Please, Annex Us

Sheikh Mohammad Ali al-Jabari, the mayor of Hebron for almost 40 years (1939-1976) may have been the first Palestinian to use the word "tsumud" (persistence) after the Six-Day War. On the fourth day of that war, he ordered the inhabitants of the region to surrender to the Israel Defense Forces and not to resist the Israeli occupation, so that they wouldn't turn into refugees. "Everyone comes and goes, and I stay here," he used to say when pointing out that during his lifetime, he had seen five different regimes rule in Hebron - the Ottomans, British, Egyptians (for a short period in 1948), Jordanians and Israelis. He died in 1980, a few years before being able to experience another government - that of the Palestinian Authority.

Jabari was certainly the most well-known figure in the traditional Palestinian leadership, which remained loyal to the Jordanian government. In December 1948, he headed a group of dignitaries from the West Bank who asked Abdullah, the king of Transjordan, to annex the West Bank to his kingdom. Afterward, alongside his job in Hebron he served in key positions in the Amman government.

After 1967, there were many other leaders like him in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They were called the "traditional leaders," as opposed to their young rivals who supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah, who despised the Jordanian government and adopted the statement of the first PLO chair, Ahmed Shukeiry: "The road to liberating Palestine passes through the palace in Amman." In other words, it's impossible to liberate Palestine before first bringing down the Hashemite government in Jordan. And in fact, in the summer of 1970, the fight between Jordan and the PLO reached a climax in the Black September battles, in the wake of which Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership were expelled from Jordan.

During the 1970s, Palestinian political activists in the territories were divided into two rival camps: the traditionalists who supported Jordan and the young radicals who were PLO activists. The traditionalists were considered older and more old-fashioned, with their power based on a tribal structure; most of them had economic interests tying them to Jordan. As opposed to them, PLO adherents were younger, modern, nationalist and left-leaning.

The public in the territories preferred the latter. In 1976, municipal elections were held in the West Bank, in which the traditionalist camp failed and the PLO candidates were extremely successful. Jabari, who understood where the winds were blowing in his city, did not even run. It was clear at the time that the traditionalists had become irrelevant. Even Jordan's King Hussein understood that. In 1988, after the first intifada, he announced the severance of the West Bank from Jordan.

At present, a kind of political mirror image of that situation is taking place in the territories. Just as 30 years ago, the camp of Jordan supporters became irrelevant, today the same is true of the camp of the PLO and Fatah: They are traditional, old-fashioned, disintegrating, defeated and irrelevant. The Palestinian public does not like them and prefers the Hamas radicals to them. The public has become disgusted with the PLO and Fatah, one reason being that they failed. They promised a diplomatic struggle and an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and brought distress and siege. From their ruins, organizations of "opposition brigades" or "popular committees," who resemble Hamas in their ideology and their activity, are constantly arising.

In light of this, there has been a recent renewal of relations between West Bank Palestinians and the Hashemite government in Amman. Although King Abdullah II declares he has no political intentions west of the Jordan River, his former prime minister Abdul Salam al-Majali has several times raised the idea of confederation or federation between the two banks. In East Jerusalem, Jordan has completed its takeover of Islamic institutions on the Temple Mount, and 250,000 Arabs in the city can receive a laissez-passer to Jordan, a kind of passport, which is valid for five years.

In the West Bank, which is imprisoned between Israel and Jordan, a type of physical law is in place: The more Israel severs itself from Judea and Samaria by means of fences, walls, roadblocks and terminals, the more the border between the West Bank and the eastern side of the Jordan opens. For example, if a resident of Nablus cannot go abroad via the Ben Gurion International Airport or engage in commerce via the Haifa and Ashdod ports, he has no choice but to do so via Amman and Aqaba.

Today the relations between Fatah and PLO activists on the West Bank on the one hand, and the Jordanian government on the other, are calmer than in the past. At a festive gathering held in Aqaba a few weeks ago, veteran PLO activists sat next to King Abdullah. VIPs from the West Bank, including Marxists, communists and nationalists, who only a few years ago were mortal enemies of the Hashemite royal family, are now guests and friends of the traditional administration in Amman.

Presumably, Jordan could now say to the Palestinians: "You are incapable of reaching an agreement with Israel, let us do it for you."

But Abdullah and his people don't want that, after having been burned in the past. However, it is possible that there are some people in Jordan who are waiting for the moment when it will become clear that the Palestinian nationalist movement, i.e. the PLO and Fatah, has failed, whereas Hamas is unable to come to the rescue. They hope that then leaders like Jabari of Hebron will come and ask, as they did 60 years ago: Please, annex us.