by Yoni Ben Menachem
SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – The statement from Jumana Ghunaimat, the Jordanian government spokeswoman, about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ comments on a new US proposal for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation was short and to the point: “The matter is not an option. Jordan supports a two-state solution and an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.”
According to senior Fatah officials, Abbas shared the proposal – which came from U.S. President Donald Trump – with a group of Peace Now activists with the goal of causing a public furor in Israel by demanding that Israel, too, be part of said confederation. He knows that Israel is afraid of becoming a Jewish minority among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Palestinians in Jordan, particularly after the passing of the nation-state law.
The Jordanian royal family has never forgotten the events of Black September in 1970, when Palestinian groups belonging to the PLO tried to seize the Hashemite kingdom and assassinate King Hussein, who was forced to declare war on them. As a result, 3,400 Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands wounded. The Jordanian security forces lost 537 people, but successfully ousted the terrorist groups from the kingdom, securing the continued rule of King Hussein, the father of the reigning king, Abdullah II.
Those events are still scored into Abdullah’s memory. Make no mistake – his current alliance with Abbas stems from vested interests. He knows very well that the PLO has wanted to take over the Hashemite kingdom and oust the royal family from power for years, but he needs his Palestinian ally because he fears that Trump’s “deal of the century” will hurt Jordan’s special status as guardian of Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem.
A confederation is a government alliance between two or more independent states, and a confederation of Jordan and the PA would require the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. It’s unclear whether this was Trump’s intention when his envoy floated the confederation idea. Apparently, he meant a Palestinian state in the West Bank that would exclude the Gaza Strip and would comprise isolated, demilitarized administrative areas with ties to Jordan, which would be responsible for defending the confederation and its borders.
But the Jordanians are worried that the Trump administration’s confederation idea is an Israeli idea in American wrappings, designed to remove Israel’s demographic concerns, cancel the “right of return” demanded by Palestinian refugees, and foist responsibility for fighting Palestinian terrorism onto Jordan.
In 1988, Jordan made the strategic decision to cut itself off from the West Bank, and it’s no coincidence that Abdullah is keeping away from the idea of a confederation like poison – he wants to keep Jordan’s borders as they are, and fears that if the idea is implemented, the Palestinians will take his country and depose the Hashemite royal house.
Yoni Ben-Menachem is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.