In late April, MESH hosted a discussion of the “Jordanian option.” In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman, writing from Ramallah, offers his own version of it (see below, left). MESH member Adam Garfinkle reviews the earlier MESH thread, and adds his own insights. Comments are offered by MESH members Barry Rubin, Walter Reich, David Schenker, and Harvey Sicherman.
“If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not get control over at least part of the West Bank soon, he will have no authority to sign any draft peace treaty with Israel. He will be totally discredited.
|“But Israel cannot cede control over any part of the West Bank without being assured that someone credible is in charge. Rockets from Gaza land on the remote Israeli town of Sderot. Rockets from the West Bank could hit, and close, Israel’s international airport. That is an intolerable risk. Israel has got to start ceding control over at least part of the West Bank but in a way that doesn’t expose the Jewish state to closure of its airport.|
|“Radical pragmatism would say that the only way to balance the Palestinians’ need for sovereignty now with Israel’s need for a withdrawal now, but without creating a security vacuum, is to enlist a trusted third party—Jordan—to help the Palestinians control whatever West Bank land is ceded to them. Jordan does not want to rule the Palestinians, but it, too, has a vital interest in not seeing the West Bank fall under Hamas rule.|
|“Without a radically pragmatic new approach—one that gets Israel moving out of the West Bank, gets the Palestinian Authority real control and sovereignty, but one which also addresses the deep mistrust by bringing in Jordan as a Palestinian partner—any draft treaty will be dead on arrival.”|
|Thomas L. Friedman, “Time for Radical Pragmatism,” New York Times, June 4, 2008.|
From Adam Garfinkle
The Jordanian option is an idea whose time never exactly comes.
When I was writing about it—urging it, as it were, as the least bad of alternatives—nearly thirty years ago, the time was not right because, as Asher Susser put it back in April, the Israeli government of the day was not sufficiently foresighted or realistic to understand the likely future of the matter. By the time later Israeli governments did understand, it was too late for the Jordanians. What Tom Friedman has been thinking all these years I can’t say, but in light of what those of us who have been following this for more than thirty years know, his column looks to be a classical example of a BFO—a blinding flash of the obvious—but too late for prime time.
About a year or so ago Abdul Salem al-Majali was in Washington, carrying with him a very delicate version of a new Jordanian option. He raised it up the flag pole in a few places around town, and seems not to have noticed many people saluting. The problem with the idea, as was pointed out a few months ago, is that the Jordanians are afraid that instead of them re-containing Palestinian nationalism, the Islamicizing Palestinian national movement will finally toss the Hashemites into the proverbial dustbin of history. Israel would then be back where it was, geostragically speaking, before June 4, 1967, except instead of a Hashemite state in both east and west banks, with which it had a range of tacit understandings and some significant shared interests, it would have to deal with a far less cooperative neighbor.
This leads me more or less to the same conclusion Rob Satloff mooted earlier: It may be possible to bring the Jordanians into a kind of relatively quiet trialogue on issues like trade, water and energy, air space and other aspects of security, medical-technical cooperation and a few other items, but only up to the carrying-capacity of the Jordanian political system which, under the current king, is still not back to where it was under an experienced and shrewd Hussein ibn Talal. If one takes the idea of path dependency seriously, as I do, then this sort of functional mix might lay the ground for a larger Jordanian role in the future, which might still end up being part of the least-bad-of-all policy alternatives for Israel, the United States, and arguably the Palestinians, too. But we’re talking years here, and Israel’s problem in the West Bank, where the collapse of Fatah has indeed created a dangerous vacuum, runs on a different, faster, timetable.
So, as I said, the Jordanian option is a idea whose time seems never to be right—Tom Friedman columns notwithstanding.
Comments are limited to MESH members and invitees.
4 Responses to “‘Radical pragmatism’ and the Jordanian option”