Will Jordan and Egypt Play a Greater Role in Palestinian Affairs in 2013?

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has remained elusive.

Israel_MapThe politically correct paradigm proffered by the international community including Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States has been two states, two peoples: an independent Palestinian state including the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel.

A two-state solution will remain elusive as long as the Palestinians are ideologically and politically divided in the West Bank and Gaza.

Moreover, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad struggle to sustain their economy, they face intense pressure and opposition. Abbas has repeatedly threatened to dismantle the PA and force Israel to resume full responsibility for the West Bank.

To overcome this deadlock, the United States should encourage Egypt and Jordan to assume greater roles in Palestinian affairs by reviving the so-called three-state solution: a kind of political arrangement resembling the pre-1967 boundaries in which Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank.

This process has already started. A gradual yet significant shift in Egyptian policy toward Gaza has occurred since Mohamed Morsi won the presidency in democratic elections in June. Previously, Hosni Mubarak enforced a blockade of Gaza since 2007, severely limiting the freedom of movement for Palestinians.

In a reversal of Mubarak’s policy, Cairo has recently permitted Gazans to enter Egypt via Rafah for three days without a Visa. Hamas has also stated that Gaza will soon become connected to Egypt’s electricity grid and natural gas pipeline. These actions would alter Israel’s role as supplier of power and energy to the coastal territory and advance its claims that is not the occupying power. Reports suggest that this may be just a first step.

Morsi’s Egypt might ease further restrictions in Gaza and ultimately seek a total lift of the blockade and a free trade agreement. Some analysts speculate that these gestures underscore a series of events which may ultimately lead to Egypt annexing the Gaza Strip or some type of Gaza-Egypt confederation. There is growing evidence that Hamas in Gaza will unilaterally declare its independence, and disengage from Israel and the West Bank.

The pan-Arab newspaper Al Arabiya reported that Hamas leaders have discussed the issue with Egypt. Although Hamas publicly rejects unilateralism and independence, Palestinian leader Khaled Mesmar says Hamas are privately striving toward the creation of an independent Islamic emirate.

Hamas-Fatah rivalry persists since 2006. Neither side wishes to cede power, despite numerous mediation attempts by neighboring Arab countries. This sobering fact coupled with Gaza’s growing dependence on Cairo for freedom of movement, electricity and gas suggests that Hamas is moving closer to becoming a self-sufficient Islamic emirate while international demands of a unified Palestinian state comprising Gaza and the West Bank appear more of an impractical notion.

In November, Abbas accused Hamas of conducting secret negotiations with Israel in order to establish an Islamic emirate in Gaza, effectively dismissing linkage with the West Bank. This claim has been repeated by Fatah Central Council member Jamal Muheisen and spokesperson Ahmed Assaf.

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Like Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority has faced severe challenges which could be alleviated through Jordanian assistance.

In September 2012, Al-Quds reported Abbas acknowledging that a “Palestinian Spring” is underway. Recently, Palestinians in the West Bank have protested against the PA’s inability to make food and living costs more affordable. Fayyad also weighed in, claiming that the PA has improved the standard of living in spite of overall Israeli control of the West Bank.

Although there is intense anger directed against Israel, the immediate Palestinian economic and social grievances in the West Bank are leveled against Fayyad. In September, protestors in Hebron frustrated with Fayyad’s policies called for his ouster. Fayyad has not ruled out the possibility of resigning to satisfy their demands, and has explained on his official Facebook page that he has done the best he could considering that the semi-autonomous West Bank is under full Israeli control.

This should cause concern not only for Palestinians but also Washington, who has supported Fayyad’s pro-Western orientation and pragmatic policies. Fayyad’s resignation could foment greater chaos in an increasingly unpredictable region.

Although Jordan severed legal and administrative ties to the West Bank in 1988 and King Abdullah adamantly rejects the notion of Jordan becoming Palestine, he might entertain the possibility of confederation with an independent Palestinian state.

Yet in the past few months there has been a strong resurgence of confederation prospects by Jordanian and Palestinian officials. In October, Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan said in front of a Palestinian audience that the West Bank legally remained Jordanian territory. In December, Jordanian activist Mudar Zahran said in an interview, “we would absolutely welcome a joint confederation between us and [the West Bank Palestinians] if it keeps the area secure.”

There are signs Palestinians may also support this initiative.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of Al Quds Al Arab, has proposed confederation after Palestinian independence. During my interview with Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, professor at Al-Quds University and founder of Wasatia (moderation), a nonviolent Islamist movement which seeks peaceful coexistence with Israel, he said this process could consist of three stages: “As a first step, a State of Palestine with Arab Jerusalem as its capital should rise; while the second step would be the formation of a confederacy with Jordan.” In the third and final stage, which reveals his idealism and optimism, he said: “Eventually, this confederacy may include Israel – should Israel opt for that.”

Perhaps a new strategy is needed to address the changing regional dynamics. If the two-state solution is no longer feasible, it might be time to explore a three-state solution which resembles the pre-1967 scenario returning greater responsibility to Egypt and Jordan.

Michael Sharnoff is founder and editor of Sharnoff’s Global Views. This article was first published in the Near East Quarterly. Read other articles by Michael.

  • Marshall

    In terms of critical analysis, this article fails a numerous grounds when revealing supposed obstacles to peace. Your opinions reveal a terrible bias in favor of Israel with all blame falling on the Palestinians. The assumption that Jordan should be allowed to re-assume control of the West Bank is a total denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination.

    “Abbas has repeatedly threatened to dismantle the PA and force Israel to resume full responsibility for the West Bank.” …You also fail to recognize Israel’s repeated threats to topple the Palestinian Authority in response to the UN statehood bid. Selectively reading the facts may write articles, but it certainly doesn’t provide informative commentary.

    • This is not a critical analysis, so much as it is a position piece. The author openly argues for a 3-state solution, possibly ending in confederacy. … Not that it’s a crazy idea, it’s just that it isn’t really ‘reporting’ either–it’s agenda-promotion. … Not sure if that’s part of Sharnoff’s intentions for his website (as a platform for pushing particular political visions for the MENA region)… if not, he might be well advised to either (a) craft more analytical, less prescriptive, pieces, and/or (b) reformulate and restate the actual aims of his enterprise.