Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

The Israeli - Palestinian conflict: Part F


Is the Palestinian State the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or is that a dangerous illusion? 


The Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the security fence means separation of the two Palestinian entities from Palestinian Authority. A number of questions arise: Can the Gaza and the Arab cities in the West Bank survive economically separately? Does Gaza need to have an economic and security relation with Egypt? Do the West Bank Arab cities require an economic and possibility security arrangement with Jordan? Can two separate entities one in the West Bank and one in Gaza develop successfully? If so would the West bank cities align themselves with Jordan?


The toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the weakening of the younger Assad in Syria have cast Jordan as a more central player on the regional political stage. Prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein, Jordan's geopolitical role was largely limited by its identity as a buffer state between Iraq and Israel. Jordan has been well aware that Israel has served as the guarantor of the kingdom's survival against a possible Syrian invasion from the north or an Iraqi assault from the east.


However, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, subsequent American and European pressure on Syria to roll back its support for radical Islamic terror, and Saudi Arabia's preoccupation with a growing internal al-Qaeda threat have opened up an opportunity for Jordan to influence developments in Iraq and play a more direct role in the West Bank as well.  Hamas’ victory adds more fuel to this potential fire.


Arafat had sidelined Jordan throughout the Oslo years and undermined the kingdom's special role as guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Abbas, on the other hand, keeps close ties to King Abdullah and the top echelons of the Jordanian government. He is a frequent visitor to Amman and has demonstrated a public interest in a reengagement with Jordan in several spheres.


More intensified consultation between the PA and Jordan since 2004 òeflects the growing concern that widespread chaos in the West Bank threatens the continuation of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians continue to be victimized by armed gangs engaging in theft, extortion and street warfare.


As a result, some prominent West Bank Palestinians requested that Jordan send security forces to the West Bank to help establish law and order. King Abdullah has agreed to send several thousand members of the Jordanian-commanded Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently comprised of Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war who are part of the Jordan-based Palestine Liberation Army. However, Israel opposes this in part due to concerns that the Badr Brigade would not solve Palestinian security problems since the PA lacks a stable security apparatus to supervise the Jordanian force.


Formally, the Badr Brigade was one of four brigades of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) established by the PLO in various Arab countries (including the Ain Jalut Brigade in Egypt, the Qadissya Brigade in Iraq, the Hittin and Yarmuk Brigades in Syria, and the Badr Brigade in Jordan). Over time, however, the PLO lost control as these brigades came under the sway of their host countries. So far Israel has refused permission.


On a political level, the idea of a reengagement with Jordan is not foreign to Palestinian leaders. In practical terms, Jordanian reconsideration of assuming an enhanced West Bank role is coming about because of concern with the possibility that the Palestinian Authority might actually collapse. Jordan is obsessed with the problem of thousands of Palestinians crossing over from the West Bank to the Hashemite kingdom and seeking refuge. If the call for a Jordanian role should come from the Palestinians themselves, King Abdullah might be more predisposed to pursuing such a new course of action, if it can help avert scenarios that are viewed in Amman as far more threatening to the kingdom's own internal stability.


Therefore, the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian reengagement and possible confederation even before the Palestinians achieve independence is no longer completely off the table on either side of the Jordan River. It should also be reconsidered by American policy-makers, for whom a viable and contiguous Palestinian state is a stated policy goal; one which might only become possible if America's Jordanian allies can more actively help to establish the necessary security and economic infrastructure that has been so lacking in the development efforts of the Palestinian Authority alone.


Ephraim Inbar, Professor at Bar Ilan University and Director of the Begin-Sadat Center considers a confederation as the most likely result of the PA failure.



However a cloud of uncertainty hovers over Israeli-Jordanian relations In February a senior Israel Defense Forces commander expressed uncertainty as to the future of Hashemite rule in Jordan.  Central Command General Yair Naveh of Israel said that at least 80 percent of Jordan's citizens are Palestinian and that, due to regional threats, King Abdullah is liable to be the last Hashemite monarch to lead the kingdom.


Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz responded by hastened to issue a statement aimed at softening the blow of Naveh's comments. Director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israeli former U.N. Representative Dore Gold, told Haaretz that Naveh spoke on the security and strategic threats on Israel's eastern front and provided his audience with a security - rather than political - analysis.



The quiet Hashemite kingdom produced the man thought to be spearheading the deadliest aspects of the Iraqi insurgency — and who brought the fight back to Jordan in three hotel bombings last December (2005) - known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after his hometown of Zarqa, a poor city an hour's drive north of Amman. How did the quiet Hashemite kingdom produce a man who has become known as the Sheik of the Slaughterers? Jordan is home to many jihadis, young men from much the same milieu that produced Zarqawi, and especially since the United States invaded Iraq nearly three years ago, Jordan has increasingly become a not-so-quiet place, a place where local Islamists cross easily into Iraq and back, a place where a jihadist underground can seem almost a normal part of a nation's life.


Zarqawi was a criminal before he was a jihadi. He was a wild young man, according to all who knew him and have recounted his story in the Arab media. He had no interest in religion. A high-school dropout, he had a reputation for getting tattoos, drinking alcohol and getting into fights, and he ended up in jail in the 1980's. After being released, he went to Afghanistan, in 1989, where the successful jihad against the Soviets had turned into a war of one Afghan faction against another.


His time in prison was as important for the movement as their experiences in Afghanistan were, bonding the men who suffered together and giving them time to formulate their ideas. For some, it was educational as well. One experienced jihadi who knew Zarqawi in Afghanistan stated: "When I heard Zarqawi speak, I didn't believe this is the same Zarqawi. But six years in jail gave him a good chance to educate himself."


Zarqawi was such a strict Salafi that he criticized the Taliban — for insufficiently imposing Shariah and for recognizing the United Nations, an infidel organization. And thus he criticized Al Qaeda as well for associating with the Taliban. Zarqawi established his own camp near the western Afghan city of Herat, close to the border with Iran.


Zarqawi had sent Iraqi suicide bombers to Amman, three of whom succeeded in detonating their vests in three different hotels, killing more than 60 and injuring more than 100, including many who were attending a wedding. It was Zarqawi's third successful attack in Jordan. Each time, he had used non-Jordanians to avoid infiltration by the Mukhabarat Jordan’s secret service).



In Jordan the balance of power between the Monarchy and the Islamists is tilted very heavily in favor of the regime.  Two dates in Jordan’s history are etched very deeply in the collective political memory.  One is 1957, when King Hussien outlawed all political parties after the Nasserist opposition sought his downfall.  The other is 1970 -- “Black September” -- when the PLO was routed following its attempt to overthrow the Hashemites. 


Former British Minister SirAnthony Nutting, said of King Hussein: “However much one may admire the courage of this lonely young king, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion his days are numbered.”  In fact, Hussein continued to rule forty more years and peacefully bequeathed the Monarchy to his son, Abdullah.  The new king in 1999 shortly after his enthronement decided to expel the Hamas leadership from Jordan; the Jordanian Brotherhood responded with petitions and protests but Abdullah refused to back down and the Brotherhood kept the peace.