[Published 29 November 2011]
Jordan’s King Abdullah must now be very concerned at the prospect of the Hashemites possibly seeing an end to their 90 years uninterrupted rule in Jordan.
This can only be the rational explanation for the King’s sudden helicopter flight to Ramallah to meet PLO and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas last week and his announcement that Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal will visit Jordan for discussions within the next two weeks.
With negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a dead end, reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas at a standstill, Mubarak toppled in Egypt, Gadaffi shot dead in Libya and Assad facing removal in Syria - King Abdullah is keen to make sure that neither the PLO or Hamas have any designs for taking over Jordan.
Meshaal owes his life to the swift action of Abdullah’s father - the late King Hussein - after a bungled attempt by Israel to assassinate Meshaal im 1996. Getting Israel to swiftly reveal the antidote for a deadly poison injected into Meshaal - in return for the release of the Israeli agents caught in the act - is certainly something for which Meshaal will be greatly indebted to the Hashemites. No doubt King Abdullah will be calling in the favour when they meet. Meshaal is more than likely to assure the King that he has enough on his plate in Gaza.
The Jordanian Islamists will foment a few demonstrations but Meshaal will make sure the King will not be dethroned and sent packing.
Abbas is a different kettle of fish.
He heads an organization that is dedicated to liberating and reuniting into one indivisible territorial unit what is today called Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan - a goal that has remained unchanged and unmodified since the promulgation of the PLO Charter in 1964.
Jordan’s relation with the PLO has always been uneasy - ever since Yasser Arafat tried to takeover Jordan in 1970 resulting in thousands of dead and wounded on both sides. The PLO remains absolutely committed to its Charter. If the PLO sticks to its guns and refuses to negotiate with Israel - then frustration might well see the PLO again turning its sights on Jordan.
Israel is also very concerned to ensure the continued stability of the Hashemite regime and has given King Abdullah the clearest signals of such intention.
Firstly - Israel’s Foreign Minister - Avigdor Lieberman - stated that:
“regional turbulence” is bringing Islamist parties to power “that all share an anti-Israel message.”
“Instability in the Middle East is not good for anyone,” he said, emphasizing that it is “a major danger for Jordan.”
“Those who say that Jordan is Palestine are mostly harming Israel,” Lieberman added. “That would create a continuous Palestinian state which would endanger us. It’s in our interest for this not to happen.
“Stability in Jordan is in Israel’s interest.”
Our shared border is the longest and quietest. Both sides enjoy the benefits of peace and economic cooperation.”
Lieberman’s warning to Abbas to not meddle in Jordan’s internal affairs was clear and uncompromising.
Although Jordan does comprise 78% of former Palestine - any thought that an attempt would be made by the PLO to reunite it at any time or in any way under PLO rule with any part of the remaining 22% would cross a red line that would be resisted by Israel.
Secondly - Lieberman’s statement of support was followed by a visit to King Abdullah by Israel’s President Shimon Peres on 28 November.
A news release issued by Media and Communications Directorate of the Royal Hashemite Court declared:
“The King emphasized that the end of the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only be achieved through resolving all final-status issues, foremost of which are refugees, borders and Jerusalem, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”
Interestingly, eighteen years of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not got to first base in resolving these outstanding issues. Yet, agreed solutions to refugees and Jerusalem are set out in the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. A solution to redrawing the boundary between Israel and Jordan so as to return to Jordan the major part of the West Bank it lost to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War could be achieved with relative ease in direct negotiations with Israel.
Abbas needs to get back to negotiating with Israel without delay if he does not wish to see yet another opportunity slip through the fingers of the Palestinian Arabs because of stubborn and intransigent leaders.
Should Abbas fail to do so - King Abdullah will be waiting on the sidelines to step into his shoes and negotiate with Israel.
No doubt King Abdullah will strongly resist being pressured into re-occupying a large part of the West Bank. But if his failure to negotiate with Israel could mean the loss of Israel’s continuing support of the Hashemite regime - then a change of heart could be reasonably anticipated.
One wild card that could let Abdullah off the hook would be the return of Abbas to the negotiating table with Israel.
In this regard, President Obama holds one trump card - the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison after 26 years of imprisonment in return for Israel imposing a fixed period during which it will cease building houses in the West Bank. Talks between American Jewish leaders with Vice President Biden taking place now could possibly lead to such a proposal.
President Obama also needs a boost to his falling popularity. Releasing Pollard may be the bitter medicine he needs to take with the Presidential election season starting to hot up.
All in all - some interesting times ahead in the next three months.