Joseph Braude argues that conditions are right for a larger Palestinian confederation consisting of the newly released land in Gaza and the West Bank and portions of Jordan.
Good Neighbor: How Jordan Can Help Palestine (New Republic Online)
Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza this month marked more than just a blow to the settler movement. By departing Gaza without a peace deal, Israel affirmed with finality that the dream of economic integration and political partnership between Israelis and Palestinians is dead. And that means a viable Palestinian state will have to be built in consort with another power. Ten years of conflict among Israel, Palestinian Islamists, and the Palestinian Authority have left Gaza and the West Bank deeply wounded–its physical and human infrastructure hobbled, its institutions of civil society gutted–and badly in need of a partner in security and economic reconstruction. The natural candidate is Jordan, Palestine’s neighbor to the east.
The concept of “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation” has never been clearly defined and at times has raised objections from nationalists in both countries. For some, it implies less than full sovereignty for either people. For others, it raises the specter of the “alternative-homeland” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once envisioned by some revisionist Zionists–the notion of a mass transfer of Palestinians across the Jordan River. This idea is, of course, immoral and unacceptable. Yet if confederation in the sense of mass transfer is to be firmly repudiated, confederation in the sense of heightened political and military coordination as well as economic interdependence between Jordan and Palestine is to be welcomed; in fact, it may represent the most viable path to rebuilding the shattered economy and fractured society of the West Bank and Gaza. Seen this way, confederation is not an alternative to a Palestinian state but rather the best available framework in which to build one.
It has been 35 years since “Black September,” a bloody civil war in Jordan that left ethnic Jordanians fully in control of the country’s military, security services, and government–and most Palestinian refugees languishing in camps and urban poverty. Since that time, the children and grandchildren of many ’48 and ’67 refugees have been integrated into mainstream Jordanian society and now dominate the economic life of Amman. Their clout in the city’s businesses and banks has been fortified by the inflow of several hundred thousand Palestinians from Kuwait, banished by that country’s emir in 1990 as punishment for the PLO’s support of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. These affluent, educated people were allowed to bring most of the money they had earned along with them to Amman as part of an arrangement that made their migration a gift to the Jordanian economy. In the country today, ethnic Jordanians still dominate the public sector, security services, and armed forces; but they are economically weaker than ethnic Palestinians who dominate an increasingly robust and globalized urban private sector.
While it is not immediately obvious to me why the “alternative-homeland” solution was “immoral,” it was certainly a non-starter as a standalone solution. Now that the Palestinians have something approaching autonomy over parts of their briefly held former “homeland,” however, it may well be in the enlightened self interest of all concerned to cede control of the Palestinian sectors of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan over to the Palestinian Authority or whatever successor body comes to pass.
While the Palestinian cause has been a useful diversion for Arab leaders, the presence of a huge refugee population has been quite problematic–most obviously for Lebanon. Combined with the fact that the Gaza and West Bank territories are far too small to house the huge Palestinian diaspora, now may well be the time for the leaders of those states to work together to create a permanent solution to the Palestinian problem.