The Jordan's Two Banks Draw Closer

There is no need to elaborate on the fact that east of the Jordan lives a population that is, for the most part, of Palestinian origin, and that the familial-social connections between the two banks of the Jordan are very strong.

Sixteen of the people killed by the terror attacks in the Amman hotels last week were foreigners. The rest were mostly Jordanian citizens, more than half of them of Palestinian origin. Five of those killed were senior officials in the Palestinian bureaucracy and economy, who were visiting Amman. Eighteen members of one family from the town of Silat al-Dahr in the northern West Bank were killed while attending a family wedding.

In Gaza and the West Bank, there were no angry demonstrations against the perpetrators of the attacks as there were in Jordan - but the sense of mourning was very much in evidence. The funeral processions of four of the victims set out from the courtyard of the Muqata in Ramallah. The pages of the daily newspapers in Gaza and the West Bank were full of hundreds of mourning notices, and the homes of the bereaved families in the territories were flooded with thousands of visitors. The cartoonist of the daily newspaper Al-Quds drew the Palestinian and Jordanian flag at half-mast. The flags are actually identical, except for a star on the Jordanian flag. And the cartoonist of the daily Al-Ayyam drew Palestine and Jordan as twin sisters embracing and crying.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) began his speech on the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death by mentioning the victims of the attacks in Jordan, calling them "the fallen of our Palestinian and Jordanian nation," as though they were one nation.

There is no need to elaborate on the fact that east of the Jordan lives a population that is, for the most part, of Palestinian origin, and that the familial-social connections between the two banks of the Jordan are very strong. What separates the two banks are political regimes that occasionally have contradictory interests. That was the case, for example, in the mid-1950s, when an embittered Palestinian population rose up against the Hashemite regime - or after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Palestinian organizations fomented the civil war in Jordan ("Black September" in 1970). Except for short periods, relations between Jordan's King Hussein and Arafat, who headed the Palestinian national movement, were characterized by tension and hostility. At least twice, in 1970 and 1974, initiatives by Arafat's people to murder Hussein were discovered. Even when the two reconciled, there was no trust between them.

Now things look different. Hussein - who had difficulty accepting the loss of Jerusalem and the western bank of his kingdom - is no longer with us. There is also a new PA chair, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), instead of Arafat, and it looks as though relations between the two banks are about to change. One of the signs of this was the news a few weeks ago about a new plan, prepared by Abdul Salam al-Majali, Jordan's former prime minister and one of its leading statesmen, to establish a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation with joint and separate government institutions for the two banks of the Jordan.

Prof. Asher Susser of Tel Aviv University says the PA and the Jordanian government understand full well that changes are taking place in the region - mainly in Israeli-Palestinian relations - that require both sides to reconsider their policies. There will almost certainly be a follow-up to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement initiative - and it's clear that the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank is being completed. This is a new situation, some of which is familiar. The residents of the West Bank, for example, have long been forbidden to travel abroad via Ben-Gurion airport. They have no choice but to leave via Jordan. There are other examples of this principle: The West Bank is imprisoned between Israel and Jordan, and if the border to Israel is blocked, the Palestinians are forced to turn to Jordan. A similar process is taking place in the Gaza Strip, whose border with Israel is blocked, and where the only alternative is opening the one with Egypt.

The terror attacks in Jordan have, therefore, provided additional proof of the close ties between the two banks of the Jordan, which in future may have a joint regime. That will, of course, also have important implications for the State of Israel.