Jun 23 2016

Abbas in Amman back to the routine

Published by at 10:34 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The statement coming out of the Jordan News Agency, Petra, was very ordinary. It stated that President Mahmoud Abbas and his delegation made up of PLO secretary Saeb Erekat and head of the Palestinian intelligence service Majed Faraj were hosted by King Abdullah and the Crown Prince for an iftar banquet on Wednesday, June 15.

The statement went on to say that the two leaders discussed current issues, including the Palestinian conflict and the stalled peace process.

The Petra news report may have sounded routine and ordinary, but this was no ordinary meeting.

The routine visits that Palestinian President Abbas usually makes to see the King have not been happening for nearly a year or so.

Very few people have been able to figure out what was the reason for this drought in relations.

Some have pointed out that it was due to the Palestinian insistence that Jordan submit a resolution to the UN Security Council back on December 24, 2014.

Jordan, which at the time was presiding over the Security Council, had advised against the move, but Ramallah insisted. The resolution failed to gain the needed minimum nine votes to be voted on. 

Others have said that the reason for the cold relationship was due to the debacle between Palestine and Jordan over how Palestine voted in the FIFA presidential elections, which resulted in the victory of the now disgraced Sepp Blatter over Jordan’s HRH Prince Ali.

Some have said that the problem in the relationship had been due to the controversy over Jordan’s proposal to install cameras in Al Aqsa Mosque. Some Palestinians had opposed the move fearing that it would be used by Israel to detain Palestinian youths.

The Palestinian presidency, which was not aware of the initiative when first presented, agreed to the idea, but the Palestinian public, especially the youth in Jerusalem, was opposed.

Some Jordanians feel that the Palestinian government did not do enough to win over the Palestinians on this issue, which ended with Jordan withdrawing the initiative.

Yet, a further more convincing reason had emerged but at the time was not given proper attention.

The then Jordanian prime minister Abdullah Ensour reportedly told a group of journalists that the reason for the thaw in the relationship is due to fears from Jordan that Palestinians might again try to conduct secret talks with Israel without coordinating with Jordan, especially with regards to the future of the holy city of Jerusalem and Al Haram Al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque.

The Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty includes a provision that gives the Kingdom a role in deciding the fate of Jerusalem. Having Palestinians negotiate the status of Jerusalem without coordinating with the Jordanians would be a betrayal of the close relationship, Ensour had reportedly told journalists.

Palestinians at the time had repeatedly said that there were no secret talks and that the rumours of any backchannels were simply untrue.

But a report on Israel TV has revealed something different. The report claims that the head of the Israeli opposition Labour Party Isaac Herzog, whom many had expected would win the Israeli parliamentary elections in March 2015, had reached a detailed understanding with Abbas.

Herzog, acting through his aide Ephraim Sneh, had negotiated an agreement that accepts Palestinian demands for Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 borders with a 4 per cent land adjustment on areas with heavy settlements near the Israeli borders, the report says.

It also states that Israel agreed to vacate most of East Jerusalem so it can become capital of Palestine and accepted the wording of the Arab Peace Initiative regarding a mutually agreed solution regarding Palestinian refugees.

Palestinians reportedly agreed to small military presence in two locations along the Jordan Valley. According to the Israeli TV report, Herzog did not deny the account but said it was part of pre-election preparations.

It is not clear whether this secret understanding is the reason for the drought in the Jordanian-Palestinian relations, and if so, whether Jordan had learned about it at the time from its Israeli contacts.

Whatever the reason for the earlier disagreement, it appears that with last Wednesday’s iftar, the Palestinians and the Jordanians are back on the track of mutual respect and understanding. 

The return of coordination and support between Palestinians and Jordanians is vital for any movement in the peace process as well as the many other aspects that this relationship entails.

The previous drought in relations has weakened the Palestinian position and has left many issues, such as the movement of Gazans living in the West Bank without any avenue for resolution.

Jordan is the lung through which Palestinian breath, and without trust and transparency, it is difficult to imagine the survival of this important relationship.

Every possible effort must be exerted to turn a new page that is built on honesty and mutual respect.

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