Given the absence of any political solution on the horizon, Israel has revived the plan to establish “Greater Israel” with an even more right-wing and extremist approach. It is refusing any settlement with the Palestinians and suggestions have emerged of a possible solution being the “return” of the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt.
Although such ideas are not promoted publically, Palestinian Professor Sari Nusseibeh dropped a bomb during a recent press interview when he said that although he was opposed to the Jordanian option in the past, it is now the only possible option available. This is his belief, even though “Jordan is unable to bear our ‘burden’, especially given the security tensions witnessed by Jordan and the Arab region.” In saying so, he has abandoned the document he agreed with the Israeli Labour Party’s Ami Ayalon and former security officials 14 years ago, which, despite the critical concessions it made for free, was considered a lifeline at the time.
Nusseibeh did not trouble himself to provide any justification for his view. Instead, he was content to say that there is “a lack of a Palestinian leadership” and expressed his dissatisfaction at the actions of the Palestinian Authority, which is merely symbolic these days in any case. He also said that there is no support for Jerusalem, no army to liberate Palestine — or even half of Palestine — and that we are not strong enough in light of the conflicts in the region.
Based on this assessment, he thinks that there is no other choice but to go for the Jordanian option, if Jordan agrees to it, which is far from certain. Given the latter, it is not really an option, but an expression of enforced desperation. This not only suggests that the leaders and factions have become obsolete, but also that the Palestinian elite has become obsolete, no longer able to innovate, develop and propose ideas and visions capable of rescuing the Palestinian cause from a comprehensive deadlock.
If his statement about the lack of leadership is true (and it is to a large extent), there should be an inquiry into why it has happened and how can it be re-established. Does Nusseibeh believe that the absence of the leadership is an irreversible act of God and ignore the fact that despite the lack of leaders the nation is still alive? And that it has been for over 100 years, as demonstrated by its perseverance, resistance and boycotts, and new forms of struggle, as well as Palestinian cultural advancement in various fields?
Nusseibeh did not explain to us whether Israel will agree to the Jordanian option. It is, after all, a racist, settler-colonial state that has destroyed the so-called “peace process” and is eliminating any possibility of a Palestinian state; does he want to have a wedding without the groom?
Is it possible for Israel to agree to the Jordanian option, though? The answer to this question is in the past. What prompted King Hussein to disengage from the West Bank in 1988, despite the fact that it was part of his kingdom when the Six Day War took place and it was occupied by Israel along with the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights? The then Jordanian monarch used his diplomatic skills and good relations with the US and other countries to regain the West Bank peacefully; this included sending moderate messages to the occupying power, to the extent that Jordan did not participate in the 1973 October War. However, his efforts and demands fell on deaf Israeli ears, with Jordan’s neighbour refusing to disengage from the border, even by retreating just one kilometre, as it did on the Egyptian and Syrian borders after that war. This drove King Hussein to disengage and recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
He took this step because he realised that there was no such “Jordanian option” being considered by Israel. Indeed, Israeli circles promoted the idea of imposing a solution at Jordan’s expense as part of the “alternative homeland” concept. This is based on the fact that the majority of Jordan’s population are Palestinians; hence, a “Palestinian state” could be established there. When the first popular intifada (1987-1993) established the Palestinian national identity and the status of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people (which was accepted officially by the Arab states during the Rabat Summit in 1974), there was no way of avoiding the Jordanian monarch’s reluctant but historic decision.
Jordan realised that Israel was unlikely to withdraw from the West Bank, and so why would it continue to compete with the PLO over the bear’s pelt before it was hunted? This was the conclusion reached by the king, which he expressed on numerous occasions and by several means, including a conversation with Mohammed Hassanein Heikal in a London restaurant after signing the Oslo Accords. “If Israel wanted to give anything to anyone, it would be to Jordan,” King Hussein told the Egyptian journalist. “Since it hasn’t done so, it will not give anyone anything, especially not the PLO.”
Subsequent developments following Oslo, and to this day, have all proven the truth of the late king’s prediction. If he had continued to compete with the PLO over the representation of the Palestinians, he would have later borne the responsibility for the catastrophic results and consequences now bearing down on the sole legitimate representative of the people.
There are those who conclude from the aforementioned that Jordan is free of any responsibility for what happened, but that is a mistake, not least because it was Jordan which lost the West Bank. They believe that Jordan was mistaken to accept the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians. However, a more accurate conclusion is that the Palestinians were mistaken not to hold the Arabs responsible and to put the blame solely on themselves, because the cause is partly Palestinian, partly Arab and partly international and humanitarian. Erasing the Arab and international humanitarian aspects of the situation, while exaggerating its Palestinian aspect, has contributed to us being in the state that we are in today. It now looks like a dispute over land and borders between two parties with equal or quasi-equal rights, rather than a liberation struggle of a nation seeking to exercise its right to self-determination in the face of a racist, Zionist colonial project.
The historical experience I have referred to is what explains the current situation whereby the Jordanians have almost all agreed that Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. The government in Amman has become the fiercest defender of the establishment of a Palestinian state because it would be the first line of defence for Jordan against Israel’s expansionist plans. There is also the fact that relations between Jordanians and their fellow citizens of Palestinian origin are fragile and ready to explode at any moment.
What is applied to the West Bank can also be applied in another form to the Gaza Strip. Due to the fact that Gaza has the largest population density in the world and that the Palestinians there resist the occupation steadfastly, Israel aims to hit many birds with one stone by means of its “withdrawal” from the besieged territory. One of these “hits” would be to drop Gaza into Egypt’s lap; Cairo, however, has rejected this idea. If Egypt had wanted to annex the Gaza Strip or reinforce its control over Gaza, it could and would have done so, especially after the occupying Israeli troops were redeployed and ended their physical — but not practical — occupation, with Israel being content to impose its suffocating siege. The Gaza Strip was and still can be a model of unity and governance rather than falling into the Israeli trap by playing along with the political division amongst Palestinians that has existed for 9 years.
Based on all of the above, if Israel is unlikely to withdraw from the West Bank, why does Sari Nusseibeh want to throw away decades of sacrifice, struggle and suffering upon which the Palestinian national identity has developed, due to his dissatisfaction with the current leadership? Why does he want to revive the intensity of the Jordanian-Palestinian competition over who governs the West Bank, and the Palestinian or Jordanian options?
Israel wants the land and is waiting for the perfect opportunity to get rid of the people. This is evident from its ongoing enforcement of its apartheid displacement policy, by which there are calls by Israelis for the open expulsion of the Palestinians or a so-called “land and population swap” to achieve the same goal. The Zionists continue to promote the false slogan that Palestine was and is “a land without a people for a people without a land.” This illustrates the fact that Israel’s founding ideology, Zionism, denies the existence of the Palestinians as a nation, which can only lead to even more denials of their existence and their expulsion when the Israelis get the chance.
We cannot allow any individuals or group from the political elite to determine their positions upon a dispute with a “leadership” which is not paying attention to them, even if it is true that there is no real leadership. This is because it requires some essential conditions to create a leadership, and does not require us to dig up the past; this will not lead to the revival of anything or achieve anything.