Efraim Karsh: The Jordanian Option

In an April 16 op-ed entitled “Back to the Jordanian Option,” Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, argued that an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement is “unfeasible in the foreseeable future.” He asked: “So what should we do?”

We should reshuffle the cards and try to think about other solutions as well. One of them is a return to the Jordanian option. The Jordanians won’t admit this publicly, yet a Palestinian state in the West Bank is the worst solution for them. They too know that within a short period of time such state would be ruled by Hamas. The moment Jordan—which features a Palestinian majority as well as powerful Muslim Brotherhood opposition— will share a border with a Hamas state, the Hashemite regime will face immediate danger.

Efraim Karsh's Response
[Efraim Karsh is author of the new book Islamic Imperialism: A History. He is a professor and head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London.]

Giora Eiland rightly assumes that an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement is unfeasible in the foreseeable future. This is not because of the weakness of the present Palestinian leadership and its inability to deliver the goods, or the lack of viability of a Palestinian state, as he suggests. It is for the simple reason that there is no fundamental difference between the ultimate goals of Hamas and the PLO vis-à-vis Israel. Neither accepts the Jewish state’s right to exist and both are committed to its eventual destruction. The only difference between the two groups lies in their preferred strategies for the attainment of this goal. Whereas Hamas concentrates exclusively on “armed struggle,” a convenient euphemism for its murderous terror campaign, the PLO has adopted since the early 1990s a more subtle strategy, combining intricate political and diplomatic maneuvering with sustained terror attacks (mainly under the auspices of Tanzim, the military arm of Fatah, the PLO’s largest constituent group and Arafat’s alma mater).

Eiland is also correct about Jordan’s abhorrence of an independent Palestinian state, though this is by no means their worst possible nightmare, as he tends to believe. That would be the incorporation of a huge “fifth column” of some two to three million Palestinians into their kingdom: an assured prescription for Hashemite demise.

From the early 1920s to this very day, the Palestinian leadership has been antagonistic to Hashemite rule in Transjordan (later Jordan) and committed to the vision of “Greater Palestine” comprising both banks of the Jordan River. In 1951, King Abdullah was assassinated by a Palestinian militant, and while successive attempts on the life of his erstwhile successor, King Hussein, came to naught, as did the September 1970 putsch, the Hashemites have never lost sight of the mortal danger to their throne attending the reincorporation of the West Bank into their kingdom. This was especially so after the Oslo accords transformed the area into a full-fledged terror state. Their best hope, therefore, would seem to lie with Israel’s continued security control of this territory, which would leave them to pay the customary lip service to Palestinians’ rights and to bemoan their “oppression,” without incurring the detrimental consequences of renewed annexation.

As for Israel, one need look no further than David Ben-Gurion’s justification (in December 1948) of his preference for an independent Palestinian state over the annexation of Judea and Samaria (the term West Bank was not born yet) to Transjordan: “An Arab state in western Palestine [i.e., west of the Jordan] is less dangerous than a state that is tied to Transjordan, and tomorrow—probably to Iraq [then ruled by the Hashemites].”

Of course, the international circumstances have changed dramatically since then, but the gist of Ben-Gurion’s rationale remains very much intact, albeit in the opposite direction. That is: a Palestinian-dominated militant entity on both banks of the river would pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, or perhaps two smaller states in each of these areas.

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