[Published May 2010]
One would imagine that any statement by one of Jordan’s political elite recalling - or calling once again for - the reunification of Jordan with the West Bank - would generate a great deal of media comment and international political interest.
This is especially so given the parlous state of the proximity negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the future sovereignty of the West Bank.
The news that Jordan might be once again eliciting an interest in returning to the West Bank was - surprisingly - first reported by the London based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. It did not even rate a mention in the Jordan Times or any of the many international news services based in Jordan that must have surely been covering an occasion of great national significance where the comments were made on 25 May - Jordan’s Independence Day.
The al-Quds al-Arabi article was - however - subsequently picked up the Israeli press including the Jerusalem Post, Y Net and Arutz Sheva.
Arutz Sheva’s report stated:
“Jordan’s head of senate Taher al-Masri addressed an audience of approximately 1,000 attendees celebrating Jordanian independence, including King Abdullah II and his family, envisioning “the two united banks, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan emerging on both banks of the holy river.”
The Jerusalem Post had a different take:
“Taher al-Masri, head of the Jordanian Senate, spoke at a ceremony commemorating the country’s independence day and reportedly referred to the emergence of a “union” on both banks of the “holy Jordan river” - though apparently not a political one.”
The fact that such a high ranking Jordanian parliamentarian had even mentioned what was previously a taboo subject in Jordan made the Jerusalem Post further comment:
“Abdullah’s father Hussein renounced Jordan’s claim to the territory [West Bank] in 1998 [in fact it was 1988 - editor], and al-Masri’s comments mark the first reference by a high-ranking Jordanian official to the issue since then”
Y Net was even more upbeat as it reported:
“In a ceremony commemorating Jordan’s independence day, Taher al-Masri, head of the country’s senate, spoke of the “state of two united banks,” London-based al-Qudsal-Arabi reported on Wednesday.
This is a rare and surprising statement, which may be interpreted as granting legitimization to the viewpoint that the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are part of the Hashemite Kingdom.”
Y Net further commented:
“There are also those that may interpret al-Masri’s comments as more than a claim to responsibility over the Palestinians, but also as territorial ambitions in the West Bank. Jordan’s official stance rejects any such claims in light of its peace agreement with Israel.”
The Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty - however - does not prevent Jordan making any territorial claims to the West Bank.
Tucked away in Annex 1(a) to the Peace Treaty is clause 2 [A] 7:
“The orthophoto maps and image maps showing the line separating Jordan from the territory that came under Israeli Military government control in 1967 shall have that line indicated in a different presentation and the legend shall carry on it the following disclaimer:
“This line is the administrative boundary between Jordan and the territory which came under Israeli military government control in 1967. Any treatment of this line shall be without prejudice to the status of the territory.”
With this clause in place - sovereignty in all or part of the West Bank could be reclaimed by Jordan at any time with Israel‘s concurrence - notwithstanding that Jordan withdrew any such claim in 1988. Such a demand would not result in a breach of the terms of the peace treaty with Israel.
Taher Al- Masri has subsequently tried to clear up his reported comments - telling Ammon News that his statement
"The rise of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with its two arms on both banks of the Holy Jordan River,“- came in the context of a historical recount that began by speaking of the Great Arab Revolt, the creation of the Kingdom, noting the catastrophes that struck the region, and ending with describing Jordan as a “miracle.”
In playing down the Israeli press’s treatment of his comments Ammon News continued:
"It is noted that although all three Israeli media outlets cited al-Quds al-Arabi for their report on Senate President’s statements, they all failed to note that, in his reference to the united banks, Masri was ‘recalling’ how the Hashemite Kingdom on both sides of the Holy Jordan River was able to rise above the recurrent catastrophes and crises that have struck the area since Israeli’s inception, and that Jordan has ‘won the bet of unity, where everyone contributed to building the nation and reinforcing its achievements,”
The Jordan Times simply omitted any mention of al-Masri’s explosive remarks blandly reporting:
“Senate President Taher Masri also delivered a speech highlighting the importance of the Independence Day and achievements realised in Jordan over the past 64 years.
In his speech, Masri remarked that when Jordan achieved its independence more than six decades ago, the leadership and the people of the country undertook their responsibilities to start the ongoing development process.
The wars and the catastrophes that took place in the region over the years made many people across the world think that the fate of Jordan was at stake, but Jordan won the bet and unity between Jordanians has become stronger, he stated, adding that Jordanians will continue to protect the Kingdom’s independence and maximise Jordan’s achievements because they believe in their national unity as the first guarantee for building a stronger Jordan."
In the midst of all this bizarre spin and confusion there are two incontrovertible facts:
(i)A subject never discussed in Jordan since 1988 was raised by the Jordanian Senate President at a function hosted by Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai on Jordan’s Independence Day - one of the most important dates in Jordan’s diplomatic calendar.
(ii) Jordan’s King and Queen were present when it was delivered - as were Arab and foreign ambassadors, religious leaders, military and security officers.
Whether al-Masri was recalling the good old days between 1950-1967 when the West Bank was unified with the East Bank as one territorial unit - called Jordan - or whether he was suggesting Jordan once again reunify with the West Bank Arab population is beside the point.
What is significant is that after so many failed attempts to resolve the conflict between Arabs and Jews over the last 130 years - Senator al-Masri has now publicly put forward Jordan’s historical record in the West Bank to justify replacing the Palestinian Authority as Israel’s negotiating partner - when the fruitless negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are inevitably declared dead and buried.
King Abdullah’s silence and tacit approval of al-Masri’s speech is sufficient to indicate that a sea change is taking place - and it needs to happen soon if the current impasse in the West Bank is to be ended peacefully.