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Falling Out

Israel and Jordan once worked together for peace. Now their alliance is collapsing, driven apart by the issue of refugee resettlement, and Jordan may be turning to Iran.

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Clockwise from top left: King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin, 1994; King Abdullah and Ariel Sharon, 2005; Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah, 2010; King Abdullah and Ehud Barak. (Clockwise from top left: Sven Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images; Yusef Allan/Jordanian Royal Court/Getty Images; Israel GPO/AFP/Getty Images; Brian Hendler/Getty Images)

Jordan and Israel sought for decades, at times in partnership, to contain the Palestinian national movement. Both countries shared a fear of being overwhelmed by Palestinian demography, political hostility, and politically motivated violence. One historian described Jordan and Israel as “the best of enemies”; another went so far as to accuse the two countries of “collusion” against the Palestinians.

Yet Western observers who are used to seeing Israel and Jordan as bound by common interests are missing a new reality that has overtaken the cooperative relationships of the past: The common fear of being overwhelmed by Palestinian demography is now driving the two countries apart. As Jordan’s position on Palestinian refugees is becoming one of the more strident in the Arab world, the two countries now hold diametrically opposing views on an issue that both sides regard as truly existential, touching the raw nerves of their collective beings and promising future discord: Jordan wants large-scale repatriation; while Israel rejects the so-called right of return.

The roots of the current Jordanian view lie in the country’s domestic demographic and political situation. Palestinians and their descendants probably form a majority of the Jordanian population but are barred from meaningful political power—a situation that in turn has roots in Jordan’s own historically ambiguous relationship to Palestine. After occupying the West Bank in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Jordan formally annexed the territory, with Israeli acquiescence, in April 1950. Despite Israel’s entreaties to Jordan to refrain from intervening in the June War of 1967, the Jordanians, following their own domestic and pan-Arab calculations, decided to join Nasser’s anti-Israeli alliance but then lost the West Bank in the fighting that ensued.

Jordan’s loss of the West Bank was a historical watershed for the Hashemite kingdom and for Israel. Jordan’s manipulative control of what remained of Arab Palestine took a back seat to the PLO’s homegrown version of Palestinian nationalism. It was the PLO’s war against Israel, waged from Jordanian territory, that kept Palestinian hopes alive against the background of the humiliating 1967 defeat of the Arab states. In the process, the PLO gradually built a Palestinian state within a state in Jordan, challenged Jordanian sovereignty, and called the very existence of the Hashemite kingdom into question.

Matters came to a head in September 1970 when the Jordanians mobilized their military power to crush PLO forces in Jordan within what became known as “Black September.” Israel played a critical role in the September events by conducting military maneuvers designed to pressure the Syrians to withdraw the force they had sent to Jordan in support of the PLO. Beaten in the battlefield by the Jordanians, and deterred by the Israelis from escalating their involvement, the Syrians pulled back. By July 1971, all PLO forces were expelled from Jordan, never to return.

The Jordanian struggle with the Palestinians was a traumatic event for the Jordanian people and their collective identity. It accelerated the evolution of a much more conscious sense of Jordanianness, defined against the Palestinian “other.” The Palestinians threatened to deny the Jordanians their political patrimony, not in the West Bank but in Jordan itself. A process of Jordanization, or ardanna, was set in motion in Jordan in the early 1970s, culminating in the almost total exclusion of Palestinians from positions of influence in the country’s political elite and the military and domestic security establishments. A functional cleavage came into being in Jordan whereby original Jordanians governed and were the unchallenged masters of all spheres of political influence, while the Palestinians in the kingdom, about half of the population, maybe more, dominated the economy and the private sector.

Over the years a militant and influential ultra-nationalist Jordanian trend has emerged devoted to the eradication of Palestinian influence and, in the long run, to the return of as many Palestinians as possible from Jordan to a future state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza and to Israel proper. Simultaneously with these developments in Jordan, though unrelated to them, Israel’s politics have shifted to the right. The first Likud government came to power in Israel in 1977, and governments of the right have been in power either on their own or together with Labor for much of Israel’s history since. In the past, prominent spokespersons of the Likud did not hide their conviction that Jordan—which was originally part of the British Mandate for Palestine and where people of Palestinian origin are such a large part of the population—ought to become the real Palestinian homeland. From the Jordanian point of view, such talk had the makings of an existential threat.

In response to internal demographics and their understanding of the Israeli political debate, Jordanians have steadily developed an obsessive fear of the “alternative homeland conspiracy,” or mu’amarat al-watan al-badil, and a vital interest in the creation of a Palestinian state. In their analysis, if no Palestinian state comes into being in the West Bank and Gaza, an eventual confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians will culminate in the massive migration or expulsion of Palestinians eastward across the river to Jordan. Such “demographic aggression” would, by the sheer weight of numbers, transform Jordan into a Palestinian state. In this nightmare scenario, the Jordanians, not the Israelis nor the Palestinians, would end up as the great historical losers.

The peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel under the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin in October 1994 drew a sigh of relief from Jordanians. The nightmare of the “Jordan is Palestine” or “alternative homeland” theory was gone forever, so they believed. Israel had recognized Jordan’s boundaries and was on the way to the formation of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, in accordance with the Oslo accords signed a year before. Henceforth it would be clear that Palestine was Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, and Jordan was Jordan on the other side of the river. Moreover, peace with Israel would bring prosperity to Jordan and long-term stability to the region.

Jordan’s expectations, however, remained unfulfilled. The peace with Israel could not have been and was not a panacea for Jordan’s structural economic difficulties. Even more disturbing for the Jordanians, Israel and the Palestinians failed in their endeavor to transform the Oslo accords into a final agreement. Worse still, the Israeli-Palestinian track now seems to have reached a dead end.

After the failure of the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000 and the outbreak of the second Intifada, Jordan’s nightmare scenario resurfaced as if the peace treaty with Israel had never been signed. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the consequent perennial threat of Iraqi disintegration, coupled with growing Iranian influence in Iraq and in the region as a whole, severely compounded the Jordanians’ sense of strategic suffocation. The Jordanians now found themselves sandwiched between two poles of regional instability, with the chaos of Iraq to the east and the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum to the west. This was the kind of regional predicament that they had certainly not bargained for after making peace with Israel.

Israel drew its own conclusions from the failure of Oslo. They were, primarily, that the Palestinians were not ready for an end-of-conflict agreement that did not encroach upon Israel proper. The issue with the Palestinians went beyond the occupied territories, particularly because of the Palestinian demand for the right of return for the 1948 refugees. The Israelis countered with a demand of their own, that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a guarantee against substantive, as opposed to symbolic, refugee return. This demand was initially made by the government of Ariel Sharon in 2003 and has been repeated by all Israeli governments since. The Benjamin Netanyahu government has upped the ante by demanding such recognition as a precondition for Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state.

This new Israeli position has been stridently condemned by the Jordanians, who again see the looming specter of final refugee resettlement in Jordan as the forerunner to the “alternative homeland” scenario. Not only is the Israeli position an obstacle to an agreement with Palestinians, they believe, but it threatens to permanently saddle Jordan with a huge Palestinian population.

King Abdullah speaks often of the great urgency of a two-state solution, blaming Israel for the impasse. Jordanian ultra-nationalists, in their fear of Israeli intentions and of the Palestinian presence, go even further, emphasizing the need not only for two states but for refugee return, totally rejecting the notion of long-term resettlement in Jordan. It is they and the Lebanese who were responsible for adding to the Arab Peace Initiative, in 2002 and again in 2007, the absolute “rejection of all forms of [refugee] resettlement” (tawtin in Arabic), which made the initiative virtually impossible for Israel to accept.

For many years Jordan sought the succor of a U.S.-Israeli protective umbrella, but today King Abdullah speaks bitterly of the chilly and deteriorating relationship with Israel. And where Abdullah defiantly warned against the emergent “Shiite crescent” as late as 2004, the Jordanians now appear to be sheepishly going out of their way to pronounce their fealty to Iran, as exemplified most recently by the king’s acceptance of an official invitation to visit Tehran. Is this public eating of crow just a tactical feint of the kind that Jordan has made on countless occasions in the past, or does it portend a more significant shift toward the radical camp? The fact that the question arises at all is a measure of the change that has already taken place.

Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, is a visiting professor on modern Israel at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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Abdullah has good reason to be afraid. He is the descendant of a foreign king brought in to rule over the Palestinian state that was created in 1922. The fact that the Palestinians haven’t overthrown him yet shows that they are more interested in destroying Israel than having their own state.

The Jordanians are weak opportunists. At the outset of the first Gulf War, Hussein pere threw his support behind Sadam Hussein, just as Yasir Arafat did. We conveniently whitewashed that fact when the first Bush administration initiated peace talks in the war’s aftermath, but the fact remains that this is a regime with no loyalty to anyone but themselves. Wouldn’t a Palestinian overthrow of Jordan be in everyone’s interests? Why support the tenuous persistence of a royal house with the barest fig leaf of legitimacy, deriving, if I recall, from Britain’s shenanigans in the first world war?

As The New York Times reported, Palestinians often can’t even legally obtain work in Jordan? Why perpetuate that subjugation when it comes at the expense of Israel’s reputation?

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Note that reporters do not report how the Jordanians treat the Palestinians who make up the majority of the people living in Jordan. Only state the reporters are interested in is Israel.

Why? Why not deep reporting about how Egypt treats the Coptic Christians?

Only is the U.N. interested in what happens in Israel. Why was there no quick meeting at the U.N. when the Christians were beaten and murdered recently in Egypt?

Only Israel can get a meeting together in 20 minutes to make a resolution against them.

Methinks the U.N. was created just to beat up and eliminate Israel with the pay off by the Arab states.

Jordan’s apparent inclination to be drawn into Iran’s orbit just makes it even more imperative for Israel to hang onto her valuable land assets (Judea and Samaria)and not give them away in any “2 state solution”. For a good understanding of the importance of Samaria to Israel, see this:

Yigal Gafni says:

What is will take for the Israeli government to recognize a pattern in the reaction of former Muslim partners to the demise of the Peace Process? First, Turkey, now Jordan, and Egypt will not be falling behind. If more and more voices in the government are talking about Jordan as the true Palestinian State, what do you expect from a monarchy who has written the textbook in political survival?
Israel is serving the Jordanian kingdom to the Iranian influence on a silver platter. It will have serious implications with the relations with other Arab countries, who are keeping some level or interaction with Israeli today, and it will have huge implications for American Intelligence, who has built a great relationship with the Jordanians in the fight against El Qaida.

dani levi says:

Going on from in the comments mentioned Jordanian opportunism may I add Arab opportunism. It transpires that since 1948 the constant meandering and kvetching has led to an impasse that now threatens the nations very existence. The irony of the lack of democracy here may not be frowned upon. One might see karmic retribution in the abuse of the refugee question. Human histories unprecedented exploitation of an entire peoples misery in their use as a ramrod against Israel is coming home to haunt not only Jordan, but has atomized Lebanon and polarized an entire culture. A classic case of the camels coming home to roost. Finally.

Sadly, since most Arabs pull their history out of uncouth regions more horrors are to be expected. With the Palestinians fulfilling their pathetic role play as the pimped out court muppet more Arab theatre is in the works, Circus Director Gaddafi in his colourful robes leading the jumping poodles into the ring. Missing Reasons exit around the time of Enlightenment, lies, hysteria and more machismo is to be awaited. Pride never helped anybody anywhere. It is the devils large testicles which will drown many more. Their weight doing the work.

Nothing new here regarding Jordan turning to the east. Bush, warrior who avoided participating as combatant went into Iraq like gangbusters and, like gangbusters, got a lot of people killed. And, stupid as the invasion was, he then turned the Middle East on its head by removing the only credible military force confronting Shiite Iran, Sunni Iraq. In his wondrous wisdom our brilliant commander then decided that Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed long enough and put in place a Shiite regime beholding to Iran. And now, that self-same regime, either under the suasion of, or emerging satellite of the Islamic Republic has unceremoniously ordered the American invaders out! Which leaves America’s erstwhile allies and dependencies in the oil-rich and geographically strategic region scrambling to reach an accommodation with the new American-created regional hegemon, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In one impetuous and brilliant by his standards moment, no doubt under the Divine Communication he is wont to receive in moments of heightened inspiration, our heroic president lost whatever credibility America had as protector of the oil rich Arab monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula, defender of the Persian Gulf oil shipping lanes.

And then, icing on the cake, GW’s political and diplomatic opposite, President Obama, turns into Bush III, pandering to Ahmadinejad to curry favor in a relatively bloodless withdrawal from Iraq, expanding the other un-winnable Bush war in Afghanistan so leaving the US without a credible reserve to engage the only truly strategic enemy, Iran. Then adding insult to injury backing off each and every deadline Obama made to henceforth and forever desist, so demonstrating weakness in a region that accepts compromise as, well, compromised.

So first Turkey abandons the US for Iran, now Jordan. And despite Wikileaks reports about cutting off the snakes head from the Saudis, they too are reportedly seeking shelter to the east. Good going GW, and Obama!

Valery Nobis says:


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Η εταιρεία ‘’ ALEXANDRIDIS ‘’ δραστηριοποιείται από το 1960 στο χώρο του επίπλου σπιτιού. Χειροποίητα έπιπλα σπιτιού υψηλής ποιότητας και αισθητικής κατασκευασμένα από έμπειρους τεχνίτες σε συνδυασμό με επιλεγμένα υλικά άριστης ποιότητας προσδίδουν ένα τέλειο αποτέλεσμα.

Τα τελευταία οκτώ χρονιά η εταιρία ‘’ ALΕXANDRIDIS ‘’ επεκτάθηκε και στα έπιπλα γραφείου με αποτέλεσμα οι διαχρονικές της δημιουργίες να καλύψουν τμήματα τόσο της Βουλής των Ελλήνων , όσο και του Υπουργείου Εθνικής Αμύνης καθώς και δημαρχείων , γραφείων περιφερειων αλλά και πολλών ελεύθερων επαγγελματιών.

Η έμπνευση , η συνέπεια , η έμφαση στον διακριτικό σχεδιασμό και ο σεβασμός στις επιθυμίες του πελάτη αποτελούν τη βάση για χειροποίητες δημιουργίες και ειδικές κατασκευές που δίνουν λύσεις , και εξοπλίζουν τόσο με έπιπλα σπιτιού τους ιδιωτικούς χώρους όσο και με έπιπλα γραφείου τους επαγγελματικούς χώρους.


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Falling Out

Israel and Jordan once worked together for peace. Now their alliance is collapsing, driven apart by the issue of refugee resettlement, and Jordan may be turning to Iran.

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