Subdivision of the West Bank between Jewish and Arab claimants has always been an essential ingredient of President Bush’s 2002 vision to create a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan.
Indeed such a subdivision had been pursued by President Clinton in 2000 before negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) broke down after Yasser Arafat had demanded all of the West Bank and ended up getting nothing at all as a result.
President Bush made his position on this issue abundantly clear on 14 April 2004 when he declared in a letter to Israel’s then Prime Minister - Ariel Sharon:
“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
Fifteen years of negotiations with the PLO - begun with the much heralded but totally ineffectual Oslo Accords in 1993 - have proved a complete waste of time in achieving the determination of sovereignty in the West Bank - an area that has had no recognised sovereign authority since 1948 when Great Britain terminated the mandate conferred on it by the League of Nations in 1922.
President Bush’s Roadmap - backed by the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - has failed to make the slightest impression on securing PLO agreement to any part of the West Bank remaining in Jewish hands.
The PLO’s continuing intransigence has forfeited its right to continue to negotiate the future of the West Bank on behalf of the Arabs. Its conditions for statehood are incapable of fulfilment.
Jordan was the last sovereign Arab State to occupy the West Bank, which it did from 1948 to 1967 until it was lost to Israel in the Six Day War in 1967.
Jordan ceded all claims to the West Bank in 1988 in favour of the PLO in the face of extreme pressure by the Arab League to do so. That decision has proved disastrous for the Arab residents of the West Bank and now requires to be urgently reviewed by the Arab League and reversed.
Jordan needs to be brought back as the appropriate partner to negotiate a subdivision of the West Bank with Israel so as to enable its Arab residents to at least be freed of Israeli military control and restrictions on their freedom of movement and assembly.
Randa Habib of Agence France Presse in an article dated June 10 and posted on http://www.canada.com titled “Jordan fears new pressure to merge with West Bank” reports of Jordanian concerns at such a possibility quoting “a senior Jordanian official” as stating:
“The only acceptable scenario for us is the merger of Jordan and all of the West Bank”
In the same breath the same official however is quoted as saying:
"Jordan does not want to be linked to 30 or 50 per cent of a territory which it owned from 1950 - 1967. To get half or less of the West Bank with all the Palestinian population would be suicide.”
Jordan need have no fears on this score. Israel was prepared to cede its claim to 93% of the West Bank in 2000 and reportedly to a slightly lesser area in the failed negotiations on President Bush’s Road Map. The radicalization of the Arab population of the West Bank might well necessitate a staged withdrawal by Israel from the areas it agrees to cede to Jordan in direct negotiations.
Jordan represents the only realistic option for removing Israel’s grip on the West Bank’s Arab population. Failure to grasp the opportunity now presented will be a tragedy and end any prospects of a peaceful settlement of the Jewish-Arab conflict in the foreseeable future.
Jordan cannot go it alone. It will need the backing of the Arab League as well as American and hopefully international support - politically, militarily and financially - to secure Jordan against any attempt to overthrow its monarchy and governing structure by Arab terrorist and radical groups who oppose any concessions or any territory in the West Bank being kept by Israel or the recognition of a Jewish State anywhere in the Middle East.
Additionally the implementation of any agreed subdivision will entail a joint co-operative effort between Israel and Jordan to render the West Bank an “arms free” area where the only weapons there are under the control of the Jordanian and Israeli military and police forces.
No doubt demilitarization of the West Bank - partially or totally - would be on the negotiating agenda.
The existence of a peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994 puts Israel and Jordan in a position of equal negotiating strength as sovereign States already living side by side in peace - a critical factor never existing in any previous negotiations over the last 70 years.
Substantive issues such as water, refugees and Jerusalem are already covered under the peace treaty and afford ready made, agreed solutions to what has been considered impossible to achieve under previous negotiations.
Redrawing the boundary between these two sovereign states should be a relatively simple task that can be accomplished in a matter of weeks - well before President Bush leaves the Oval Office in January 2009.
Another Arab State in any part of the West Bank would require the joint consent of Jordan and Israel. Maybe when the current environment turns from confrontational to peaceful and cooperative, the opportunity might then be afforded to complete what President Bush’s vision so earnestly desired and what proposals over the last 70 years have been unable to achieve.
That is for the future. The present demands swift and decisive intervention by Jordan.