Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are the best of frenemies. Even while they squabble and fight for power, the so-called moderates in the PA and Fatah work in tandem with the fundamentalists in Hamas to prevent the realization of the two-state solution.
The PA has repeatedly rejected offers of partition. Arafat rejected an offer of independence and peace at Camp David in 2000, and current President Mahmoud Abbas has admitted that he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008. He recently reiterated his categorical rejection of any territorial compromise, calling for a “Palestinian state whose capital is east Jerusalem on the ’67 borders,” and he continues to reject peace negotiations
This demand, of course, is impossible to grant. In his book Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, Yossi Klein Halevi described the way that Jordanian forces fired indiscriminately on homes in Jewish neighborhoods of west Jerusalem from positions in the West Bank during the 1967 war. In Times of Israel, Caitlyn Martin explained,
70 percent of Israel’s population lives in the area that you can see from Alfe Menashe [in Samaria]. Prior to 1967 nobody lived there. It was used as a gun emplacement by the Jordanian army. It was used to shell Israeli cities during times of conflict.
A return to the 1948 ceasefire lines is simply not a realistic option. Abbas, however, has maintained an obstinate insistence on a concession that is, for Israel, impossible. Abbas’s hard-line position makes a negotiated withdrawal from the disputed West Bank territories unobtainable.
At the same time, Hamas continues to attack Israel from Gaza, even though it knows it has no hope of defeating Israel militarily. While many Gazans that were made homeless during Operation Protective Edge remain so two years later, Hamas has been busily siphoning aid money to create the infrastructure for the next war. This infrastructure relies on mosques and schools as part of its strategy. Hamas’s unwavering dedication to violence, and the risk that it could take over the West Bank, make further unilateral withdrawals impossible.
The combined effect of Hamas and PA actions is to perpetuate the status quo, even as it becomes increasingly miserable for all sides. Israel cannot negotiate an agreement to withdraw because there is no one with whom to negotiate. Israel cannot leave without an agreement because to do so would result in more chaos and more violence. It is stuck, literally, between rocks and rockets.
One can only assume that Palestinian Arabs are acting with the hope that if the status quo persists, eventually the international community will force Israel to grant citizenship to at least Arab West Bank residents, if not Gaza residents as well. Of course, this hope is in vain, as the UN lacks the power or ability to impose such a plan against Israel’s will, and Israel will never agree to commit national suicide.
The time has clearly come to begin searching for other alternatives.
A good place to start would be to examine the events that led to the current situation. In 1948, the UN proposed a partition of the areas that now comprise Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The newly reconstituted State of Israel was attacked by the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. It was Jordan that then occupied the West Bank from 1948-1967.
And, it was Jordan that initiated the hostilities that resulted in the Israeli capture of the West Bank in 1967. After Israel’s preemptive attack on Egypt,
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a message to King Hussein saying Israel would not attack Jordan unless he initiated hostilities. When Jordanian radar picked up a cluster of planes flying from Egypt to Israel, and the Egyptians convinced Hussein the planes were theirs, he then ordered the shelling of West Jerusalem. It turned out the planes were Israel’s, and were returning from destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground. Meanwhile, Syrian and Iraqi troops attacked Israel’s northern frontier.
Had Jordan not attacked, the status of Jerusalem would not have changed during the course of the war. Once the city came under fire, however, Israel needed to defend it, and, in doing so, took the opportunity to unify the city, ending Jordan’s 19-year occupation of the eastern part.
Jordan played a substantial role in creating the current situation. It is time that Jordan, with whom Israel now has a peace treaty, was called upon to play a role in the solution.
The next US administration would likely need to exert substantial pressure on Jordan, and probably would need to offer substantial incentive. Since the PA refuses to agree to any solution, however, a solution must be reached without its agreement. By dealing directly with Jordan, Israel and the US can circumvent the recalcitrant Palestinian Authority. Israel can annex the areas that it needs to annex, areas that Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross understood that it must annex. The portion of the territories that Israel does not need to keep, it should return to Jordan.
Jordan would then have several options available to it. Annexation of the territory would be one. Another possibility is that the West Bank could become a territory of Jordan similar in status to that of Puerto Rico with respect to the US. This path could ameliorate Jordanian fears about becoming a minority in their own country. A confederation between Jordan and Palestine is a possibility that has been the subject of significant discussion of late. The only requirement on Jordan would be to keep the peace. Substantial US assistance could be, and likely would need to be, provided to help achieve this.
While the PA is not likely to, and does not need to, agree to this, it is possible that it could garner substantial support among the Palestinian Arab population. Recent polls have shown between 42% and 76% of Palestinian Arabs supporting a confederation with Jordan. A prominent Palestinian academic, Sari Nusseibeh, has advocated such a plan as well, and it’s been reported that Al-Quds University has already conducted detailed research on this possibility. Professor Nusseibeh recently told Al-Monitor, “The Palestinians and the Jordanians have historical relations and ancient family ties and the confederation may be an alternative accepted by the Palestinians to get rid of the Israeli occupation.” Khaled Abu Toameh wrote recently that “the talk about a confederation between the Palestinians and Jordan shows that under the current circumstances, the two-state solution (a Palestinian state alongside Israel) is no longer being viewed by Palestinians as a realistic solution that will bring their people a better life.”
Earlier this week Jordan’s King Abdullah was quoted saying that “the Palestinian issue is our first priority and a supreme national interest.” The King should put words into action.
Those who understand that the roots of this conflict are religious and not political in nature will understand that the Palestinian Arab population will be far more amenable to Jordanian rule than Israeli rule. And those who understand the history will understand why Jordan has an obligation to the parties.
Israel did not create this conflict, and it can’t resolve it alone. If the next US administration understands that it is the symbiotic relationship between Fatah and Hamas that is blocking Palestinian statehood and perpetuating the conflict, rather than anything that Israel does or doesn’t do, it will need to start searching for a new approach.