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Oslo Turns 25: Is Jordan the Palestinian Future?

Pseudo-Peace. On September 13, 1993, a bright, sunny day in Washington, D.C., the Oslo Accords were signed at the White House. After the indoor signing came the famous White House Lawn triple handshake linking President Clinton, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chief Yasir Arafat. (Clinton had promised Rabin that he would not have to shake hands with Arafat, and double-crossed Rabin once they were in front of the cameras — knowing full well that Rabin could hardly refuse the gesture, else he’d be blamed for igniting Palestinian rage.) So where has Oslo gotten us?

Disaster: Israel traded land for lies and terror. The 1993 Accords (and further peace efforts pursuant) left Israel surrendering lots of land for empty promises. Specifically, the Palestinians got control over 40 percent of the West Bank and 80 percent of Gaza. Later agreements increased the Palestinian land grab, with nothing gained by Israel.

The Accords were the product of two tragic illusions widely held in Israel and in the United States. These illusions were described by the late Charles Krauthammer in his June 10, 2002 lecture on the subject, given at Bar-Ilan University.

One illusion was the 1990s belief that modern life had progressed so as to make wars obsolete:

Like the left and like the reverie that we had in the United States, the secular Messianism was intoxicated with the idea that history had changed from a history based on military and political conflict to one in which the ground rules were set by markets and technology. This was the infatuation with globalization as the great leveler and the abolisher of things like
politics, war, and international conflict. This kind of geo-economics was widely accepted in the early post-cold era.

It was September 11th that abolished that illusion. It taught us in America there are enemies, they are ideological, they care nothing for economics, and they will use whatever military power they have as a means to achieve their ideological ends. This is the old history, perhaps the oldest history of all, the war of one god against another. No new history, no break in history, no redemption from history.

The other illusion was belief in the Mideast emulating Europe. This ignored that Europe had defeated Nazism, and had experienced hundreds of years of cultural maturation, whereas the Mideast remains a seething cauldron of cultural waste and ancient hatreds.

Krauthammer contrasted two 1993 visions of Oslo: those of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and president Shimon Peres: “Rabin’s Oslo was pessimistic, peace with fences, separation, divorce wearing its tenuousness. Peres’ Oslo was eschatological: Benelux, geo-economics, the abolition of power politics.”

The apogee of Oslo was the Camp David 2000 summit and follow-on exchanges up to late December 2000. President Clinton and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat everything the Palestinians could reasonably want, consistent with accepting the existence of a Jewish state. Sadly but naturally, the offer was flatly rejected, with no serious counteroffer presented. The Palestinians were to get: (a) a contiguous West Bank state; (b) covering 94-96 percent of the West Bank; (c) with 1-3 percent land swaps — Israel would cede 1 to 3 percent of its national territory within the “Green Line”; and (d) there would be a permanent safe passage “land bridge” between the West Bank and Gaza — in effect, bisecting the Jewish state. Add in that the Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem were to remain so, with Palestinians keeping control of Temple Mount and Israel the Western Wall. Miscellaneous provisions created what amounted to shared sovereignty as to Jerusalem, and provided certain international security safeguards that would end in six years. The Palestinian state was to be demilitarized but control its internal security.

The September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S. and the 2000 — 2002 uprising staged by the Palestinians on the West Bank killed this proposal. There now are 500,000 Israeli settlers living in Judea and Samaria, versus only 100,000 in 1979, when the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed, pursuant to the original 1978 Camp David Accords. At least 40,000 would have to be forcibly evicted for a contiguous Palestinian West Bank state.

In 2005 Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon exited Gaza, evicting settler families. For his trouble Israel got thousands of rockets and a new threat: massive terror tunnels dug deep under the Israel-Gaza border. And then came the Gaza War in late 2008 and early 2009.

Palestinian Perversity. Throw in astonishing Palestinian perversity: an Israeli company, SodaStream, opened shop on the West Bank, employing Jew and Arab alike, paying Israel market wages — four times the wage typical on the West Bank. The company grew to 500 workers by 2014, making a product that turns tap water into sparkling water, obviating the need to recycle soda bottles. The anti-Israeli group BDS responded by urging a boycott of the company’s products, making inroads in deterring buyers from Europe. From the Palestinian Authority, presumably interested in the welfare of their subjects, came silence. The company’s idealistic founder decided to build a larger factory, inside Israel; he employs 1,400 Bedouins. When BDS objected again, the Bedouin — unlike the PA — pushed back. Recently, Pepsico, a previous Arab League boycott supporter, bought the company for $3.2 billion.

Palestinian leaders also oppose Israeli Arab participation in Israel’s civic affairs. Though nearly 60 percent of Jerusalem Arabs wish to vote in municipal elections, and only 14 percent do not, the Palestine Supreme Council of Fatwa in east Jerusalem issued a fatwa (religious decree) prohibiting same. A Palestinian businessman faces threats over his decision to run in the October municipal elections — his sole purpose being to improve municipal services to Arab residents of east Jerusalem. The Palestine Authority continues to underwrite terrorism by making payments to families of those imprisoned for terrorist acts — whereas Israel will suspend payments to the PA for same, as called for by America’s passage of the Taylor Force Act. In all, since Oslo (1993) we’ve sent $10 billion to the PA, without result.

Can Jordan Formally Become the Palestinian State? All of which tees up — not yet, but eventually a possibly viable solution — one Israel raised 50 years ago: With a majority of Jordan’s population Palestinian, the “Jordanian Option” could be revived. Back then it was rejected due to several geopolitical circumstances that have been overtaken by events since the September 11, 2001 attacks:

  • In 1968, Israel was a tiny enclave that was a negligible factor in the global economy; in 2018 it is an economic, technological, agricultural, environmental (water desalinization) powerhouse.
  • In 1968, Israel had zero economic intercourse with the Arab countries — its sole trans-regional intercourse was military, in the form of serial wars; in 2018, Israel’s turbocharged economy is establishing ties with Arab nations fearful of Iran’s imperial pretensions — these ties likely will broaden and deepen.
  • In 1968 emerging Arab economic power was petroleum-based; in 2018, the oil cartel’s virtual stranglehold has been broken, though it retains a measure of oligopoly petrodollar power.
  • In 1968, placating the “Arab Street” was a zero-cost option for Arab governments; in 2018, and increasingly as time passes, Arab constituencies who benefit from growing ties to Israel will create a powerful counterforce to the street mobs.
  • Recently, Israel has shared terror intel with over 30 countries, thus enabling recipients to thwart terror plots.

These changes, tectonic though they have been, are as yet insufficient to fully open the Jordanian Option. The Jordanian prime minister who signed the 1995 peace treaty with Israel stated in an August 18 TV interview: “The Arabs do not have any power. If we ever have military power, will we let them keep Haifa? We’ll take it.” He added: “As long as you do not have force of another kind, peace is your only option.” In other words, his country then reserved — and presumably still reserves — the right to conquer Israel.

At present, the Palestinians reside in Jordan, the UN-run camps, Gaza and on the West Bank of the Jordan River — territory that since Biblical times has been known as Judea and Samaria. The West Bank was divided by the 1998 Oslo II Accords into 3 administrative areas: A, B, and C (all figures rounded, as of 2015):

  1. Administered solely by the Palestine Authority. Area A has 18 percent of the WB area. Includes 8 major Palestinian cities: Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and 80 percent of Hebron.
  2. Administered jointly by the PA & Israel as to security, and solely by PA as to civilian matters. Area B has 22 percent of the WB area. Together, Areas A & B have 98 percent of the Palestinian WB population (estimated at 3 million). Has 440 Palestinian villages.
  3. Administered solely by Israel. Area C has 60 percent of the WB area and 2 percent of the Palestinian WB population. Area C also is home to 400,000 Israeli settlers, with 70 percent of Area C municipal boundaries located in settler areas. It also contains most WB mineral resources. Has 532 Palestinian residential locations. Also includes Jerusalem.

Recently the Trump administration took several giant steps to bring reality into the conflict: it cut off aid to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), whose refugee camps hold 1.5 million Palestinians. About 1.5 million of 5 million Palestinian refugees live in 58 refugee camps, located in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. About 500,000 at most can be called refugees (see below), a mere 10 percent of the 5 million camp residents fled to areas then controlled by Jordan. Trump has decided to reject the “right of return” to Israel for Palestinians displaced since 1948, thus foreclosing an Arab demographic swamping of the Jewish population.

The administration also rejected the longstanding anomaly as to how the UN counts the Palestinian refugee population. The UNRWA definition of refugee differs from that for every other refugee population on the planet, courtesy of a 1951 ruling by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The classic UNHRC definition is:

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

But the UNRWA uses a far broader definition, accepted by UNHCR: A Palestinian refugee is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.… and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.” Also, some 80 percent of those displaced migrated to the West Bank or Gaza; thus they remained within the territorial limits of the historic Palestine they supposedly had been forced to abandon. Thus even the 500,000 number accepted by Trump is in dispute. An Obama State Department study reportedly finds only 20,000 displaced Palestinians from 1948. State’s study thus excludes those who settled in Jordanian-controlled areas, plus their descendants.

The upshot is to grossly inflate the number of Palestinian refugees. Compare UNRWA’s dismal show with the solid work of the UNHCR, one of the (few) UN-created bodies that functions competently: Since its 1950 creation the UNHCR has resettled 50 million refugees; it now helps 20 million refugees from recent conflicts. The bloated UNRWA has zero resettlements, and employs one staffer per 200 residents; UNHCR succeeds while employing one staffer per 6,000 residents.

But another danger looms: UNWRA will run out of funds in January 2019, after which Israeli officials fear a mass march of Palestinians — hundreds of thousands — toward Israel’s border, necessitating a far more vigorous Israel response, which would ignite massive international opprobrium from the usual suspects.

Steps to Implement the JO. Ideally, the JO would be implemented by making Jordan alone the Palestinian state. Comparing the affected parties by area and population shows Jordan with 34,500 sq. mi. and 9.9 million population; Israel with 8,000 sq. mi. and 8.6 million population (see link below or this number); the West Bank, with 2,180 sq.mi. and 3.3 million population; and Gaza with 140 sq. mi. and 1.9 million population. Migrating the West Bank and Gazan populations to Jordan would make for roughly 15 million people in a contiguous territory 15 times the size of West Bank/Gaza. Returning Judea and Samaria to Jewish control would give Israel 10,300 sq. mi. — the promise made in 1922 when Transjordan was created by the British foreign office. Israel has grown from its 1948 population of 800,000 to reach 3 million in 1970, 5 million in 1991, and stands at 8.6 million as of 2017 — a ten-fold increase over its 1948 number.

On Nov. 2, 2017, blogger Ted Belman — his blog is Israpundit — convened a conference in Jerusalem, “Jordan is Palestine” — based upon King Abdullah abdicating in favor of a presumably moderate Palestinian Muslim. Belman summarized implementation as follows:

  1. As future Jordanian leader he suggests Mudar Zahran, secretary-general of the Jordanian opposition, who had worked for the American Embassy in Amman for ten, years, but after calling for overthrow of Abdullah II was forced to flee Jordan and seek asylum in the UK. (On the left side of the link above is Belman’s summary of his proposal (1:03:43)). Belman noted that Jordan is at least 75 percent Palestinian, and that the ruling Hashemite family comprises only 82 members. He noted that Churchill’s recasting the 1917 Balfour Declaration was intended to create a cultural, not national, Palestine identity. Churchill told Chaim Weizmann that UK would not sign the Palestine Mandate unless the Zionists accepted a “temporary” division of Palestine — an indefinite period — else the Zionists would get nothing.
  2. After the 1951 annexation of West Bank by King Abdullah I, all Palestinians on West Bank were given Jordanian citizenship — despite only two countries (UK and Pakistan) recognizing the legality of the Jordanian occupation. UN Sec. C. Res. 242 gives Israel right to remain on West Bank until agreement reached which means that Israel is not legally an occupying power in Judea and Samaria. The Arab League passed legislation prohibiting Palestinian “refugees” citizenship in any Arab country. Jordan’s granting of citizenship to West Bank Palestinians is legally irrevocable.
  3. In 1988 the Arab League declared that the PLO was the sole representative of the Palestinians in negotiations, and forced King Hussein to accept this. The 2016 GOP convention unanimously passed a resolution recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and calling for a peace treaty — without specifying a two-state solution, or of “Palestine.” The Trump delegation was deeply involved.
  4. The Saudis under Prince Salman adopted Vision 2030 — in the spirit of Emir Feisal a century ago — backing economic development and moderate Islam over atavistic Wahhabism. They face bankruptcy in five years, due to North American fracking and China’s oil demand slowing. The Arabs cannot survive on $30 oil. Egypt also needs Saudi economic aid, plus Israel’s military aid in defeating militant Muslim governments in Sinai and Libya. Moderate Muslim imams are beginning to emerge. Qatar is the biggest funder of Islamist terror and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Jordan hosts the MB leadership.
  5. A typical Palestinian West Bank/Gaza apartment plus land costs $32,000, versus $150,000 in Israel for the land alone. Also we must resettle Palestinian “refugees” among 2 million Arabs living in West Bank + Jerusalem — 900,000. Of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza, 1.3 million are refugees. Send these to Egypt so Israel gets Gaza; in Egypt land + apartment prices are $16,000. Cover Egypt’s costs and use economic leverage so that Egypt, with 96 million population already, absorbs a 1.3% population increase. America is moving military assets from bases in Qatar, building a new airfield in Jordan. (N.B., On Sept. 2 the King refused to discuss a Jordan + Palestine Authority confederation, Jordan’s position since the 1967 War.) Israel has spent $300 billion on internal security since the Oslo signing, an expense that would sharply decline if Palestinians relocate to Jordan.
  6. In the works is a tri-state urban project covering the junction of Egypt, Israel and Jordan centered at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Eilat to the Israelis). (At the south end of the Gulf are the Straits of Tiran.) The venture, called NEOM, is backed by Saudi Arabia, to the tune of $500 billion, aims to link the cities of Taba (Egypt), Eliat (Israel), and Jordan (Aqaba). Immediately to the south of the proposed project is the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia — the Hijaz region, where Mecca and Medina sit. Another new project is the Med-Red Railway (named for the two adjacent seas) to be built over the next five years, stretching 270 miles from Haifa in Israel’s north to Eilat at its southern tip. The new railway will enable traffic to bypass the Suez Canal, since 1869 the sole economically realistic way to ship cargo from the West to the Indian subcontinent and central Asia.

Bottom Line. Trump administration moves are injecting more realism into the Palestinian mess. But more realism still is needed. First: the Palestinians have spurned countless chances to make a compromise settlement with Israel. Second: neither the current or any foreseeable Palestinian leadership is prepared to make a compromise settlement. Third: the basis is thus laid for pursuing a Jordanian option and allowing Israel to take possession of the West Bank and Gaza territories. The Palestinian population should be migrated to Jordan. They will resist this, of course, but if enough Arab states decide that the threat to Israel’s stability will escalate into threats to their own stability, they may well decide to help resettle the Palestinians, especially given sufficiently generous economic incentives. These can ease the psychic pain of fixing the postwar problem they created.

Panglossian optimists see a Palestinian rump state as a potential “Mideast Singapore.”But there already is a Mideast Singapore: Israel. And it became so without resort to decades of dictatorial rule. If there is to be a West Bank + Gaza Mideast Singapore the only way to achieve that is for Israel to take over, and integrate its territory into Israel proper. Israel has the population skills, Asian educational and workplace values, plus leadership to make it by far the best bet to develop the territory west of the Jordan, so long under the sway of one of the planet’s least suitable leaders for such development.

What Trump and (at least some of) his advisers realize is that the Palestinians are incapable of making peace with a Jewish state. Making them citizens of Jordan will end the wave of international sympathy the Palestinians receive because they are perceived as stateless refugees in limbo. President Trump’s latest move matches Truman’s boldness in deciding to recognize the Jewish state in 1948.

From 1967 to 2018 the Arab-Israeli peace formula has been “land for peace.” This territorial model presumes that the Palestinians desire peace, and merely seek to adjust its geographic limits. But Trump has changed this American view to that of Israel’s view since 2013: it is an existential struggle. Israeli politics reached this consensus when the 2013 parliamentary elections shrunk the Labor Party’s share in the Knesset from 28 seats in 2009 to 7 in 2013. America is now on the same page with Israel. The Gulf Arabs now see their own stake in survival of an Israel that can help replace petrodollar dependence.

President Trump’s critics will point to the lack of a final peace deal as evidence of policy failure. It is nothing of the sort — as even if the PA (let alone, Hamas) signed a peace deal it would not abide by its obligations whilst pocketing territorial concessions made by Israel. It would not give up “right of return” for the grossly inflated tally of war refugees. Israel will have given up tangible territorial concessions in return for instantly revocable intangible Palestinian pseudo-promises.

The Trump administration is instead achieving a goal vastly more significant: redefining the conflict and its terms of engagement:

  • By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, America formally guarantees Israel’s status as a Jewish state — implicitly rejecting Palestinian hopes for a one-state Arab demographic takeover.
  • By rejecting the UN’s grossly inflated count of Palestinian “refugees,” America rejects an open-ended right of return.
  • By negotiating as Israel’s ally rather than as “honest broker,” America recognizes that the Palestinians are still at war.
  • By cutting funding for the PA until they seriously negotiate, America no longer subsidizes Palestinian terrorism.
  • By allowing Israeli settlement building, America puts Palestinians on notice that time is increasingly not on their side — and that they cannot get a better deal via intransigence.
  • By deepening economic and security ties with Gulf Arab states, America can pull them away from subsidizing Palestinian terror.

Especially important is that America has ditched the honest broker role. A neutral intermediary role is appropriate where both sides earnestly desire a genuine compromise solution. Thus in 1978 President Carter mediated between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin; and in 1994 President Clinton did the same between King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin. But facing an implacable adversary of its closest Mideast ally, America should not be neutral.

For five decades, since the end of the 1967 War, the Palestinians have been in effect what economists call a “deadweight loss” for the region. Except that the loss goes beyond economics, to geopolitics and culture, and just about everything else. Time — and Mideast regional policy — is bypassing the Palestinians.

By these monumental Mideast policy achievements the Trump administration is transforming the region much for the better. Unless unwound by a successor administration starting in 2020, these changes bid fair to become permanent.

John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (2d Ed. 2014.)

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