Jordanians start to discuss reclaiming West Bank rule

The Trump peace plan and Netanyahu's annexation threats have reenergized debates in Jordan over resuming its former role


Since King Hussein’s decision to disengage from the West Bank in 1988, it has been commonly understood that Jordan has no interest in reasserting sovereignty claims.

Most Jordanians argue that severing ties with the West Bank and supporting a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza reinforces the centrality of the distinct Jordanian and Palestinian communities, and underscores that Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.

However, the Peace to Prosperity plan, also known as the Trump peace plan, and the election pledge by Benjamin Netanyahu to annex part of the West Bank have reenergized debates in Jordan over resuming its former role on the West Bank. Jordanians perceive these plans as schemes to liquidate the Palestinian national movement and obstruct the possibility of a viable and independent two state solution, an objective King Abdullah says should consist of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Without an independent Palestinian state, Jordanians argue, millions of Palestinians on the West Bank could flee into the East Bank and undermine the security of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Some Jordanians have recently asserted that in order to protect both Jordanian and Palestinian interests, the kingdom must adopt a more proactive policy and overturn its 1988 disengagement decision, replace the PLO as negotiating partner with Israel, and aim to return the West Bank under Hashemite rule.

They argue that this will protect Jordanian national interests by preventing Israel from settlement expansion and annexation. After 1988, Jordan delegated responsibility to the PLO to establish their own state. But after 25 years since the failure of the Oslo Accords and more than a decade since the divisions between Hamas and Fatah, they argue, it is time for Jordan to replace the PLO and resume responsibility for the fate of the West Bank. By canceling the disengagement decision, these Jordanians believe that they have a greater capacity to stop Israeli activity on the West Bank.

Jordanian journalist Maher Abu Tair has described the kingdom’s decision to disengage as a “catastrophe” because it reduced the size of Jordan, canceled Jordanian citizenship for West Bank Palestinians and led to the Oslo Accords, another “disaster” because they only provided limited autonomy for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. “We hold all parties responsible for Hussein’s disengagement policy,” he added, “including the Palestinians, who challenged Jordan’s role in the West Bank.”

Jordanian MP Muhammad Zahrawi advocates canceling the disengagement decision and said in a speech that the West Bank is “Jordanian land according to the constitution.” In addition to citing Jordanian claims to the West Bank on legal grounds, he attempted to justify Jordan’s need to resume a greater role in the West Bank based on the corruption of the Palestinian leadership, which he belittled as “juvenile.”

Jordanians like Zahrawi who support canceling the disengagement decision believe doing so will correct an “error” by reclaiming sovereignty over the West Bank. Ceding the West Bank, they posit, violates the Jordanian constitution because Article 1 states that “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an independent sovereign Arab State. It is indivisible and inalienable and no part of it may be ceded.” This article has never been amended to reflect King Hussein’s decision, and thus, according to Zahrawi, the West Bank legally remains part of the Hashemite Kingdom.

One Jordanian media analyst explained that the disengagement decision in 1988 hoped to pave the way for the Palestinians to achieve their national aspirations. But the PLO failed to achieve their goals, and therefore “the realistic solution” lies in a federal arrangement between the West Bank and Jordan which will restore stability and remain consistent with international legitimacy. The Palestinians on the West Bank, he adds, “belong to one central government in Amman.”

Canceling the disengagement decision would also advance the concept of a single people inhabiting the two banks of the Jordan. Jordanian citizenship would be restored to West Bank Palestinians and this claim ostensibly helps maintain Jordanian rights to the land.

As one Jordanian writer stated, the solidarity between the East and the West Banks of the Jordan River cannot be broken and it has endured even after the Israeli military victory during the Six Day War.

Moreover, Jordanians who advocate for this position argue that it will help prevent Israel and the US from forcing or encouraging Palestinians on the West Bank to flee into the East Bank. As a sovereign country with a close working relationship with Israel and the United States, Jordan enjoys a greater opportunity to negotiate with Israel over the status of the West Bank. This argument is supported by the fact that the Palestinians as non-state actors are the weaker party. The PA is not a recognized UN member state, and therefore Jordan is the country that must negotiate with Israel over the return of the West Bank and prevent any potential for another exodus of Palestinian refugees in to Jordan, an act which could threaten the security and stability of the kingdom.

These debates have prompted an official response to alleviate concerns of a shift in foreign policy. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi went out of his way to deny and reject that such discussions were taking place. He clarified that talks about canceling the disengagement decision are “baseless” and added that the issue “has not been raised in the past nor in the present.”

But as long as Jordanians perceive the Trump plan and Israeli vows to annex the West Bank as a threat to the stability of their kingdom, these debates will persist. And if other Arab and Muslim countries follow the UAE’s example and normalize relations wwith Israel before resolving the Palestinian problem, Jordan may be faced with additional pressures and challenges.

Michael Sharnoff is Associate Professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. He is the author of Nasser’s Peace: Egypt’s Response to the 1967 War with Israel.

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