Published in the Huffington Post on Feb. 15, 2012.
Jordan’s struggle with its political identity is not something new, but the social media, the Arab Spring and stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has revived concerns about Jordan’s future. Jordan ruled the West Bank — territory which the international community now regards as Palestinian — from 1949 to 1967. However, after the 1967 War, the West Bank was referred to in the international press as “occupied Jordan” in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s. This description persisted even in the early 90’s after King Hussein formally renounced ties to this landlocked territory in 1988.
Jordan fears that in the absence of a political solution, Israel, the Palestinians or perhaps the international community would eventually seek to solve the crisis at Jordan’s expense by dismantling Jordan and establishing a Palestinian state in its place. This “alternative homeland” scheme, known in Arabic as al-watan al-badil, has understandably received swift condemnation from King Abdullah.
Since 2004, Abdullah has taken harsh measures aimed at preventing the de facto implementation of the alternative homeland scheme. Human Rights Watch compiled a 60 page report documenting that more than 2,700 Palestinians originally from the West Bank had their Jordanian nationality arbitrarily revoked. Jordanian-Palestinian tensions have not abated, and in December 2010, a riot erupted at a soccer game in Amman between ethnic Palestinians and Jordanians. More than 250 people were injured and allegations surfaced that this violence represented a pattern of anti-Palestinian racism.
On the diplomatic front, Abdullah has attempted to play a more assertive role in mediating Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In January 2012, he hosted a series of conferences in Amman, but after these talks stalled, a frustrated Abdullah threatened to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel.
This may be his way of telling Israel that Jordan would never become an alternative homeland for Palestine and that the only viable solution is a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundaries. Abdullah concurrently sent a message to the Palestinians, signaling to them that any attempts to destabilize Jordan would not be tolerated. During a meeting with Abdullah, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal — who had been expelled from the Kingdom in 1999 — declared that “Jordan belongs to the Jordanians and Palestine to the Palestinians.”
In spite of these actions and threats, Abdullah will continue advocating a two-state solution because it is in Jordan’s national interest. A Palestinian state would first and foremost put to rest the notion that Jordan is Palestine. This in turn would strengthen Jordanian national identity and could perhaps provide Palestinians living in Jordan the option of moving to a future Palestine, if they so choose. Subsequently, this could drastically alleviate Jordanian ethnic tensions.
Working towards a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will benefit Jordan, but it will not absolve Abdullah from economic and political reform. Abdullah’s best approach is to continue working with Israelis and Palestinians while responding to the legitimate aspirations of his people. Although Abdullah has thus far prevented the scale of protests seen in Libya, Egypt and Syria, he is not immune. Only real change and reform can placate rising frustrations in Jordan.