Jordan: The Quest for a Centrist Position

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VOL. 13


No. 2
P. 3
Jordan: The Quest for a Centrist Position


The following address was delivered to the Middle East Consultation at the Carter Center of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA on November 8, 1983.

The present situation in the Middle East is the outcome of the interaction of many diverse and divergent political factors which have dominated the region over the last decade or so. The Camp David Accords injected a fresh momentum in the peace process but their negative aspects have unfortunately dominated the politics of the region. The Accords provided for a partial peace which plunged Arab politics into a serious morass of conflict and recriminations. The neutralization of Egypt and the subsequent Arab-imposed containment of Egypt rendered Israel dominant, while Arab politics became marked by feuds and polarization. A cursory examination of the events of the last few years will point to a singular conclusion, namely, the triumph of extremist politics, whether in Israel or the Arab and Muslim worlds. Both in Jewish and Muslim societies, politics have become infused by religion and religious precepts to produce political fanaticism which the Middle East has rarely known as shown by the activities of such groups as the Phalange of Lebanon, Gush Emunim of Israel and the Pasdarans of Iran. Populist religion-based fanaticism has had an immediate impact on society and politics in the whole region. The denial of legitimate rights, compounded by the absence of authoritative political institutions to safeguard the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of these societies, has allowed rampant extremism to dominate the conduct of public affairs. Social diversity has assumed an ever-increasing dimension in the struggle between populist movements of different origins and divergent aims. The politics of fanaticism has triggered off a new dimension of social conflict and communal polarization. Primordial perceptions of society have become a pervasive feature of the ideology of extremist populist groupings, the logic of which leads to fragmentation of all states in the region, as is occurring in Lebanon.

In an attempt to check the rising tide of extremist politics and contain the fragmentation of the Middle East into warring fiefdoms, Jordan was encouraged by the Reagan peace initiative to embark on a fresh peace dialogue. It is a fair assumption that the Reagan Peace Plan, based as it was on UN resolution 242, could have brought an end to the festering problem of the Palestine question had it been pursued with greater vigor and resolution. The timing was almost perfect, coming in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, a highly tragic and alarming episode of the annals of the Palestinian struggle for a homeland. The provisions of the Plan were extremely relevant, indicating to both Arabs and Israelis that the US was irrevocably committed to an even-handed approach to an eventual settlement of the dispute. Its simplicity was inspired as it addressed itself directly to the complex issues of the status of the Israeli occupied territories and of the settlements constructed since 1967. Unfortunately, the vitality of the Plan was allowed to dissipate. With it the peace momentum has been vitiated.

What Jordan tried to do was to combine elements of the Reagan Plan which called for the creation of a Palestinian entity on the West Bank and Gaza federated with Jordan, with elements of the Arab League Plan adopted in September at Fez, which proposed the establishment of a Palestinian state on the occupied territories under the authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Jordan sought an accommodation with the PLO on a joint approach which was to be presented to the Arab League for endorsement. 'While the Reagan Plan was to be the vehicle for negotiations, a modified form of the Fez Plan would have remained the long term objective of both Jordan and the PLO. The Fez Plan would have been redrafted to call for self-determination for Palestinians in the context of a Jordan/Palestine Confederation. On April 10, 1983, the dialogue between Jordan and the PLO was terminated. In a letter from His Majesty King Hussein to President Reagan, it was stated that Jordan had come to the conclusion that the modus operandi of its strategy for peace as laid down by the Reagan Plan was no longer valid. It is important today to look back on the reasons that led to that conclusion. There is no doubt that division and discord among the Arabs and Palestinians obstructed the emergence of an Arab consensus on a linkage between the Fez and the Reagan plans. This was an important cause but by no means the crucial one. The September initiative failed to take cognition of certain basic facts. Israel was called upon to freeze the construction of settlements in the occupied territories. The Israeli response was not only to expand existing settlements but to build several new ones.

The US, it appears, does not regard the Israeli action as a violation of international law, but an obstruction to the peace process. Lately, the US has condoned these settlements under the pretext of "Jews have the right to settle anywhere." Moreover, the US refused to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians while in the context of the Jordan/PLO dialogue, even the Americans regarded the Organization as a potential party to the negotiations. The question that has to be asked here is, that if the Israelis were to settle the West Bank, what would the peace negotiations be about? It is a rhetorical question for I know the answer. These problems apart, the US excluded the Syrian interest in the peace process and there was hardly a mention of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Beside the exclusion of Syria, there was the elimination of the USSR from the peace process. Only after the termination of the Jordan/PLO dialogue, the internecine war among Palestinians in Northern Lebanon and the tragic communal fighting in the Shuf, did American policy-makers address themselves to the Syrian interest. They are yet to be convinced, it seems, of the need to have consultations with the other superpower, the USSR. In short, the September initiative has not been accompanied by a coherent peace strategy to deal with the Objective situation present in the Middle East, in the event of Jordan's entry into the negotiating process.

As attention is increasingly focused on developments in Lebanon, the outlook for a comprehensive settlement of the Palestine question grows dimmer and more remote. However, expectations were raised in May, upon the arrival of Secretary of State George Shultz in the region. His approach was direct and innovative but his efforts proved of limited success. The agreement concluded on May 17 between Israel and Lebanon on the withdrawal of foreign troops was highly promising at the time. Its non-implementation, however, has rendered the situation fraught with greater dangers than ever before, especially as it may leave the territorial integrity of Lebanon permanently compromised. Indeed, Israel has decided to redeploy its forces to a more convenient defensive line with the ominous outcome of transforming South Lebanon into the "Northern Bank of Israel."

Notwithstanding the apparent gains of its war in Lebanon, Israel should not derive too much comfort from the present Arab disarray and the disruption of the American peace effort. The invasion of the Lebanon may have dispersed and divided the Palestinian combatants, created a bigger buffer zone in Southern Lebanon and given Israel what looks like a free hand in the West Bank, yet, what was called "Peace for Galilee" has in its wake brought nothing for the majority of Israelis but more anxiety and greater anguish as the Israeli occupation army sinks deeper into the politics of the Lebanese confessional quagmire. It has also increased the momentum of resistance both in the West Bank and Southern Lebanon.

Israel's right-wing political establishment has become accustomed, in recent years, to deploy its military might on every possible occasion in order to subdue the Arabs of the occupied territories and in the neighbouring states. The premise of might-is-right has become a salient feature of its policy. The use of brute force does not solve intractable problems, such as those of Palestine and Lebanon. The acquisition of territory by force, as Israel knows, exacerbates these problems.

On the West Bank, the expansionist policy of the Israeli government solves one problem only by creating another, with far more serious, tragic and dangerous consequences. Israel's policy points towards a time, not many years ahead, when Israelis will have to choose between compromising the Jewish nature of their State by giving full rights to an Arab population nearly as big as the Jewish one, undermining its democratic institutions by withholding those rights, or squeezing the Arabs eastward over the Jordan River. The morality of Israel's war in Lebanon has been questioned by a large segment of the Israeli public. The policy options available to the government of Israel in the occupied territories would probably deepen the apparent split and intensify the crisis of conscience in the years to come.

Nonetheless, the occupation of Lebanon, and the subsequent tortuous negotiations have permitted Israel to consolidate its hold over the occupied West Bank. While the actual fighting took place in Lebanon, Israel's real war was conducted in the territories occupied since 1967, in a campaign against the civilian Arab population of the West Bank. By attempting to destroy the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, the PLO, Israel sought to numb the political aspirations of the Palestinian people, so that it could accelerate the construction of Israeli settlements and tighten its grip on the area. The policy of deliberate physical and demographic change which Israel has pursued brought agony and despair, not only to the people of the occupied territories, but to the Palestinians everywhere and to the neighbouring states.

Although the Palestinians' sense of national identity has not succumbed to Israeli manipulation and their resistance has remained vibrant, Israel has been able to proceed with the policy of incorporating the West Bank into the concept of 'Eretz Israel' in the hiatus between war and the sterile talks about peace. Political realities clearly indicate that while the diplomatic attention of the region, and that of the US is focused wholly on Lebanon and the attendant tension which the Withdrawal Agreement has raised, Israel has continued to introduce drastic measures which carry extremely serious and dangerous consequences.

The Arab population of the occupied West Bank has become a beleaguered community, threatened with extinction in its own ancestral homeland. More than 100,000 Palestinians have left the territories since 1967, encouraged by the Israeli occupation authorities. Recently, an average of 12,000 people have departed from the occupied territories every year to seek a living elsewhere. They have been rendered isolated by the indecision of their own leadership and feel intimidated by the huge demographic influx into their country, which they witness with increasing alarm. The Arab population under Israeli occupation has but few choices. Since Jordan joined the Arab consensus to designate the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, the people of the West Bank and Gaza have no Arab government on which they can depend to defend their interests. In general, Arab regimes have either attempted to keep the Palestinians quiet or used the Palestinian cause for their own purposes as the appeal to the Arab public conscience survives.

There are about 1,300,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. The question that requires immediate attention and has to be tackled by the international community of nations is the status of the people under occupation if the present course of Israeli policy of creeping annexation is maintained. The consequences are likely to prove disastrous as long as Israel denies these people the right to self-determination. Action is called for to avert a tragedy which would compound the misery suffered so far.

Whichever option is adopted by the Israeli authorities, the outlook appears extremely alarming.

However, this will not be possible, and movement will not be possible unless and until the Arab community of Palestine is accorded the right of self-determination. Our conception of such a right is not simply the exercise of a free election in a free society as it has been characterized in certain quarters, but it is derived from the aggregate of historical, cultural, social, economic and political rights of a distinct community in its ancestral homeland.

The people of the occupied areas must be allowed to develop their own institutions to express and defend their own interest. Israel cannot, indeed, it should not, be allowed to speak for the Arabs of Palestine. Equally, no Arab state could be a replacement for Palestine or speak for the Palestinians; not Jordanians and certainly not Israelis. Israel must make a choice between peace and territory. The facts of geography and demography impose an interminable dilemma on Israel. It is either to compromise the very essence of the Zionist creed or divest itself of the territory it occupies. If Israel wants to be in the region as well as of it, then the Israeli leaders will have to abandon the third option which had been bandied about. Israel cannot and it should not be allowed to depopulate the West Bank of its indigenous population.

Upon the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, some 300,000 people were pushed into Jordan and 1 00,000 Arabs in Jerusalem were incorporated within the State of Israel. Since then, 100,000 more have left the occupied territories. The occupation authorities have followed a vigorous policy to obstruct the work of charitable foundations including American. Innocuous projects like poultry farming, agricultural cooperatives, and the digging of wells for irrigation purposes have not met Israeli approval. In what sense do these constructive projects threaten Israeli security except by assisting the people to hold on to the land of their forefathers?

Israel cannot and should not be allowed to treat the question of the Palestinian people as though they were an Israeli minority-aliens in their own country. The international community was faced with a parallel problem after the Second World War. The people concerned then were not Arabs but Jews. When the problem was referred to the United Nations, a Special Committee on Palestine-UNSCOP-was appointed to ascertain the facts and validity of Jewish claims to Palestine and propose solutions. UNSCOP, in its wisdom, suggested partition. The proposal was not simply an accident of international diplomacy, but purely designed to accord the Jews a national identity. It was a recognition of the immutable fact of human geography. It was an admission of the reality of the existence of two nations, not one, in that area-a fact that would have rendered co-existence, under a unitary political structure not only difficult, but artificial and precarious. Thirty five years later, the Palestine Arabs still await a recognition similar to that awarded to the Jews. Today, the problem of Palestine is as far from a just and lasting resolution as it has ever been. The politics of extremes, the armed struggle advocated by both Arab and Jewish radicals, threaten not only Middle East peace, but that of the whole world. It is a poor world that recognizes power, not morality, in the conduct of public affairs. The undeclared policy of the government of Israel is aimed at the eviction of the Arab population of the occupied territories-a policy detrimental to peace, to Western, but above all, to Israel's own interests. The permanent retention of the West Bank and Gaza, while conferring on Israel certain temporary military advantages, involves obvious risks for its national security in the long run. It also poses serious economic, diplomatic, moral and demographic implications. Moreover, the Israeli stance on the occupied territories is bound, in the final analysis, to jeopardize and impair the peace treaty with Egypt. Under those circumstances, the Arab-Israeli conflict would have come full circle round.

There is a desperate need for urgent action to avert yet another human disaster. In view of the continuing deadlock and the risks involved, it is essential that the present situation should not be left unattended. There is little doubt that the various parties, both Arabs and Israelis who are intent on preventing a peaceful settlement, will exploit the opportunity of the standstill in US peace-making efforts imposed by the hiatus of the American presidential campaign, to reinforce their obstructive endeavors. Among the Palestinians and other Arabs, the radicals and extremists will obtain a dominant position and intimidate the moderate peace seekers. The irredentist policy of the Israeli government will gather pace and gain time to achieve its long-standing goal of formal annexation of the West Bank and the other occupied territories, as Jerusalem was similarly annexed.

It is patently clear that the US as a superpower cannot turn a blind eye to these disruptions and dangerous developments. US interest in the Middle East was not induced by the energy crisis and should not be confined to oil and its availability on the world market. American concern with the region is a function of the strategic balance between the superpowers and a consequence of world power politics. It would be extremely short-sighted if American interest in the Middle East were wane and the role of the peace broker be abandoned simply because of temporary and ephemeral phenomena. It goes without saying that it is imperative to sustain the interest of the US in the vital assignment of the honest peace broker between Arabs and Israelis. For this purpose, the creation of a bi-partisan peace constituency, as advocated by former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, becomes an essential feature of American politics. This notion may be augmented by the establishment of a bi- partisan commission for the Middle East similar to the body set up for Central America under the chairmanship of Dr. Henry Kissinger. The primary purpose of this review commission would be to ascertain the facts and submit proposals which could serve as the basis for American policy following the re-election of an incumbent president or the election of a new one.

Following the tragic death of the American marines and French troops serving with the multi-national peace-keeping force in Lebanon, President Reagan has responded vigorously by reaffirming US commitment to a sovereign independent Lebanon, in order to safeguard vital US interests in the region. Lebanon is one link in a long chain of complex problems. No one wants to underestimate either the President's obvious resolve or the importance of an independent, stable Lebanon, but is this goal attainable in isolation of the wider crisis in the Middle East? Can the chain be broken so that the Lebanese problem can be dealt with on its own? More significantly, can the presence of a 1,600 member force of American Marines which cannot be deployed in an offensive role ensure the President's policy objectives?

The short history of the Lebanese crisis has taught us that this cannot be done. So what is required is for the US to address the problem itself rather than its symptoms. The US would have to put the Lebanese crisis, including its internal dimensions, in proper perspective. The US would have to examine the western interest in stability and peace in the broader context of the Middle East and the Gulf. Success in Lebanon, difficult as it is, will contribute to the peace and tranquility in Lebanon, but it would not resolve the problem of the Middle East.

The resolution of the Middle East crisis requires a new and comprehensive peace strategy. Attentions and efforts should be urgently directed to the underlying source of tension and instability in the region. It must be focused on the unresolved issue of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories and on the Golan Heights. The obstacles are considerable. Any hope of success will depend on the President's determination to use the full leverage of the US on all concerned. 1984, an election year, seems hardly a propitious time for such an effort, but we hope the creation of a bi-partisan peace constituency will make a positive contribution toward the formulation of such a strategy....

Our perception of the future is based on complete respect for the provisions of international law and the dignity of man. The guiding principles of our peace-making efforts are the recognition of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states in the region. These principles have been embodied in the UN Resolution 242 which we still believe provides the broad framework for peace in the Middle East. The implementation of 242 could lay the solid foundations for peace, mutual confidence and collaboration to develop along the Benelux Model-sovereign states engaged in free cooperation, for the benefit of all their peoples. Violent episodes in the history of the region point to a singular conclusion. The Middle East cannot survive, except with the social diversity it possesses. No one state or group should, indeed can, establish its hegemony over all the others. Attempts to do so will be a clear recipe for the situation we are trying to grapple with and should avoid.

There is a long chain of historical, cultural, social, economic, political, and above all, familial relationships between the peoples of Jordan and Palestine. Our conception of Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza is that of a terra media, a utilitarian concept, by which we aim to combine the huge purchasing power of the oil producing countries of the Arabian peninsula to the south, with the skilled manpower and the high technology of the northern region. Our vision is to transform this terra media into the productive, as well as the experimental, workshop of the Middle East. Given the right conditions, with a just, honorable and lasting peace based on the recognition of basic human rights for all the peoples of the region, as well as security for its states, this vision could become a reality.

It would be no idle boast to suggest that what we propose could serve as a model for the resolution of international conflict among states which abound in the contemporary world. The settlement we envisage will provide for the security of all states in the region while at the same time safeguard the Arab identity of the people of Palestine. There is no need to reiterate here that any settlement which does not take into consideration this essential element is doomed to failure. It is for this reason that we view with increasing alarm the policy of the Israeli occupation authorities in the West Bank and in Gaza. Their approach in Lebanon is following a familiar pattern.

Jordan will continue to play a stabilizing role both internally and in the region. It will exercise a moderating influence within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and remain a conciliatory partner in inter-Arab disputes. Programs for social and economic reconstruction and development will be maintained under governmental supervision to ensure social justice and harmony. Jordan will continue to be wary of extremist tendencies and energetic in defusing conditions of heightened tension. It will persist in its quest for a centrist position, despite repeated condemnation and vilification by extremists on all sides.


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