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February 25, 2014 1:08 pm

Why the Peace Talks Are Making Jordan Panic

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stuart E. Jones, meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan before a session of the World Economic Forum in Dead Sea, Jordan, on May 26, 2013. Photo: U.S. State Department.

King Abdullah of Jordan is displaying discernible signs of panic over the future of his kingdom. Dismissing any notion that it might become an “alternative homeland” for Palestinians, he recently declared to high Jordanian officials: “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine and nothing but that, not in the past or the future.”

According to Arutz Sheva (February 24), the Jordanian state news agency Petra reported that in a meeting with his parliamentary leaders the king warned of “talk about the so-called alternative homeland” for Palestinians. “This, God willing, will be the last time we talk about this subject.” There is, apparently, increasing apprehension in Amman lest Secretary of State Kerry’s proposed framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority might implicate Jordan. The king is worried that Jordan would be required to accept even more West Bank Palestinians than it already has (now comprising a majority of the population). He is hopeful that any peace agreement will include the transfer of Palestinians from Jordan to the new Palestinian state.

The first indication of  concern was back in 2007 with the revocation of Jordanian citizenship of thousands of Palestinians, who were declared to be “stateless refugees.” (Imagine the international outcry if Israel acted similarly toward its own Palestinian citizens.) Further revealing of their precarious status in the Hashemite kingdom, some 340,000 Palestinians are still confined in Jordanian refugee camps.

The king has reason to be worried lest Jordan might become the State of Palestine. History reveals why. Back in 1920, when the League of Nations Mandate to govern Palestine was bestowed upon Great Britain, it cited “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the legitimacy of grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Jews were granted the right of settlement throughout “Palestine,” comprising the land east and west of the Jordan River.

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Great Britain, however, retained the right to “postpone” or “withhold” Jewish settlement east of the Jordan. Two years later, with the creation of Transjordan by the British to reward Prince Abdullah of Arabia for his wartime cooperation, Jewish settlement was restricted to the land – all of it – west of the Jordan. That right has never been rescinded. It includes Hebron no less than Tel Aviv.

So it is that Jordanian Palestinians are already at home, east of the Jordan River, which comprises two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine. Surely the resistance of Hashemite monarchs, backed by Bedouin tribes, should not be permitted by the international community to impede Palestinian statehood within the borders of their own national home according to international law.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister has firmly declared that his nation will not be an “alternative home for anybody.” That is one way of looking at it. But what if it were to become the national home of the Palestinian people, in Palestine as it was defined nearly a century ago? The result would be two states for two peoples. Loyal followers of the current Hashemite rulers could certainly expect to be treated at least as well as the Palestinians they have governed since 1948, when the Kingdom of Jordan invaded the fledgling Jewish state of Israel.

That futile attempt to drive Jews into the sea, in which Jordan’s Arab allies gleefully joined, created the Palestinian refugee problem that has been blamed on Israel ever since. King Abdullah may insist: “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.” History suggest otherwise: Jordan is Palestine. It should welcome Palestinians with open arms, grant them citizenship, vacate the refugee camps and yield to democratic imperatives – precisely as its next-door neighbor Israel did with its new refugees from Arab lands sixty-six years ago.

Surely that would mark a dramatic step toward peace now that even Secretary of State Kerry would gladly embrace.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.

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