Dr. Alon Ben-Meir*
New York (The Hawk): Over the past several months, the discussion between the US and Saudi Arabia over the prospect of normalizing relations between Israel and the Saudis have intensified, albeit no breakthrough in the negotiations seems to be in the offing. It is possible, however, that the US and the Saudis can reach an agreement in connection with the Saudis’ three demands, requiring the US to guarantee the Saudis’ national security, provide a civilian nuclear reactor, and permit sales of the US’ most advanced weapons, in exchange for normalization. The stumbling block is the fourth Saudi demand, which is the establishment of a clear path that will lead to a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I maintain that given the composition of the current coalition government, which is the most extremist right-wing, nationalist, and religious in Israel’s history, there is no prospect that it would meet the Saudis’ demands, let alone satisfy the Palestinians’ insistence on a two-state solution. Whereas the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is a must to achieve a permanent solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, given the current realities on the ground, which are not subject to change in any substantial way, the two-state solution can no longer stand on its own.
Whereas the creation of a Palestinian state is a prerequisite to a solution, it will have to be established in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, dictated by the facts on the ground which have been developing since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. Below, it will be demonstrated why such a confederation must include Jordan, without which any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be tenuous at best, if they can agree upon one in the first place. An Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation will ultimately provide the only enduring solution.
Confederations are defined as “voluntary associations of independent states that, to secure some common purpose, agree to certain limitations on their freedom of action and establish some joint machinery of consultation or deliberation.” [emphasis added] In an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, the three states would join together on issues of common interest that cannot be addressed except under full collaboration under a confederative framework.
The Palestinians’ determination to establish a state of their own will not change, regardless of the shifting political winds in the region and irrespective of the frequent eruption of violence, which could only further escalate. I challenge every Israeli to show me how, when, and why the Palestinians would ever abandon their aspirations for statehood. However oppressive the Israeli occupation becomes; the greater the Palestinians’ violent resistance will be. Moreover, every regional and global power has and will continue to support the Palestinian cause.
Although Israel has thus far successfully defied the international consensus, it can never maintain the status quo of the occupation and enjoy a day of peace. Just imagine the resentment, the hatred, and the depth of hostility of four generations of Palestinians representing over 95 percent of all living Palestinians today, all of whom were born under the occupation.
The current Israeli government must answer the public as to where Israel will be in 10-15 years if it continues to pursue its ambition of creeping annexation and how the Palestinians will react during this increasingly brutal occupation. It does not take a genius to predict the horrifying consequences that will inevitably unfold. Instead, a solution to the conflict will be found only in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and fully collaborates on multiple fronts with both Israel and the Palestinians, has intrinsic long-term security concerns tied to the conflict. And based on through discussions with scores of people in the know, Israel will not form a bilateral confederation with the Palestinians, and Jordan will not join any confederation without a Palestinian state being established first. The following provides the rationale behind the tripartite confederation.
The Israeli and Palestinian populations are interspersed in the West Bank, where there are approximately 2.3 million Palestinians and about 432,000 Israelis. In East Jerusalem there are roughly 361,000 Palestinians and 233,000 Israelis, and in Israel proper there are 1.8 million Arab citizens and 6.6 million Jews. In Jordan, the population is estimated to be somewhere between 55 to 70 percent of Palestinian origin, which translates to roughly 6 to 8.2 million people. This reality of interspersed Israeli-Palestinian and Palestinian-Jordanian populations is not and will not be subject to change in any substantial way, other than perhaps relocating 70,000 - 80,000 Israeli settlers to other larger settlements under land swaps, which both sides have agreed to in the past in principle to allow for the creation of a contiguous land mass for the Palestinian state. Thus, the coexistence of Israeli and Palestinian populations under any conditions of peace or hostility is permanent. Neither side can ever dislodge the other from the territories they currently occupy.
It should also be noted that other than interspersed populations, their geographic contiguity, shared national security, and interactions on many other fronts only heightens the need for greater collaboration between all three parties. This is where confederation becomes central, as it will meet the collective and individual requirements of all three entities without compromising their sovereignty and independence.
Israel’s national security
Israel’s national security concerns are heightened by three factors: the Jews’ persecution for centuries throughout the diaspora, the existential threat emanating from its regional adversary Iran, and the threat by Palestinian extremists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Although Israel can prevail militarily over any security threat regardless of its source, its national security concerns still loom high. Needless to say, the occupation exacerbates Israel’s security concerns, albeit it is self-manufactured and only Israel can mitigate it by ending the occupation and putting in place a new security apparatus that will include Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.
Security collaboration between Israel and the Palestinians is a must. Indeed, even under the current adversarial conditions, Israel and the PA still collaborate on certain aspects of their security. Given that Jordan’s national security is very much intertwined with both Israel and the Palestinians, continued and further expansion of collaboration on all security matters between them will remain essential to the three entities. For Israel and Jordan in particular, their security cooperation has regional security implications as well and neither Israel nor Jordan would want to weaken their security ties, especially given the regional instability.
The status of Jerusalem
Very little, if anything can change in the current status of Jerusalem, which served in the 1970s and 1980s as a microcosm of peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Jerusalem houses the Jews’ holiest shrines as well as Islam’s third holiest shrines, all at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Moreover, given that Jordan is the custodian of the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem, there is absolutely no way to separate the structural religious component of the city for both Muslims and Jews alike.
Although Israel annexed East Jerusalem immediately after it occupied the city in 1967, and a vast majority of Israelis insist that a united Jerusalem must remain the eternal capital of Israel, the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem should not categorically be ruled out. Besides, many alternative ideas are floating around to satisfy the Palestinian aspiration, including the expansion of Jerusalem’s periphery to include the town of Silwan as an integral part of greater Jerusalem, where a Palestinian capital can be established.
Indeed, since both Israel and the Palestinians as well as Jordan want Jerusalem to remain an open city and neither side seeks to build any barriers between its east and west sides, under conditions of peace the Palestinians residing in the east side will have every right to govern themselves. That is, as long as the current status continues where the city remains united and open for both Israelis and Palestinians to traverse freely from east to west and vice versa, and where the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians differ only in their citizenship, the establishment of a Palestinian capital, possibly in expanded East Jerusalem, remains a viable option.
From the time Israel was created in 1948, the Palestinians with the support of the Arab states have insisted on the “right of return.” Since then, the number of refugees has swelled from about 750,000 that were uprooted from Palestine to nearly 6 million. Israel has rejected off-hand the return of any substantial number of refugees.
Sadly, if not tragically, Palestinian leaders use the refugees as a political tool to justify their refusal to reach any negotiated agreement while abandoning them to languish in refugee camps for decades. In Jordan alone, there are roughly 2.3 million refugees and thirteen refugee camps (ten official and three unofficial), albeit the vast majority have become Jordanian citizens.
Indeed, other than the possible return of 15,000 – 20,000 refugees to Israel in the context of family reunification, the repatriation of millions of refugees to Israel proper is entirely out of the realm of possibility. Nevertheless, Israel must acknowledge its culpability in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem to mitigate the trauma that they have experienced. The refugees can “resettle” in their home country of Palestine in the West Bank or Gaza as the majority are de facto internally displaced. It should be noted that the establishment of a confederation will allow for the refugee problem to be settled—with financial support from the US, the EU, Israel, and wealthy Arab states in particular would fully participate in the process of either resettlement or compensation, or both.
Process of reconciliation
Given the intractability and the intricacies of the conflict and the depth of distrust, hatred, and animosity between Israel and the Palestinians, it will be naïve to assume that such a resolution can simply be negotiated, and an agreement be reached. It will take at least a decade for a process of reconciliation, both people-to-people and government-to-government, to mitigate the deeply hostile and distrustful atmosphere before a final agreement can be realized, as long as the principle of establishing an independent Palestinian state is agreed upon from the onset. Jordan's participation in the reconciliation process between Israel and the Palestinians is central as Amman can always play an important role to facilitate and advance the process.
In this respect, should the negotiations on the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia continue to progress, the latter must insist that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be enshrined in any formal agreement or a treaty between the two sides that obligates the current and any future Israeli government to honor.
Validity of confederation
Given the demographic, territorial, security, economic, and religious interconnectedness between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians, it will prove to be impossible to reach a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on a two-state solution without Jordan’s direct and indirect involvement. As demonstrated above, Jordan has and continues to be affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it will have to be a partner to any future solution.
The establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation would create the framework that can sustain any resolution to the conflict and offer an enduring incentive to safeguard it. Indeed, under any circumstance, the three entities are locked in a reality they cannot change, and the creation of such a confederation offers unlimited opportunities for all to grow and prosper in peace and security.
*Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.