On September 2, 2018, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a number of Israeli lawmakers in his office in Ramallah that US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and US special envoy Jason Greenblatt have asked him earlier if he advocates for the formation a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, as a prelude to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Supposedly, if Abbas is factual and the Americans have really commended a peace plan hinging on a Palestinian-Jordanian confederacy, is it the right move? Is it the best time for such a move? For many Jordanians and even Palestinians, it is opaque why Abbas included Israel in the proposed confederation: Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians. Is he repeating what former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sought to achieve in the 1970s between Arabs and Israelis through a gradual peace process?
It sounds like Abbas has assigned himself as a representative of two countries: Jordan and Israel to assign this responsibility to declare a theoretical move that would be acceptable for some players but not for the main ones, which are Jordan and Israel.
Jordan has confirmed its rejection of this idea, which goes viral in the media every time, and then promoting this confederation scenario to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Will this proposal bring a settlement to the long festering conflict? Will this be accepted by Israel and Jordan at a later stage?
As Israel is reluctant, even unwilling, to pull out from any of the disputed areas, and as long as the Palestinians are not alacritous to relinquish their rights in an independent state, the proposed scenario seems spooky. In 1974, Henry Kissinger said: “Due to lack of verifications and readiness that Israel is prepared to withdraw from at least some of the disputed territories, or that the Palestinians are eager to settle for something less than an independent state, what is there to talk about thereto? What territories, if any, will be given up by Israel? Who shall rule there? And what security arrangements will prevail after Israel’s pullout?”
In fact, there is no crystal clear answer to any of these queries, mostly due to the gloomy outlook of the future relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The major concerns are: The peace process and the spirit of the Oslo Agreement which was signed by Palestinian and Israeli leaders in 1994, the predicament of Palestinian representation and the nature of the final solution to the conflict.
The confederal scenario
Some politicians on both sides of the Jordan River started to promote the notion of a confederacy. Politically, the unanimity on this agreement between Palestinians and Jordanians is vague because it does not reveal what Palestinian polity or state would be in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. As long as the Palestinian leadership insists on an independent state based on a two-state solution, what does Abbas really mean by saying: Tripartite confederation?
In the 1970s, Kissinger said that a confederation requires constitutional authority for the Palestinians based on an agreement between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, which ensures the new body a sovereign entity, where Palestinians are granted internationally recognised passports. This would give the security and foreign policy to Jordan to tackle, where citizens of the three states enjoy economic and business activities that help the flow of goods and commodities and movement of people across borders without hindrances.
Jordanian political elites were preoccupied with talking about a confederate regime between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestinian state after Abbas had raised this notion. The important thing is not the idea or the principle, but that Arabs do not read history, which has been proposed long time before.
The declaration of this notion is simply to end the talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the right of return, by integrating the rest of the state of Palestine into an internationally recognized political entity to gain international political character to break the deadlock of the two-state solution and end any future negotiations about the return of refugees, which Israel says are only 80,000 in Jordan and 20,000 in Lebanon.
In the absence of any indication of Israel’s willingness to withdraw from at least some of the disputed areas with the Palestinians, have any of those wars between Arabs and Israelis resolved aggression? Did all these wars resolve the escalation or restored lands, wondered Kissinger. In this context, is there any realistic diplomacy that can ignore the questions posed by Kissinger at that time: “What land, if any, will Israel replace? Who will rule there, and what security arrangements will prevail after the Israeli withdrawal?”
In the 1970s, Kissinger sought a tripartite confederation: Jordanian – Palestinian – Israeli. Today, according to the deal of the century, this formula is closer to being formed because of common denominators between Jordanians and Palestinians. Kissinger said to a group of Jewish leaders in New York City in 1974: “We wanted to keep the Soviets out of the diplomatic game in the Middle East so that they would not have a hand in the region.
We also sought to strengthen the Israeli army to help find a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. When the 1973 war broke out, we had to think about a number of things: First, what would be the impact of the oil crisis on Western Europe and Japan to keep them away from Israel, and I should tell you that every European leader I saw told me that he would not allow any European country to witness recession.
Second, our impression is that Israel must be strong, but the Israeli force does not prevent the spread of Communism in the Arab world, the Israeli force provides security for Israel, the best defense against the Communist tide in the Arab world is to strengthen moderate Arab governments. It is hard to claim that Israel is strong and that it serves US interests. Washington’s goal is to support Israel to prevent the spread of Communism in the Arab world in exchange for ensuring Israel’s security. Later on, comes the solution of the Arab conflict through gradual talks.
Simply what Abbas did is exercising more pressure on Jordan to act more to resolve the impasse in Palestinian-Israeli talks at a time where Jordan is undergoing high security threats, tough economic conditions and some political turmoil due to regional developments.
Any future solution to the Israeli issue will not be far from what Kissinger proposed and worked on for many years. Arabs should have read his papers thoroughly to assimilate his concepts and tricks before outfoxing Israelis as the final solution will be at the expense of Jordanian and Palestinian interests.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.