Jordan is not Palestine

The threat posed by the revival of the “Jordan option” is all too real, says Lamis Andoni.

Jordanian national flag waved by young boy
Jordan absorbed many Palestinians during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 [GETTY]

George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, has recently expressed his frustration at the lack of progress in the stalled “peace process”.

But it may be time for Mitchell to move aside, as Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands’ third-largest party, seems to have found a ‘creative solution’ to the conflict: Jordan should be renamed Palestine and become a homeland for the Palestinians.

Unfortunately for Wilders – and the Israeli right – this ‘solution’ is neither original nor acceptable and Jordanian officials have responded with a resounding condemnation of the proposal.

The ‘Jordan option’

IN depth

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The plan to turn Jordan into a Palestinian homeland and to give Israel complete control over the historic land of Palestine is regularly rehashed by the Israeli right whenever there is international pressure, however minimal, on Israel to stop its expansionism.

Last month, around half of the 120-member Israeli knesset, submitted “a two states for two peoples on both sides of River Jordan” proposal for discussion. In practice the proposal entails an expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan so that the kingdom becomes a de facto Palestinian homeland.
The forceful revival of what has historically been referred to as the “Jordan option” comes amid growing international pressure over the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Israeli right, many of whom belong to the Likud party of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, see the Jordanian option as an adequate and practical solution to plans to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Dying ‘two-state’ solution

The Israeli right’s fear of a Palestinian state comes at a time when many Palestinians, including officials, believe that the two-state solution is all but dead.

The rapid expansion of Israeli settlements, the erection of the separation wall, and the ongoing annulment of residency permits for Arabs in East Jerusalem, has left little room, if any, for a Palestinian state.

But many in the Israeli right are concerned by the plan of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, to establish a de facto state by building institutions and housing across the lands of the West Bank, including in areas where Israeli forces remain.

While many Palestinians are concerned that Fayyad’s plan will only serve to transform the currently fragmented Palestinian territories into an entity that lacks contiguity and sovereignty, the Israeli right are afraid that any kind of Palestinian state, however distorted, will threaten their claim to the entire historic land of Palestine.

Buffer state

There are 10 official Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan [GETTY]

The “Jordan option” is deeply rooted in the idea that the eastern part of Jordan is part of the historic land of Palestine. Consequently many Israeli leaders, mostly but not solely from the Likud party, argue that the Palestinian population should be transferred “to that part of Palestine”.

The idea, however, was given little credence before 1977, when the Likud party came to power for the first time. The Likud promoted the idea as an alternative to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In 1982, Yitzhak Shamir, who became the Likud prime minister in 1983, wrote that, “reduced to its true proportions, the problem is clearly not the lack of a homeland for the Palestinian Arabs. That homeland is Trans-Jordan, or Eastern Palestine …. A second Palestinian state to the west of the River is a prescription for anarchy.”

But the “Jordan option” contravenes the tacit understanding reached by the founders of Israel and King Abdullah I that Israel would accept the establishment of a Hashemite-run state in east Jordan.

In fact, Israel’s early leaders saw the Hashemite entity as both a buffer between Israel and the rest of the Arab world, and a state that could absorb those Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and the Six Day war in 1967.

But it is precisely the fact that Israeli leaders intentionally turned Jordan into the absorber of the largest Palestinian refugee population that is now being used to justify transforming it into a substitute homeland for the Palestinians and forcibly sending more.

Immoral and illegal

Today Jordan is home to about 1.9 million Palestinian refugees, more than 337,000 of whom live in the country’s 10 official refugee camps.

The argument that the majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin and that Jordan is therefore already the de facto homeland of the Palestinians is hypocritical and erroneous.

There are no precise statistics but it is true that at least half of Jordan’s population of about 6.2 million people are of Palestinian origin. But that is a result of Israeli expansionism and a deliberate policy of emptying Palestinian lands of Palestinians.

If Jordan was the original home of the Palestinian people, Israel would not have had to demolish around 450 Palestinian villages or to devise policies to expel the Palestinian population.

Moreover, there was already a community with its own traditions, costumes and dialect specific to the east of Jordan before the establishment of Israel.

Furthermore, the whole principle of evicting a population, erasing their villages, and bringing in settlers so as to change an area’s demographics is simply immoral and illegal under international law.

Perpetual war

Refugees cross the remains of the Allenby Bridge over the River Jordan in 1967 [GETTY]

The fulfillment of the right wing dream of turning Jordan into Palestine cannot happen without a gradual or mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the use of force against Jordanians.

It presents, therefore, a scenario of continuous war and conflict that cannot possibly end Israel’s “Palestinian problem”.

But even though this ‘vision’ cannot be easily fulfilled without resorting to all out war, it must be taken seriously as it offers an excuse to force yet more Palestinians from their homeland.

Over the years, two variations of the “Jordan option” have developed. The first is based on “transferring” the Palestinian population of the East Bank and even Israel “proper” to Jordan, where the Palestinian homeland is to be established. The second scenario is based on establishing a Palestinian state in Jordan, which would also include the Arab-populated areas of the West Bank.

Both options have been rejected, but the proposals have remained alive as a stick with which to threaten the Palestinians and the Jordanians and to counter perceived threats or the international community’s verbal support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. In other words, Israeli leaders use the “Jordan option” whenever Israel is in time of crisis.

Dispossessing ‘infiltrators’

The fact that 53 knesset members have been strongly pushing the “Jordan option” is testimony to the level of isolation Israel currently feels. But, instead of addressing the core issue of Palestinian national rights, the leaders of the Israeli right are raising the spectre of further dispossession of the Palestinian people.

What has made this proposal more threatening to both Jordan and the Palestinians is that was preceded by a new military order that allows Israel to expel those deemed not to have the ‘right’ Israeli paperwork as “infiltrators”. As the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, according to this order residents of East Jerusalem, Palestinian citizens of other countries and even those who hold Israeli passports could be classified as “infiltrators” and expelled.

Under the guise of assuring “judicial oversight of the extradition process”, Israel has effectively established a new plan for the gradual but large scale expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan, thus making the “Jordan option” all the more real.

In rationalising his controversial proposal, Wilders argued that “the West has to protect Jerusalem” and “to stop the offensive by leftists and Muslims to destroy Israel”.

Spoken in the tradition of his party’s anti-Muslim views, Wilders both exposed and echoed the concept underlying the “Jordan option”: That, like so many other racist ideas, it cannot be implemented without resorting to force and the exclusion of “the other”.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera