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Will Jordanians, Palestinians accept a confederation?

Any deal that doesn’t include an end to the Israeli control of areas it occupied in 1967 will not succeed, including the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

A political firestorm has erupted following the revelation that last year, the Donald Trump administration attempted to circumvent the two-state solution by proposing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the establishment of a confederation with Jordan. According to Israeli Peace Now activists who met with Abbas on Sept. 2, Abbas reportedly didn’t reject the offer but said his acceptance was conditional upon including Israel as a member of the Jordan-Palestine confederation.

Jordanian and Palestinian officials have publicly dismissed the idea. Jordanian government spokesperson Jumana Ghunaimat said on Sept. 2 that the idea of a confederation is “not under discussion” in Jordan. In Ramallah, presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the idea has been around since 1984. “The position of the leadership has been since that time and until now that the two-state solution is the road to the special relationship with Jordan,” he said, adding, “The decision of confederacy is decided by the two peoples.”

Former Palestinian local government minister Khaled Qawasmi said that the latest Israeli and US proposal of a confederation is an attempt to bypass the two-state solution after removing the issues of Jerusalem and refugees from the negotiating table.

Qawasmi told Al-Monitor that the aim of the US offer is to show that there are options available. “They [the United States] want to claim that there is a political opportunity and that things have not reached a dead end.”

Adnan Abu Odeh, a former political adviser to both King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Al-Monitor that it is important not to entirely dismiss the idea of a confederation. “Abbas’ idea of adding Israel to the Jordan-Palestine confederation is brilliant because you have many shared locations and histories between all three countries,” he said.

Abu Odeh, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, said that the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and many historical and religious sites are intertwined between Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

The continuation of the negotiations stalemate, coupled with the latest attempts by the Trump administration and Israel’s right-wing government to gut the two-state solution of its basic principles — especially the Jerusalem issue and the right of return — might be behind the renewed media interest in the Jordanian-Palestinian confederation idea. 

In many ways, a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation makes sense. If done right and with the approval, by referendum, of both Jordanians and Palestinians, it could be a mechanism to end Israel's occupation and its continued colonial settlement policy. A confederation with Jordan could also be seen by the Israeli public as a security solution that could be guaranteed by Jordan, with which Israel has a peace deal and whose leader Israelis trust.

However, the current media interest reflects discussions that took place early on in the Trump administration. Two years ago, the confederation issue was raised by Palestinian philosopher Sari Nuseibeh and former Jordanian Prime Minister Abdel Salam Majali. Nuseibeh said in 2016 that he supports a confederation with Jordan, “provided it is an agreement between the states of Palestine and Jordan, and there are two capitals: East Jerusalem and Amman.”

Majali said in Nablus in May 2016 that “the confederation idea is the best solution for both Palestine and Jordan.”

The key to the discussion of a confederation is determining whether the confederation represents genuine unity between two states or if it is an attempt to bypass the idea of an independent Palestinian state.

The late PLO leader Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) was quoted as saying in 2012 that Palestinians want “five minutes of independence” and then they would happily agree to a confederation.

Some are concerned that, in the case of a confederation, the independent state phase would be bypassed. “Any agreement that doesn’t include a Palestinian state with membership in the UN will not work,” insisted Abu Odeh.

Skeptics fear that the idea being cooked up by the Trump administration would basically transfer control of parts of the West Bank (without settlements) from the Israeli army to a Jordanian security force and completely exclude Gaza from a Palestinian state. Palestinians would certainly reject this plan, especially if the Israelis did not cede control of East Jerusalem.

The current discussions seem to be a trial balloon. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, believes that the US-Israeli discussion of the subject reflects “an obsession with Jordan.” In an interview with the Saudi-based Arab News site on Sept. 4, Abdul Hadi suggested that this “trial balloon should be left alone because it will soon run out of air.”

While out-of-the-box ideas are certainly needed to break the deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians, the key issue that needs to be looked at is the occupation.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 was very clear in its preamble as to what is needed to solve the conflict. Any idea that can expedite the end of what the UN Security Council called an “inadmissible” occupation will be welcomed; any idea that provides cosmetic effects while sustaining the Israeli occupation will be rejected.

Any deal that does not include an end to the Israeli control of areas it occupied in 1967 will not succeed. That is the true litmus test of any new idea.

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