July 16, 2004 | New York Daily News

Look to Jordan for Peace Option

The cure for the festering Israel-Palestine sore may lie right next door in neighboring Jordan. Up until now, it has only been whispered. But some Palestinian and Israeli opinion makers are beginning to talk cautiously about renewing “the Jordanian option”: a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian province linked politically, economically and even militarily to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.

It would not be the first time. Jordan's legendary Arab Legion seized the West Bank during Israel's 1948 War of Independence and Jordan's King Hussein ruled it as part of Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Israeli Army conquered it.

Even then, the Jordanian king left his West Bank options open, claiming a special relationship as the official guardian of the al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem's other Muslim holy places. Jordan also became home to more than 1.6 million Palestinian refugees and was one of the only Arab states to allow Palestinians to become equal citizens. Today, more than 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin.

Jordan's Palestinian welcome mat has not been problem-free. During the 1970s, Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization became such a threat to the Hashemite king that he launched a deadly counterattack, forcing Arafat and his band to retreat from Jordan.

Eventually, the late Hussein grew weary of Palestinian whining and manipulating, and in 1988 announced that he was “divorcing” the West Bank.
The Palestinians would be on their own.

But Hussein's son, the young King Abdullah, has taken new interest in the West Bank, and is now critical of Arafat. Among some Palestinians, says Jerusalem Post analyst Khaled Abu Toameh, there is suddenly renewed if hush-hush talk about “the return of the Jordan option.” Some Israelis, especially right-wing ones, agree.

Benny Elon, Israel's erstwhile minister of tourism and leader of the ultranationalist Moledet Party, proposes the West Bank become a sovereign part of Israel and that Palestinians living there move to Jordan: “A borderline along the Jordan River is ideal: short, clear and geopolitically logical. We must not forget that the land of Israel was already divided once, in 1922, when its eastern section became the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan, which is a Palestinian state in every respect. It is located in Palestine and its residents are Palestinians.”

Elon proposes Israel negotiate such a settlement with the moderate Hashemite monarchy, “not with the hostile Palestinian leadership whose hands are steeped in the blood of terrorism.”

Elon's extreme ideas are not welcome among Palestinians, Jordanians or most Israelis. But in between there may be a meeting of the minds. Why not offer financial compensation to West Bankers willing to to move to unsettled parts of Jordan? Why not a border secured in part by Jordan? Why not a Palestinian West Bank and Gaza (minus border areas Israel needs for security) linked to Jordan with an economic union bonding both to Israel's burgeoning economy?

Anything would be better than the options Arafat & Co. offer: more blood, more corruption, more hatred, more suffering for all sides.

Originally published on July 16, 2004