Why is the idea of Palestinian-Jordanian confederation getting a second lease on life?

Abbas knows that the confederation scheme is far from simple. His action must be considered as throwing a pebble into a still pond.
Sunday 16/09/2018
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
Beyond familiar boundaries. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)

It has become apparent that many analyses and interpretations of events related to the Palestinian situation relied too much on the so-called “Deal of the Century.”

Thus, among developments considered part of the supposed deal, there are US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent moving of the US Embassy there, the suspension of US financial aid to the Palestinians, the suspension of US contributions to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and discussions about a long-term ceasefire in Gaza.

The list includes all kinds of positions, statements or decisions from this or that capital or from this or that Palestinian official but could Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s confederation be one more instrument in dealing with Trump’s strange deal?

The idea of a confederation is the latest novelty among many others that have come and gone with the seasons. It was released as a test balloon and for other purposes as well but it might have theoretical merit and ought to be investigated.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority spokesman, indicated in a statement that “the idea of a confederation has existed on the agenda of the Palestinian leadership since 1984. Since then, the leadership has said that the two-state solution is the right approach to the special relation with Jordan.”

In other words, a confederation is an open option and the goals justify the means. Some form of a confederation is always possible if the godfathers of the big deal are interested. That Abbas resorted to pulling out this rabbit now might be a sign of his concern about developments in Gaza.

Abbas revealed that the suggestion of a confederation with Jordan was put to him during a meeting with Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and his Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt. Abbas was open to the idea but required that Israel be included in a tripartite confederation.

Why was this innovative old idea kept secret all this time in Ramallah, Washington, Amman and Tel Aviv?

Abbas decided to boycott Washington when the latter recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It looks like the suggestion of a confederation came incidentally during Kushner’s and Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah, such that a public official Palestinian reaction was not needed. If that’s the case, then circumstances must have called for reviving the confederation idea and waving it as an option so it might restore communications between the Palestinian Authority and the US administration.

A tripartite confederation between the Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis might suggest a tendency towards having a Palestinian entity in the West Bank politically separated from a probable entity in Gaza. Abbas’s leanings towards a confederation with Jordan might give credence to rumours of an annexation of Gaza Strip to Egypt. The scenario implies the death of the idea of an independent Palestinian state as well as the end of the political reunification of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abbas has cleverly put the ball in other courts. The option of a confederation with Jordan would result in increasing the political distance between Ramallah and Cairo while a confederation with Israel represents a tactical choice that imposes the Palestinian Authority as the only effective partner for a significant solution in the Palestinian territories, especially because Hamas appears extremely eager to strike historic deals with Israel.

Abbas’s manoeuvre shows that the Palestinian Authority considers the impossibility of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a forgone conclusion and it takes the Palestinian question towards horizons beyond the classical familiar boundaries.

Abbas knows that the confederation scheme is far from simple. His action must be considered as throwing a pebble into a still pond. When he insisted on a tripartite confederation, he refused to be the only one to swallow the bitter medicine.

Jordan is in no position to embark on a risky enterprise. That’s why Amman turned Abbas’s proposal down. It wasn’t, however, a definitive refusal. Jordanian government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said: “The confederation is unacceptable unless there is a definitive resolution (to the Palestinian question) based on the two-state solution and which includes a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. This has been Jordan’s position all along and it is not negotiable.”

 

Ramallah is not upset with Jordan’s position. In fact, Amman has placed the Palestinian question back in its original context. In its famous 2002 peace initiative, the Arab League accepted a confederation solution on the condition that there be a Palestinian state with recognised borders and capital. Now that Washington has unearthed the confederation project anew, it must explore these new paths. To do that, it must include Israel, which will have to pay a dear price if it wants to keep Jerusalem off the negotiation agenda.

Unofficial Israeli sources confirmed the confederation proposal. They also confirmed that it was submitted to Jordanian King Abdullah II and that it included placing the West Bank, Jerusalem not included, under Jordan’s security jurisdiction. No details have emerged about the political relationship that ought to be in place between both entities and their constitutions. A similar scheme is being suggested for the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Be that as it may, perhaps what interests Abbas is retaking the initiative and undermining a multitude of projects for the Palestinian territories that emerged after the truce in Gaza. Since the 1980s, the idea of a confederation was just a test balloon and it seems that Abbas wants it to stay that way.

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