Why settlers want democracy in Jordan

By Nathan Jeffay, March 10, 2011
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Jordanians protesting against their government this week

Jordanians protesting against their government this week

Much of Israel has watched unrest spreading through the Middle East with considerable concern. But there appears to be excitement stirring on the far-right.

Last Friday in Amman, capital of Jordan, hundreds marched calling for democratic reform. And the growing campaign in Jordan has an unlikely supporter - Dr Aryeh Eldad, an Israeli settler and parliamentarian with the National Union party.

He is running an online pro-democracy petition which he plans to present to Jordan's government and monarch King Abdullah on the country's Independence Day in May.

Improbably, his goal is a democracy that better protects the rights of "disenfranchised Palestinians" who live there.

More than half of Jordan's 6.3 million population is of Palestinian origin. In recent years, the Jordanian government has withdrawn citizenship from thousands of Palestinians. It has been done arbitrarily, and without notice. Jordanian officials wish to limit the size and influence of that section of the population.

Last year, Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the practice. "Jordan is playing politics with the basic rights of thousands of its citizens," it declared.

One plan is to make a new Palestine part of Jordan

For Mr Eldad, the equation is simple: a more representative democracy in Jordan would mean an end to the repression of the country's Palestinians and pave the way for them to fully participate in national and political life. He believes that this would help him to revive the argument, once popular among the Israeli mainstream but now largely forgotten, that when all is said and done the Palestinians already have a state in Jordan and therefore do not need another one.

"As the cries for democracy reach us from Tunis, Egypt, and all around the Arab world, we call upon the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to declare itself the democratic nation state of the Palestinian people," states Mr Elad's petition, which so far has around 3,000 signatures.

Of course, Jordan's leaders are not about to embrace Mr Eldad's campaign - and the international community is not going to shelve the demand for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and come around to the "Jordan is Palestine" argument. However, if there is democratic change in Jordan it is likely to affect the political discourse in Israel.

Firstly, some revival of the "Jordan is Palestine" argument is likely on the settler-right, where opposition to a Palestinian state is strong but suggestions for alternatives are in short supply.

Secondly, some figures far more mainstream than Mr Eldad have been looking to Jordan to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Israeli negotiator and army general Giora Eiland has proposed a Palestinian state that is part of a federation with Jordan, so that Palestinian statehood is less of a leap into the unknown. If Jordan becomes democratic and representative of its currently-repressed Palestinian majority, this becomes far more conceivable.

    Last updated: 12:47pm, March 10 2011