Aug 30 2013

PLO Pushes for Greater Jordanian Role in Peace Talks

Published by at 3:41 am under Articles,Jordan,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

An already strong alliance between the Jordanian and Palestinian leadership was made even stronger over the weekend. Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made an unusual public pledge on Aug. 24 by declaring that every document the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) plans to submit to the Israelis in negotiations will be first shown to Jordan. Also pledged was that every document the Israelis present will also be passed onto Amman.

What makes this allies so strong?

Palestinians, who have so far failed to acquire any role for the Quartet in the current talks and have even failed to secure a US presence inside the negotiating room, are now seeking a role for Israel’s best existing Arab peace partner. Israel has signed two peace treaties with Arab states: Egypt in 1979 and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1994. Peace with Egypt has been described as cold, and has been further sidelined by the changes in Cairo since the Arab Spring. With Jordan, which has the longest border with Israeli-controlled areas, the peace treaty has been solid and relations have been stable.

Jordan also has standing when it comes to a number of permanent status issues in the ongoing negotiations. The West Bank — which Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating — was captured by Israel in 1967 from Jordan, which had annexed the West Bank in 1950. Any agreement on borders between Israel and the PLO will have a direct effect on Jordan, which since 1967 has controlled the single point of entry with the West Bank, the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge.

The status of Jerusalem is also of interest to the Jordanians, who succeeded in inserting a clause in their peace treaty with Israel, declaring that they will have a “high priority” in determining the future of the holy places in the city. Furthermore, the recent agreement signed between King Abdullah and President Mahmoud Abbas further entrenches this crucial role to the Jordanians in regard to the holy city.

On the refugee issue, Jordan has the largest number of Palestinian refugees living on its soil. Jordan has been involved in every international meeting that deals with the refugee issue since the Lausanne Conference regarding the state of Palestinian refugees held in the Swiss town in 1949.

While water is not one of the final status issues, there is no doubt that the future of the borders of the West Bank and its rich aquifers would be of interest to the water-poor Jordan. The Israel-Jordan peace treaty includes requirements that the Israelis supply Jordan with a specific amount of water. It is unclear if the Israelis will try to weasel out of these obligations if there is agreement on the border issue with the Palestinians.

It is interesting to see how the issue of Jordanian-Palestinian relations has evolved over the years. During the Madrid peace talks in 1991, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir insisted that the Palestinians be represented in the talks only within a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team, so as to avoid talking directly to the PLO. A senior member of the Israeli delegation in Madrid was Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current prime minister.

It is unlikely that Israel, which has refused to allow its strongest ally — the United States — into the negotiating room, will accommodate any substantial role for the Jordanians. But while the Palestinians will not push for Jordan to be in the talks, they are interested in Amman supporting the outcome of the talks.

If Jordan is briefed at every juncture of the peace talks, it is more likely that they will help advocate whatever results come out of these talks in the wider Arab and international circles. It is this Arab depth that deep coordination with Jordan will bring, once and if any substantive results come out of the talks.

For Palestinians, there are many reasons why it is helpful to have a strong role with Jordan. With the trust factor high between the two leaderships, Jordan’s role can be crucial if the talks hit a snag, especially in the areas of borders, Jerusalem and refugees. The Israeli public generally has a high trust factor when it comes to the royal family in Jordan.

If border agreements need a guarantor or if third party security forces are needed, there is no party closer to the Palestinians than Jordan. The same also applies when it comes to finding a solution to the sensitive holy places in Jerusalem. The Hashemites, who are direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, can provide a legitimate trustee for the future of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy places in Jerusalem.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the possibility that Jordan’s role is not just a trustee of holy places or a supplier of troops on the borders. The issue of a Palestinian federation or confederation has been a recurring subject for decades. For the time being, both sides insist that the talks of Palestinian relations with Jordan are premature and counterproductive. First, they both agree, Israel must end its 46-year occupation of Arab lands. Once Palestinians are free and independent in their own state, any Palestinian-Jordanian agreement will be a result of the free will of two independent states.

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