The recent surprise visit to Jordan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indicative of the importance the premier attributes to the Hashemite kingdom’s role in advancing the diplomatic process, and particularly to its role in the future, if and when a Palestinian state is established. The substance of Netanyahu’s talks with King Abdullah a week and a half ago have not leaked, but the king’s positions and strategic plans can be discerned from off-the-record conversations with senior Jordanian officials, some of them with direct access to the royal palace.
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The most important message emerging from the talks with the Jordanians is their assessment that it is vital to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that will lead to the end of the conflict. Such an agreement will not only allow Jordan to publicly improve its relations with Israel, but will have far-reaching implications for Israel’s relations with other countries in the region.
“You have to understand that the progressive forces in the Arab world, those that support having a visible relationship with Israel, cannot reach out to it until the Palestinian problem is resolved,” said one Jordanian official. “Moreover, this should also be Israel’s interest, because the only way to stop the Islamic movements from seizing control in the West Bank is through an agreement with the Palestinians.”
One interesting message with important strategic implications that is being conveyed by the Jordanians involves the future of the kingdom after the establishment of a Palestinian state. We are aware, they say, that it’s doubtful a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza can sustain itself over time. Therefore, the next step would be the establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. As far as is known, this is also Abdullah’s position, and while he is careful not to publicly support it, he does not dismiss it.
In a speech last June at a graduation ceremony at Mutah University, Abdullah addressed the issue. “This matter will not come to the table until an independent Palestinian state is established,” the king stressed, but hinted that he, too, believes that someday a confederation will be the right solution. The king has secretly sent Jordanian officials to Israel to discuss the confederation idea. Establishment of a Palestinian state, Jordanian officials add, will also put an end to the notion that “Jordan is Palestine,” which still has adherents in Israel.
Jordan is Israel’s strategic depth, Jordanian officials say. The Jordanian army, deployed along the eastern side of the Jordan River, will provide far more security for Israel than a NATO force deployed in the Jordan Valley. Jordan has no plans to deploy its forces on the western side of the Jordan River; nor do the Jordanians object to the Israel Defense Forces being positioned in the valley for a transition period.
You in Israel need to understand, the Jordanians say, that the economic and political situation in Jordan is shaky, mostly because of waves of refugees who have flooded the country over the last two decades. Today in Jordan there are more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees, some 200,000 Palestinians who fled Kuwait and some 600,000 Syrians. There are also migrant workers from Egypt, who, according to the Egyptian Embassy in Amman, number some 800,000.
Jordan’s economic situation would greatly improve following the establishment of the Palestinian state, followed by a confederation. Among other things, overt economic cooperation with Israel will be possible. Thus, for example, it will be possible to transfer goods from Europe through Haifa port to Jordan and from there to the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, and tourism will flourish throughout the region.
We can assume that Netanyahu also heard these messages during his recent visit to Amman. We must hope that they will help shepherd him toward signing an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.