October 23, 2018

Why the ‘Jordanian Option’ Won’t Die

“Since 1967, Israel hasn’t been able to identify a Palestinian leadership that can be trusted to keep the peace and maintain order. Likewise, Israel doesn’t really believe that a tiny Palestinian enclave trapped between Israel and Jordan could be economically viable. And so it has always hoped that Israel’s eventual separation from Palestinians will include a guarantee of — to put it bluntly — adult supervision.

The “Jordanian option” is much more mainstream than Israel publicly admits. Even Shimon Peres, the foreign minister who forged the Oslo accords with Yasir Arafat 25 years ago, did not believe that a stand-alone Palestinian state was a good idea, recounted Avi Gil, Mr. Peres’s longtime confidant, in a recent book. “He never abandoned the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation,” writes Mr. Gil. (Disclosure: I am the editor of Mr. Gil’s book, as well as Mr. Gelber’s.)

What exactly would this confederacy entail? There are many versions of this idea, but most suggest that the Palestinians get something that is less than a fully independent state, while Israel gets a partner that is more than an unreliable Palestinian neighbor. To achieve this, Jordan takes over some parts of the West Bank, keeps its role as guardian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, and becomes the political and economic center of gravity for Palestinians who live on both sides of the Jordan River. The Palestinians will be the citizens of a confederated Palestine, or Jordan.

The Jordanians oppose the idea of confederation, and so few Israeli leaders are willing to publicly promote it. But from time to time their true colors show. A decade ago, Gen. Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser in the early 2000s under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, wrote several influential articles in which he preached a return to the “the Jordanian confederation option of years past.” Ayelet Shaked, an influential minister from the right-wing Jewish Home party, has likewise envisioned a future in which parts of the West Bank would be linked to Jordan. A few days ago, Gideon Saar, a former minister and a powerful figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, spoke about the possibility of a “link in the future between an Arab autonomy in Judea and Samaria and the Kingdom of Jordan.” ”

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