Keeping communication open

by Yossi Alpher
29 October 2004
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I keep coming back to Jordan, even though I know I'm not welcome in many
quarters. I return despite almost being shot at by an angry Jordanian
policeman at the Allenby Bridge crossing last May. Despite the necessity of
maintaining anonymity by using a non-Israeli passport and telling Amman
taxi drivers I'm "Canadian". Despite my wife begging me to stay home in Tel
Aviv.

The reason is not only that Jordan has become a congenial centre for
meetings devoted to regional strategic issues, which I feel I must attend.
I come because, after 10 years of Jordan-Israel peace and not a few wars in
the neighbourhood, I believe it is vital to maintain the link between the
two countries.

Long before 1994, when the Wadi Araba treaty was signed, it was clear that
Jordan and Israel share strategic interests, as do few countries in the
region. They have no dispute over territory. They shelter one another from
regional rivals and enemies. They are both concerned about the spillover
effect of Palestinian nationalism, and both, or at least the mainstream of
strategic thinkers in both countries, believe in the need for the two to
"sandwich" a Palestinian state as the best and most stable way to channel
this threat into a constructive and just solution.

Those Israelis who have argued for 50 years that Jordan is a temporary,
artificial and weak state whose territory could be better used to
accommodate Palestinian sovereignty have repeatedly been proven not only
wrong, but ignorant of Israel's real strategic interest.

The Jordan-Israel strategic relationship has withstood the test of two wars
in Iraq. The Jordan-Israel peace treaty is a model for the region. The
Jordan-Israel border requires no international monitoring force, no UN
observers.

That these truths are today self-evident is the greatest achievement of ten
years of peace. But there are also two strategic failures. The lesser one
is economic; the greater failure is political, and relates to the
Palestinian issue.

The economic setback refers to the expectation in Jordan, upon the signing
of the peace treaty, of an immediate and impressive commercial payoff in
the form of trade and cooperation with Israel and financial reward from the
United States. No doubt, these hopes were exaggerated - yet Israel helped
cultivate them. Remember all the impressive infrastructure cooperation
schemes - canals, electricity grids, railways, etc. - floated by Israel at
conferences in Casablanca and Amman shortly after the peace? All involved
Jordan; none has been realised. Meanwhile, the qualified Industrial Zones,
established in cooperation with Israel and the US on Jordanian territory,
have begun to get off the ground, and bilateral trade is booming, boosting
Jordanian exports manifold. Jordan has also benefited from US aid and debt
forgiveness that would never have been possible without the peace with
Israel. We still have infrastructure problems and trade bottlenecks, but we
finally appear to be on the right track.

Turning to the Palestinian issue, Jordanians express universal
disappointment. In the Jordanian perception, peace was predicated on the
assumption that Israel and the PLO would indeed bring the Oslo process to
fruition in the form of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a viable
Palestinian state, thereby enabling the Hashemite Kingdom to rationalise
the status of its large Palestinian population.

King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher have taken great pains to
emphasise to Israel the importance of a Palestinian state solution for the
future health of Jordan and for Jordanian-Israeli relations. Everything
that transpires between the PLO/PNA and Israel at the political level - the
roadmap, disengagement, the Sharon government's approach to Palestinian
reformers like former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) - is seen in
Amman through this filter. Hence, Jordan has in recent years levelled heavy
criticism at Israel (and on occasion at Arafat and the PNA as well), and
has led diplomatic efforts on issues like the International Court of
Justice decision on the wall, thereby creating considerable tensions with
Israel.

Tensions over the Palestinian issue have also been exacerbated by some
nasty Israeli mistakes, such as the abortive attempt in Amman on the life
of Hamas leader Khalid Mishaal and the recent refusal by Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon to release Jordanian prisoners, even as he caved in to
Hizbollah demands for a wholesale prisoner release in return for a single
Israeli criminal held in Lebanon. But Jordan, too, has maintained policies
that antagonise Israel. For far too long it tolerated the presence of Hamas
leaders while their suicide bombers were at work in Israel.

Jordanian spokespersons have never managed to explain to Israelis their
fear that the absence of a Palestinian state would eventually overwhelm
their country with masses of additional Palestinian refugees - a key
arguing point in Amman's criticism of Israeli policy. A more moderate
Israeli government might still not be able to reach an acceptable agreement
with the likes of Yasser Arafat. But even assuming that Israel did try to
force Palestinians to leave, the Hashemite Kingdom controls its borders
closely and allows precious few West Bankers to enter. Jordan's fears
appear to Israelis to betray a lack of national confidence that contrasts
starkly with the Kingdom's evident robustness and stability. Nevertheless,
these fears are real, particularly when the current prime minister of
Israel so obviously opposes the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

If Israel could demonstrate to Jordan that the Palestinian problem was on
its way to a solution - to the benefit of all three peoples - its relations
with Jordan might truly serve as a model for the rest of the Arab world.
Jordan could help by being even tougher with Arafat and showing greater
understanding for Israel's angry reaction to Palestinian suicide bombings
that target our civilian population.

Most important, and no matter what happens, we must not stop visiting one
another. To do otherwise is to give in to all the anti-peace forces.

###

Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies
and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak, coedits bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org.

Source: Jordan Times, October 25, 2004

Visit the Jordan Times website at http://www.jordantimes.com

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
 
 
 
 
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