaluate ‘the best strategies to lead possible negotiations with Jordan’ towards ‘reviving the confederation.’ ”

Even after King Hussein decided to relinquish the West Bank in 1988 and recognize the PLO as the sole entity responsible for the Palestinian population there, the matter remained under discussion.

But to have a confederation, there needs to be two independent states, and the Palestinians don’t have one. So either a Palestinian state is created or the confederation idea simply does not work.

While the Palestinians and Jordan may have entertained the idea of a confederation in the past, the geopolitical landscape has changed since then, and political thought has evolved.

Today, Palestinians want their independence, and Jordanians don’t really want the burden of governing them. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan does not want to become Palestine, even though the majority of its residents are Palestinian. King Abdullah made this clear recently when he said, “Every year we hear about a confederation. My question is: a confederation with whom? This is a red line for Jordan. Jordan’s position is firm and steadfast: there is no alternative to the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

‘All Jordanians strongly reject the idea’

Hillel Frisch, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told JNS that he believes a confederation is “the only solution.”

“After nearly 100 years of failure as a national movement, the Palestinians have proven themselves incapable of having a state of their own,” he said. “Even if such a state would come into being, it would be economically obstructed from the Jordanian market. … Being economically unviable, the Palestinian state would resort to violence against Israel. … In short, such a state would become a state protection racket. Better to be linked to Jordan, which is a gateway to the entire Arab world than to go it alone.”

Ghaith Al-Omari, a senior fellow in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, disagrees. He told JNS that “the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation has been floating for decades and has been roundly rejected by both sides. At most, Palestinians have expressed willingness to consider the idea of confederation with Jordan only after a Palestinian state is created.”

According to Al-Omari, “Palestinians have always been extremely averse to other Arab states trying to control them or speak on their behalf, and have insisted on the PLO being the sole representative of the Palestinian people—a position adopted by both the U.N. and the Arab League in 1974.”

Al-Omari said that since 1988, “Jordan has categorically refused any role in governing the Palestinians. … In addition to the official Jordanian position, there has been wall-to-wall rejection of the idea by all opposition and pro-government parties in that country.”

The reason for this, according to Al-Omari, is that Jordan “has no interest in being seen as part of denying the Palestinians their aspiration to an independent state—a position that would pit them not only against the Palestinians, but also Arab consensus—nor does it have an interest in ruling over a restive West Bank population that would view Jordanian rule as illegitimate.”

Moreover, he said, “Jordan is also concerned that even engaging with such an idea would lead to domestic unrest since all Jordanians, whether of Jordanian or Palestinian decent, strongly reject the idea.”

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