Gaza and the Jordanian Option

In recent weeks the Jordanian Option has been floated in the media as a viable way forward in negotiations to resolve the current Palestinian statelessness. Haaretz ran the initial large piece explaining that Jordanian officials, supposedly with king Abdullah’s blessing, had been in Israel recently as well as Washington in order to float Jordan’s ideas of a confederation.

“According to the plans of the king’s assistants, the Hashemite monarch–as the direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed–will serve as the president of the confederation, in addition to his position as the monarch of the Jordanian kingdom; and a federal government will be set up together with an elected parliament that will be composed of both Jordanian and Palestinian representatives.

The security forces will come under the control of the federal government, and this will supposedly allay the fears of Israel about the activities of independent Palestinian military forces. The condition for the establishment of the federation, Abdullah’s aides say, is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement over the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Only after that will the independent state be invited to join the proposed confederation.”

An unrelated article on the Israeli secret service operated site Debkafiles concerning the release of 250 Fatah prisoners in a deal doctored by Israel in order to “boost” Abu Mazen’s support in the West Bank after the Hamas takeover in Gaza, mentions this account from July 15,

“According to our sources, Gen. Dayton has promised these apparently reformed 178 terrorists–not smart suits and ties, but advanced military hardware, armored vehicles and 4x4s equipped with state of the art communications gear for them to lord it over the West Bank.

Sunday night, July 15, there were reports that Israel was now being asked to give Palestinian security forces the freedom to range over the West Bank. In other words, the IDF is under pressure to abandon its highly-successful system of manned military roadblocks and checkpoints and counter-terror arrest raids, which reduced almost to zero the years of Palestinian suicide attacks in which Fatah played a leading part.

The elements are therefore in place for beginning to ease Israeli troops out of the West Bank and requiring them to hand over the responsibility for fighting terror to the Palestinians.”

It is curious just how the pieces have been falling into place for such a plan to be carried out. The Haaretz article provides some historical background to the two solutions considered by Israel, the Palestinian Option and the Jordanian Option, in the past 20 years the latter seems to have hardly been taken into consideration, but is this really the case?

The Palestinian Option refers to a Palestinian state made up of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. By dividing these two entities the project fails. Recent events in Gaza saw democratically elected Hamas claiming its rights to govern by rejecting the plans of Western backed coup-plotters within Fatah and single handedly removing the party leadership from Gaza.

With Gaza’s Fatah leadership seeking refuge in the West Bank, this move made for the decisive division creating two de facto areas of governance, the Gaza Strip under Hamas and the West bank for Fatah. Unless the two governing entities, one elected by the people and not recognized by the world and the other self-imposed and recognized by the international community, can reconcile and find an agreement to share rule over the two areas the Palestinian Option goes up in smoke. Palestinian leaders are digging the graves of their national aspirations. Many international voices are calling for vital talks between the two parties, yet Israel is contently opposing any such action, they want to see that grave dug.

Prior to the events that led to the collapse of the Palestinian Option Israel ascertained two steps to address a demographic threat they face by the Palestinians. Step number one was Sharon’s “disengagement plan” from Gaza. This allowed for an alleged washing of hands on Israel’s part of any responsibility for the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that the state of Israel created the overpopulated enclave in 1948 and the foundation of its contemporary social ills. Step number two was Israel’s covert role in the Hamas takeover in Gaza. Israel acted as midwife to the US plan to strengthen Fatah security forces, which ought to have been under Hamas control, in order to oppose Hamas’ strength.

In an interview, recently elected Israeli president Shimon Peres refers to the London Agreement of 1987, in which secret negotiations were held to start a dialog between Israel, Jordan and a Palestinian delegation excluding the PLO.

“So let’s make a troika, an economic troika. Economics is about relations. Politics is about borders. We have to start with the relations. And here I worked out a plan, which is called the “Valley of Peace,” beginning at the Red Sea and winding up at the Syrian border. And all the three agree. And if there will be a new economy, there will be a new situation, including work for people of the West Bank. And by the way, we cannot postpone this because nature is impatient. We have to solve the problem of the Dead Sea. It may become a catastrophe. So it’s all of this combined. It’s a new world.”

The Agreement was negotiated by non other than Peres himself and today, 20 years later the situation is not all that different. Peres still considers himself at some sort of auction where he can bid for his favorite “partner for peace.” 20 years ago the PLO, the popular representative of the Palestinians was not to his liking and thus he held a secret meeting in order to hold talks without them. Today, Peres seeks to negotiate the regional troika with a new government brokered by Mahmoud Abbas, lead by 2.4% vote receiving Salam Fayyad. Shimon Peres can talk about a valley of peace, while Gaza goes the way of sheol, not unlike Gaza’s Hebrew phonetic resemblance “Aza’el”.

Peres has this ambiguous statement to make about Gaza,

“Let the Gazans do whatever they want. I don’t suggest that we go to Las Vegas for a divorce, or go to the rabbinate for a marriage. Let them do whatever they want.”

The bottom line is, Gaza is out of the plan, out of Israel’s (or is it the US’s?) vision for their proposed “valley” in the Middle East. Gaza will remain a zoo, with humanitarian aid going in and rare visitors granted Israeli permission to enter to discover the devastation within, Gazans in a cage, living off of donated staples without access to the world and no opportunities for self-improvement.

Israeli MK Arieh Eldad wrote in a recent article what many Israeli politicians seem to think but few dare to put into words, “Jordan is Palestine.” She writes off Peres and Netenyahu as naïve and believes the truth needs to be told. Israel desires no other state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. A Rabin quote, reveals her cards early on, “a Palestinian state will rise only on the ruins of Israel.” This smokescreen myth, a fallacious either/or logic allows for an Israeli carte blanche in its political maneuverings. Many may consider Arieh extreme and yet is she not speaking the words that most Israelis are thinking, and confessing the idea that Israeli politicians have been acting out since the Israeli state came into existence? Has there ever been any actual implementation of facts-on-the-ground towards a two-sate solution?

The bottom line is this, no matter what comes from the horse’s mouth, history reveals Israel’s continued construction of one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. One Jewish majority state, converse to Rabin’s statement, built on the destruction of a Palestinian state. If one looks a little closer at the recent events in Gaza, an invisible hand is distinguishable. Dahlan’s words come to mind made in an interview shortly after his men were exiled from Gaza in which he points out that Hamas fell for a “trap.” Dahlan may very well have been just a pawn, who was used and then brushed aside, but who knows, maybe just for the time being. If the international community and Israel squeeze the Gazans hard enough and long enough they might one day be ready to cheer the toppled warlord Dahlan back into power. Anything, to replace a Hamas leadership that may have been popularly elected and is able to provide security but economically cannot do more than hold open the door for international aid to pour in, as the world allows them to strangle on the noose of international boycott.

Ultimately, Israel seeks to rid itself of responsibility for the “Palestinian Problem.” Sharon’s genius in the disengagement from the Gaza Strip has not yet been fully recognized. The Haaretz article explains the original concept behind the Jordanian option,

“Instead of wrestling with the complex issue of implementing autonomy, the territory would be handed over to Jordan, and in this way Israel would be freed of the need to deal with the Palestinian problem.”

With the end of the disengagement, Ariel Sharon defiant of international law declared Gaza autonomous, clearing Israel’s responsibility over that territory and thereby delaying the demographic threat facing Israeli society. Although this is far from the reality on the ground as Israel continues to control most dimensions of Gaza’s daily life, the political reality was established. With the Jordanian Option Israel will be able to do the same for the West Bank by negotiating away its responsibility of finding a just solution for the blood of the past. One big question remains, without the Jordan River being reached will Israel be able to settle on a compromise between its political and religious ambitions in order to set its own final borders?

Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German who lived in Gaza from August 2005 to August 2007. He can be emailed at