Jordanian FM Calls Fence a Grave National Security Threat'

AMMAN - The current route of the separation fence constitutes a "grave national security threat" to Jordan, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muashar warned yesterday.

AMMAN - The current route of the separation fence constitutes a "grave national security threat" to Jordan, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muashar warned yesterday.

In a wide-ranging interview with Haaretz at his Amman office, Muashar said that the fence's current route, which cuts into the West Bank in several places, will prevent the establishment of any independent Palestinian state in the future. Such a state is an existential need for Jordan, he added, because without one, West Bankers will be forced to emigrate, and their only emigration option is Jordan.

"Israel must understand that we are not against a fence per se. Israel's need to defend itself is clear and understandable, but it can put the fence on the 1967 border. A fence inside Palestinian territories, as currently planned, will divide the West Bank into three parts, and every Palestinian will need an Israeli permit to go from one part to another. In the long run, they'll have the following options: to seek Israeli citizenship, which won't happen; to continue living under occupation forever; or to emigrate to Jordan. It's clear which option they'll choose.

"This affects our national security. Jordan does have a large proportion of Palestinians, but it is not an alternative homeland for the Palestinians in the territories. I think they also understand this in the Likud. They tell us in Israel that we are exaggerating, that nothing will happen and the scenario is extreme. We say that if we look 10 years ahead, the situation could change and the scenario won't be so extreme, so a Palestinian state must be established. The fence eliminates that option, and the option of peace with other states."

Muashar complained that Israel never made any proper response to the Arab peace initiative, which began as a Saudi Arabian initiative and was adopted by the Arab League summit in Beirut in March 2002 with the support of all the Arab states. The initiative included full recognition of the State of Israel and normalized relations with all the Arab countries in exchange for a full withdrawal from the territories. It also said the refugee issue would be resolved on the basis of UN General Assembly resolution 194, but in a manner agreeable to both sides, meaning that Israel would be able to veto anything it did not accept.

"Two years have passed since then. There have been two Arab League summits and dozens of conferences and changes in the Arab world - but no Arab country has reneged on the peace initiative or retreated from the agreement to recognize Israel and forge fully normalized ties with it. The initiative includes a declaration of an end to the conflict with 22 Arab states, in addition to security guarantees for all countries in the region.

"Nobody will throw you into the sea, and the Arabs will give up on going back to Jaffa or Haifa," Muashar continued, adding, "I think the Arabs made a mistake when they did not make an effort to appeal to Israeli public opinion."

Egypt is the only country now that appears able to influence Chairman Arafat and conduct a dialogue with all the Palestinian factions. How can Jordan help the implementation of the disengagement plan?

Muashar: "Anyone in Israel who thinks we will enter a political dialogue to serve Israeli interests and make things easier for them where things are difficult is mistaken. Jordan is not interested in a role in the West Bank without there eventually being a Palestinian state, and that is the reason why the withdrawal from Gaza must be part of a larger move. At this point, the Israeli plan is very vague and it is not clear where it is heading ... You must understand that the outlines of the solution already exist - they appear in the Clinton framework, the Taba talks and the Geneva accord. If you are interested in an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state, we will be ready to contribute."

And what would the Jordanian role be?

"In that case, the role would be very defined - we will only be ready to train police and Palestinian security officials. Training Palestinian security officers will not be the first stage in a wider involvement, because we have a wall-to-wall agreement among us that our role in the West Bank is over. There is no advantage for us there, only disadvantage, and in Jordan we are concentrating now on Jordan - as King Abdullah has said, `Jordan First.'

"However, there are two further conditions for our involvement - unification of the Palestinian security forces into three forces and an internal Palestinian agreement, without which there cannot be any progress. Egypt is working on those two matters and we welcome their activity."

What about Jordan's `special role' in Jerusalem?

"That was only temporary. We took that role upon ourselves only because Israel did not recognize Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem. We believe that sovereignty in East Jerusalem should be handed to the Palestinians, including on Haram al Sharif [the Temple Mount]."

This year is the 10th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan. Neither Israel nor Jordan appear to have given much thought to how to mark the occasion, and meanwhile, since 2000, there has been no Jordanian ambassador in Israel, and Jordanian officials only rarely visit the country.

How do you intend to mark the 10th anniversary of the peace treaty?

"We still haven't thought about it. Israel must understand that political coordination between the countries is separate from other spheres, such as security and economics. In economics, for example, because of the cooperation with Israel, our exports to the U.S. have risen by tens of percent in recent years. The current conditions make political coordination very difficult, and it can be said that our relationship is in crisis. However, peace with Israel is a strategic decision for Jordan and we have no thoughts, and will not in the future, about withdrawing from the agreement."