WJC ANALYSIS - Jordan’s King Abdullah eyes Palestinians in the West and East Banks

By Pinhas Inbari
King Abdullah of Jordan visited Ramallah last weekend immediately after the United Nations accepted Palestine as a non-member observer state. The king’s message was clear: Palestine will be created in the West Bank while the East Bank will remain Jordanian.

Jordan’s policy regarding the Palestinian problem has been centered on the rejection of the notion of an "alternative state" for the Palestinians in the East Bank. The kingdom’s apprehension is easily understood. With the East Bank populated by a Palestinian majority, it is unclear what will become of Jordan’s Palestinians once Palestine becomes a state.

Will the Palestinians become full Jordanian citizens or will they be stripped off their citizenship and become Palestinian citizens? The dilemma harkens back to the agreement between the late King Hussein and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to establish a federation/confederation between Jordan and Palestine. Jordan has always demanded that the issue of a federation/confederation be addressed after the Palestinians get their state.

Once Palestinians and Jordanians enjoy the same political reality, the status of the Palestinians in Jordan could be addressed with fewer difficulties.

Yet, with living conditions in the West Bank deteriorating and possibly triggering an immigration wave to the East Bank, the King arrived to make sure the peace process continued. However, after studying the king’s statements in Ramallah , it is evident that Jordan has fully endorsed the Palestinian position on the issue. Therefore, the peace process will not resume through negotiation - the term was in fact never mentioned -  but with Jordanian intervention on behalf of the Palestinians with President Obama, intended to apply pressure to Israel alone.

Jordan also stressed that the UN decision did not confer full statehood on Palestine, leaving the issue of a potential federation/confederation on the table to be determined sometime in the future. Jordan’s position stands in complete contradiction to Prince Hassan’s declaration that once chances for Palestinian statehood decreased, the confederation option or even a return to Jordanian rule over the West Bank should be addressed.

The king’s visit likewise dealt with concerns over inter-Arab crises in the wake of the Arab Spring. Following visits by senior Muslim Brotherhood officials, the emir of Qatar, and potentially Turkish Prime Minister  Erdoğan to Gaza, the King's visit sent a message that the shrinking anti-Muslim Brotherhood camp was not about to give in.

However, according to Jordanian sources, there is no real crisis between the elder Bedouin leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palace in Amman. Unlike Egypt, where the Mubarak regime persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hashemites allotted members of the Brotherhood positions in the administration and allowed them to run an independent political party - the only one in Jordan.

There is, however, a problem with the younger generation of the Brotherhood led by Palestinian Said Hamam who has identified himself with Hamas and its resistance credo. Sources in Jordan reveal that the Palace is worried by the supposed preference of the American embassy in Amman to meet with the more radical, younger Palestinian leadership instead of the old Bedouin guard that is relatively loyal to the crown.

There are several reasons why the Palestinians in Jordan have not taken to the streets in the wake of the Arab Spring, unlike their Arab brethren in the rest of the Middle East. First, they are afraid that such action would cause the regime to conclude that they had crossed a red line regarding the sensitive issue of an alternate homeland. 

During his visit to Ramallah, King Abdullah was careful to signal to the Palestinians in Jordan that they should channel their energy toward gaining rights inside the West Bank and not in Jordan proper. Moreover, Jordan’s Palestinians are aware of the negative feeling toward them held by the Bedouin and fear they may become a target of a local Shabeeha  that will slaughter them once they take to the streets in order to claim their rights inside the Jordanian system instead of in future Palestine itself.

Jordan’s well-being and political quiet relies on the state of its economy and the resolution of the civil war in Syria. Today, the kingdom is in need of a quick economic fix. Its only viable option is a generous handout from the Persian Gulf states, which are ready to extend financial relief in exchange for Jordan taking Turkey’s place by offering the right to use its territory as a launching pad for a ground offensive by Arab armies against the Assad regime. Jordan has rejected the demand in light of recent threats of chemical warfare emanating from Damascus. Thus, when faced with a choice between two evils, King Abdullah has so far succeeded in choosing the middle ground and steering his kingdom to safety through the Middle Eastern storm.

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