Israel’s “Jordanian Option” twisted and shaped to your liking

"Transjordan" was separated from the British of Mandate of Palestine in 1920, preventing further Jewish immigration to the area.

In 2005, when doing research among Israeli national religious settlers most of my interviewees could not come up with a coherent answer when asked what they considered the best practical solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. The problem however, was not because they had never thought about it, but because they considered the question utterly irrelevant. By asking the question, I revealed a leftist secular “bias” which made them suspicious about my intentions and thus unwilling to share with me their real perspective, which was based on ultimate and absolute religious “truth.” When one person finally took some time off from preaching (as a result of my entirely naïve and secular question), he explained that he did not believe that Hashem would allow a continuation of the current outrageous situation for too much longer. It is clear, he said, that redemption is on its way, Jews are flocking to the Biblical territories, a major war seems to be brewing, and the Arabs will be driven out “naturally” as they were in 1967.

Because I was surprised that they had not at least tried to make up a preferable political scenario in order to wage the war against the seculars, I still pressed on, and insisted that he come up with an alternative, should the dreams for the “miraculous” docility and/or disappearance of the Palestinian population by either force or redemption, not pan out within the foreseeable future. A bit sheepishly, he mechanically shared an unconvincing plan of Jordanian nationalism for those Palestinians who would accept to remain inside of Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel promised in the Bible). However, he added, most Palestinians when presented with the option, would chose to leave which would reduce the Palestinian problem to an insignificant minimum. Those who did opt to remain, he explained, would be given “guest status” as foreigners in the Jewish state according to the Biblical tradition. This is nothing new, he noted, as the Jewish people always had aliens among them who respected that only Jews could be the owners of this land. The reason why this option has not worked out yet he said is because of the hostility of the Arab states that have refused to accept the Palestinians as citizens. After all, he added, Palestinians never existed as a separate Arab people before the birth of Israel.

When Israeli politicians and analysts raise the Jordanian option as an alternative to the two-state solution we need to be aware that there are (at least) two different “Jordanian options” and although both are currently un-feasible, it is important to recognize how they differ. Recently, as the Jerusalem Post reported, retired Israeli general Uzi Dayan suggested that because the Oslo Process has essentially failed, Israel should be negotiating with Jordan to accept the West Bank and Gaza as Jordanian provinces. While such an idea is indeed not novel and was long considered the “preferred alternative” for Israelis, it completely ignores the fact that Jordan officially renounced its claims on the West Bank territory in 1987 in response to the PLO acceptance of Israel and the two-state solution (the Gaza Strip was never part of Jordan’s claim). Should that not be enough of a reminder, King Abdullah II promptly warned the Israelis against getting to excited about the idea, by saying, “Jordan will never be a substitute land for anyone […] We should speak loudly and not allow such an idea to remain in the minds of some of us. Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine.” Although they may share the same language, those who consider themselves native Jordanians are not Palestinian, but Hashemite. Just like Israel, taking in large territories of Palestinian nationals would thus threaten the demographic balance in Jordan at a time when the rest of the region is undergoing democratic transition and populist uprisings. Thus, while for Israelis it may seem convenient to have the Jordanians inherit the Palestinian problem, such a solution is most likely to be temporary and may even present a greater security risk to Israel in the long-run. However, given the relative trust that exists between Israel and Jordan, Israeli wishful thinking about the Jordanian option is understandable.

Jordanian King Abdullah II

However, while the discussion about the Jordanian option may still be legitimate despite the King’s objections, it needs to be pointed out that this is not what my national religious settler had in mind when he explained “his” Jordanian option. Rather, simply put, his argument is that if Jordan is “declared” the Palestinian homeland, the West Bank population will have no choice but to go there. On Monday, in response to King Abdullah’s warning Isreali MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) advised the King that he should “declare Jordan the home of the Palestinian nation today, or seek refuge in London, while he is still in control of his own fate.” “Jordan is Palestine” he declared, and “Abdullah knows very well that there is no other justification for Jordan’s existence.” It is this perspective that Eldad recently touted to US Congressional members during a visit to Washington DC. The response among American lawmakers was overwhelmingly positive, he claimed. According to Arutz Sheva, American representatives had “showed great interest in the idea of Jordan providing a homeland for those who identify as Palestinian.” Although the degree to which US members of congress seem to receive advice from Israeli political right-wingers who tout radical racist political ideologies is quite worrying, this is outside the scope of today’s topic. What is more of a concern here is the degree to which sections of the Israeli national religious right are entirely detached from the reality of the political and human situation on the ground. If it is indeed true that a large majority of the Israeli electorate (as my interviewees claimed) accept and support their assertion that redemption is near and that it is legitimate (according to Jewish law) to exile (or transfer) a non-Jewish population from the land they have been living on for generations, we have a huge problem not just for the peace process, but for Israel’s very legitimacy and survival. The frequency at which these options are presented as valid and “lawful” solutions to the conflict by members of the political establishment is increasing and, as a result, for ordinary Israelis who are sick and tired of the ongoing conflict they are beginning to sound like plausible alternatives.

What the settlers are refusing to acknowledge is that the Palestinian problem is not only a “national” problem, but also a territorial problem. The Palestinians do not just want a “home,” they happen to want it in the same place that the settlers envision for themselves. Just as the Jewish people were reluctant to accept the Uganda offer made to them at the sixth Zionist Congress in 1906s, Palestinians are not going to agree to abandon the land of their ancestors and move to a neighboring state, at least not without a fight. Efforts to promote better living conditions among Palestinians so that their birth-rates will fall will not change the fact that Palestinians claim the exact same territory as Israelis as their homeland. Neither will the opposite policies of trying to curtail or reduce Palestinian economic incentives and opportunities so that they leave. The latter would only serve to create a Palestinian brain drain, where all that is left of the population are the uneducated masses who are more susceptible to radical politics. Instead, all those policies will continue to keep Palestinians in political and territorial limbo, increasingly convincing outsiders that the situation resembles the discrimination that took place under South African apartheid.

The fact is that unless the Palestinians are given a tangible territorial arrangement within the territory that they claim as their homeland, they will continue to fight for it. Does that mean that Israel has to give them all the territory they claim, or that they have to allow all the refugees to return? Clearly, at this point, even Palestinians have begun to realize that such demands are not feasible. Does that mean that those who are not allowed back will continue to long back to the cities in Israel from which their ancestors were made refugees? Of course! Just like Jews longing back to their promised land, you cannot take away the desire of Palestinian refugees to go back to those roots, especially since many people were exiled from their homes through violence through no personal fault of their own. Just as Jews have always longed back to the Promised Land so will Palestinians dream of their historic Palestine. Ironically, this fact is a side effect of Israel’s very success. If Israel insists on first “declaring victory” by pushing the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s Jewishness, or by demanding of the Palestinians that they “declare an end to the historic conflict and renounce all claims to the land,” they may find that the Palestinians have won the demographic race before a territorial agreement can be reached.

The national-religious settlers are thus living in a dreamland between biblical delusion and the harsh reality. The Gaza evacuations woke them up to the fact that their biggest enemies may not be the Palestinians, but those within Israel who are willing to challenge and change the status quo and to stop redemption in its track.

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