Why Jordan Is the Key to Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Last week’s Mideast security conference in Poland might have looked like a bust for the Trump administration, which hoped to consolidate European support for a harder line on Iran, and Arab support for Trump’s as-yet undisclosed “Deal of the Century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Neither of those things happened, but, in the process, plenty of stage-setting was accomplished.
Many European leaders stayed home, and Saudi Arabia, whose king recently stripped reformist Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) of his responsibility for the “Palestinian file,” accused Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of misleading the Israeli people into believing that relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors would continue to improve without a resolution of the “Palestinian issue.” Other Arab leaders jumped on the bandwagon, restating their old trope that the “Palestinian issue” — not their own exploitative authoritarian and, is some cases, Islamist terror-promoting regimes — is the root cause of instability in the region.
Trump official Jared Kushner told the conference that both Israel and the Palestinians would have to compromise for the “Deal of the Century,” while the Palestinians, whose chief negotiator described the conference as a “plot against the Palestinian cause,” skipped the event altogether.
But looks can be deceiving — especially when it comes to the Middle East.
The Trump administration is constructively giving its erstwhile allies a chance to show their true colors, and that itself has intrinsic value. The Europeans will eventually get in line on Iran or suffer the economic consequences. The Arab states are already aligned with the US relative to Iran, and Saudi chatter won’t obscure the fact that the Arabs were fed up with the Palestinians long before the Iranian regional menace got this far. And what might the Palestinian leaders be suggesting is their true “cause” by not showing up at all? Seems unlikely to be peace negotiations.
Israel is a strong nation, but it has always had a weakness for peace. This is what led Israel to allow the Biblical territories of Judea and Samaria (miraculously won in the multi-front 1967 war meant to destroy the Jewish state) to be designated as “disputed” — which, with 50 years of Palestinian obstinance, are now being positioned as “occupied” and eventually even “apartheid.”
Nonsense. Israel agreed to the Oslo two-state framework in 1993 and unilaterally walked away from Gaza in 2005. For their part, Palestinian leaders have over the decades proposed nothing for final status peace negotiations, instead dismissing several Israeli initiatives that would have given them most of the West Bank territories captured in the Six-Day War.
It should finally be clear from the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to engage at all with Israel or the United States since 2017 that Arafat and his successors shrewdly played on Israel’s willingness to sacrifice land for peace — entertaining Oslo’s “two state” discussions only as cover for their ultimate cause of rejecting and resisting the existence of the Jewish state.
That ship has sailed. The Jewish nation is a regional military and economic force. Everyone, especially West Bank Palestinians, would be better off if Israel were to eliminate the confusion and mixed signals of simultaneously settling and negotiating away territory, finally declare victory in the Six-Day War, and annex and stop apologizing for settling Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian homeland is Jordan, the majority of whose population is in fact Palestinian. Jordan should restore Palestinian citizenship benefits (abandoned 30 years ago) to West Bank Palestinians, and the Hashemite kingdom should give Palestinians on both sides of the Jordan River legitimate consideration in the affairs of Jordan. Law-abiding West Bank Palestinians could remain in Israel as permanent residents, with all of the civil rights as other inhabitants of Israel. They don’t need another nation state in the Biblical heart of Israel.
Under this “True State” scenario, Israel and a newly legitimate Jordan would collaborate more closely than ever on both security and economic integration of West Bank Palestinian residents in Israel’s economy. Ask the West Bank Palestinians (not their corrupt “leaders”) where in the Middle East — or anywhere else, for that matter — they would enjoy a better life.
One critically important caveat: The transition from Oslo and the end of the Palestinian Authority (PA) would need to be closely managed to avoid disrupting the security at the Jordan River. Coordinating security with Jordan and Israel was probably the only useful role played by the PA; there needs to be continuity after Oslo reaches its terminus. Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy could remain, but its ongoing legitimacy, and therefore stability, would require greater investment of resources in the well-being of its Palestinian citizens.
Whatever happens with the Arab-Israeli alliance, the outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections, and Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” the United States and Israel shaping incentives for Jordan to assume a larger role in the security and administration of its West Bank Palestinian citizens could be one of the most constructive stabilizers for the entire region.
Daniel J. Arbess is a policy analyst and investor, the CEO of Xerion Investments LLC. He is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and co-founder of No Labels, a bipartisan US political organization.