The U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations have yet to yield any tangible results. Serious disagreements remain over key issues such as borders, refugees, security, and the status of Jerusalem. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a surprise visit to Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss these issues. While Jordan officially supports a two-state solution, Jordan’s leaders have also quietly expressed serious concerns over the parameters of a future Palestinian state.
Does Jordan truly want an independent Palestinian state?
“The Jordanians want a solution that doesn’t undermine the domestic stability of the Hashemite kingdom. [One that] creates a relatively secure border and protects their interests in Jerusalem. The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations touch upon their national security,” Aaron David Miller—a former U.S. Mideast advisor and negotiator, and now a distinguished scholar at the Wilson Center think tank—told JNS.org.
One of the major issues to arise in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has been the status of the Jordan Valley, a narrow rift valley between the Judean Mountains and the Jordan River that forms the border with Jordan. Both Israel and Jordan are deeply concerned that the West Bank could turn into a haven for terrorists, like the Gaza Strip did after an Israeli withdrawal in 2005.
Thus far, Israel has made it clear that it wants to hold on to the Jordan Valley and to maintain the current Jewish communities there as well.
“I do not intend to evacuate any settlements or uproot a single Israeli,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos, Switzerland.
In the recent meeting between Netanyahu and Abdullah, Netanyahu briefed the Jordanian leader on the “recent developments in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” and emphasized that Israel “places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan’s interests, in any future agreement,” the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
According to Israeli media reports, Jordan is in favor of some type of Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. Like Israel, Jordan is concerned about the Jordan Valley and the possibility that terror groups could smuggle weapons or plan attacks from the West Bank.
“They [Jordan] are desperately concerned about a Gaza-like situation on their border. Presumably that is why they wouldn’t mind some type of Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, But that doesn’t mean they think that Israel should annex the Jordan Valley,” Professor Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told JNS.org.
But an official at Jordan’s American Embassy told JNS.org there are “no grounds” to reports suggesting that Jordan favors Israeli control of the Jordan Valley.
“Because of the secretive nature of these [Israeli-Palestinian] talks, there has been a lot of false and exaggerated information in the media,” Dana Daoud, an official at the Embassy of Jordan in Washington, DC, told JNS.org.
According to Daoud, Jordan’s position has remained the same throughout the negotiations.
“Our position hasn’t changed. We believe that the only way to a comprehensive peace is through a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a fully independent Palestinian state,” said Daoud.
Nevertheless, the Jordanians and the Palestinians have a unique and intertwined history that dates back nearly a century, creating a complicated relationship between the two sides.
Originally in its infancy, the area known as modern Jordan was part of the original British mandate of Palestine. In 1922, the British partitioned the original mandate, setting aside all the land east of the Jordan River to become an Arab state. But Jordan’s Hashemite kingdom still believed that areas west of the Jordan River, especially Jerusalem, should be under their control. As such, during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Jordanian forces occupied what is known today as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, controlling it until 1967 and granting citizenship to many of the Palestinian Arabs living there.
When Israel took control of these areas as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Jordan’s King Hussein still laid claim to the region and control over the Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. Further complicating matters, many Palestinians fled to Jordan in 1967, and combined with their 1948 influx into the country, Palestinians now constitute a majority of Jordan’s population.
“On the Jordanian side, there is an understanding of the intimate relations between the Jordanians and Palestinians and the historical connections between the two sides of the river,” Susser told JNS.org.
Yet Jordan’s original inhabitants, Bedouin tribes living there before 1948, view the Palestinian situation as a difficult problem that has plagued the country for decades.
Known as “East Bankers,” these tribes control many of Jordan’s important state institutions, including the military and domestic security forces, and therefore have considerable influence on King Abdullah. These native Jordanians have long opposed the presence of Jordan’s Palestinians, often treating them as second-class citizens.
“Jordan thinks that if there is no real settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, that there will be another conflict between them in which Israel would crush the Palestinians. Then Jordan will be faced with another few hundred thousand refugees. That’s the last thing they want,” Susser said.
For Jordan, the other core issues such as Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem are also extremely important.
“The problem is there is a nationalist trend in Jordan that is rather anti-Palestinian and very adamant on the right of return of Palestinians. Not because they are devoted to the Palestinian cause, but they want the Palestinians in Jordan, as many as possible, to leave,” Susser explained.
On Jerusalem, Israel has also vowed to never again have the city divided, as it was between 1948 and 1967. Jordan, on the other hand, supports the Palestinians’ proposal of having their capital in eastern Jerusalem. But Jordan also has control over the Muslim Holy Sites in eastern Jerusalem, which may pose problems for Jordan and the Palestinians.
Indeed, modern Jordan has taken steps to separate itself from the situation to its east. In 1988, Jordan’s late King Hussein formally renounced ties to the West Bank and endorsed Palestinian statehood there. In 1994, Jordan also signed a peace treaty with Israel, paving the way for recognition and cooperation.
“Gone are the days, or even the illusions, that had Jordan negotiating for the Palestinians, [or] play some sort of surrogate role or agreeing to participate in some sort of co-federal structure in which the Jordanians would assume responsibility [for the Palestinians],” Miller told JNS.org.
As such, despite its historic ties to the Palestinians, modern Jordan prefers a more passive role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“I think Jordan is a significant player and remains a big player in the broader regional framework. But it just does not have the street credibility or influence to adopt independent positions on the Palestinian issue or to pressure the Palestinians to accept positions they don’t want,” Miller said.
Susser explained that Jordan prefers to stay on the sidelines until a more comprehensive framework agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is reached.
“The Jordanians want to be in the loop, but they don’t want to be responsible for the negotiations. They don’t want to be held responsible in the Arab world for whatever concessions need to be made to the Israelis; they rather let the Palestinians do that,” he said.
Nevertheless, Susser believes that since it is one of the region’s most stable countries, Jordan may help a future Palestinian state after it has been established.
“[The Jordanians] are quite open to a confederation and helping the Palestinians, but only after a Palestinian state has been established,” Susser said.