Monday, 8 February 2010

West of the West Bank

…that's Jordan. And in the view of Jordan's King Abdullah in an interview with CNN yesterday, time is running out for the two-state solution. He urged all parties, starting with the US administration, to stop the tactical manoeuvreing and start the real negotiating.

He seemed to see the forthcoming Arab League summit, scheduled for late March in Libya, as a sort of watershed. If meaningful negotiations, or at least substantive progress towards them, has not been achieved by then, he warned, the League might abandon the unified position it adopted back in 2002 – and has reiterated several times since – of peace with Israel in return for all territories captured in the 1967 war. That, warned Abdullah, would mean "crossing an invisible line in the sand", and would doom the region to decades of instability.

One Aunt Sally the king set up during his interview, in order to knock down instantly, was that "certain elements in the Israeli government" were pushing for Jordan to take a role in the West Bank. The old "Jordan is Palestine" cry was a stand-by argument of Likud and other opinions further to the right, back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state living alongside Israel was but a gleam in anyone's eye, Arab or Israeli.

The concept has been long abandoned by mainstream Israeli opinion. Nevertheless, the king went out of his way to insist that Jordan will not involve itself in any way in the West Bank - even, one presumes, after the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

It is often forgotten that back in 1950 Jordan unilaterally annexed the West Bank. So Jordan was the only Palestine that the majority of Palestinians had, until the moment in 1988 when King Hussein renounced the annexation, and finally washed Jordan's hands of direct involvement in the Palestinian issue,

Jordan's relationship with the Palestinian movement had always been uneasy. The various militant Palestinian bodies based in Jordan-ruled territory (Jordan proper and the West Bank) acted solely in their own interests, and Hussein could see the monarchy's rule over the country being wrested from his grasp. In September 1970 King Hussein took action. Thousands – mostly Palestinians – died during the resultant armed conflict, which lasted until July 1971. It ended with the expulsion to Lebanon of the PLO and thousands of Palestinian fighters.

The last thing King Abdullah now wants is for Jordan to become directly involved again in the Palestinian struggle. However, when once a sovereign and independent Palestine is up and running, there is certainly room for fruitful and beneficial agreements between Jordan and the new state, to say nothing of Israel. Given a fair wind, the region might indeed witness a new and previously undreamed-of prosperity.

Which explains why King Abdullah is so strong an advocate of the two state solution. In his CNN interview the king said: "The one-state solution terrifies more Israelis than the two-state solution. And so I think that the only credible, viable way of solving this problem is the two-state solution, giving the Israelis and the Palestinians the ability to live together. More importantly, allowing Arabs and Muslims to then have a peace treaty with Israel."

The forthcoming Arab League summit, however, seems less intent on considering the PA-Israel dispute than in resolving a bitter internal argument of its own. It centres on the fact that the summit is scheduled to take place in Libya.

Back in 1978 the eminent Shi'ite scholar, Imam Musa Sadr, founder of the Amal movement, suddenly disappeared, along with several companions. A week ago in Lebanon, the deputy head of the Higher Islamic Shi'ite Council, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan, called on Colonel Gaddafi to declare the truth behind Sadr's disappearance. If he failed to do so before the summit, said Sheikh Qabalan, not only should Lebanon boycott the summit, but the other delegates to the conference should pressurise Libya's leader to come clean – the general view in Beirut is that Sadr was killed following an argument with Colonel Gaddafi.

When the boycott call was taken up a few days ago by Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, intervened. Now Moussa is engaged in efforts to pacify the two main Lebanese advocates of the boycott, and by doing so, Shi'ite opinion generally. For a boycott of the summit could have serious and unforeseen consequences in the Arab world.

Will it be resolved in time?

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