How Jordan can care about Palestine again

How Jordan can care about Palestine again
Comment: Jordan's involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict practically ended in the 1970s, but Amman must find a formula to play a stronger role in Palestine, argues Mahmoud Munir
4 min read
22 Sep, 2015
King Hussein (left) and PLO leader Yasser Arafat fought a brief war in 1970 [AFP]
If we exclude limited operations out of Gaza and Syria in the 1950s, real armed struggle against Israel first started in the Jordan Valley in the 1960s.

However, Jordan was neutralised from the armed conflict with Zionism early on, as a result of complicated circumstances and mistakes committed by different actors in September 1970, the so-called "Black September" when the Jordanian government fought the PLO on Jordanian soil.

Yet those events were arguably never reviewed in a radical and constructive way.

Left-wing Palestinian and Jordanian elites developed their approaches to Jordan, which formed the basis of the Arab Nationalist Movement's vision at the time regarding the conflict with Israel.

Many saw the east bank of the River Jordan as a key staging ground for liberating its west bank, and indeed, Fedayeen guerilla fighters successfully operated out of Jordan for a while.

However, this idea was not taken further when Fedayeen operations ceased after Black September. As a result, the loss of the invaluable Jordanian front in the struggle was downplayed as a fleeting detail in Arab and Palestinian national liberation efforts.

Jordan was a key staging ground for efforts to liberate Palestine

Practically speaking, this approach is no longer valid - even if some radicals still speak of such - without any effort to adapt and update tactics after the conclusion of the ill-fated Oslo Accords and the Wadi Araba treaty with Israel.

The second approach, which most Palestinian factions adopted as merely a rhetorical slogan, called for coupling the struggles of two national movements: the struggle of the Palestinians for liberation from the occupation; and the struggle of the native Trans-Jordanians to build a different political system.

In reality, relations between the rulers in Amman and Ramallah are excellent, and there is a sustained high-level security collaboration between them and Israel.

At the same time, there is a huge divide among Jordanians regarding which issue should take priority, internal reform or the Palestinian cause.

Socio-economic shifts

Some might justify the dangerous decline of Jordan's role in the Palestinian question by citing external circumstances.

But both the supporters and opponents of the peace treaty with Israel seem to have no realistic and critical vision that could link this decline to the social shifts in the kingdom, which hosts millions of now-naturalised Palestinian refugees.

Jordan hosts millions of naturalised Palestinian refugees

Perhaps the most important shift is that fewer than 15 percent of Palestinian Jordanians live in camps today.

The majority work in the major cities or have left for the Gulf and other destinations.

Like most Jordanians, they now work in services or the public sector.

Once-key sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and artisanal crafts are now marginal. In truth, one can argue that those productive sectors better influenced people's attitudes and aspirations, in the direction of more investment in the issues surrounding them, led by the Palestinian issue.

The current socio-economic configuration of Jordanian society began to form in the mid-1970s.

Aborted political reform

In parallel, and because of Black September and the ensuing declaration of a state of emergency, popular aversion to politics or secret political action meant that many transformations in Jordan were not properly analysed or dealt with.

After the restoration of constitutional life in Jordan in 1989, the government moved to sever the links between the Palestinian and Jordanian struggles, by ensuring that previously banned political parties would henceforth only focus on Jordanian issues, while accepting the legitimacy of the Jordanian regime in exchange.

The outcome was that these parties, which emerged suddenly from the underground, could neither pursue domestic Jordanian political reform, nor define new positions or objectives with regard to the struggle for Palestine.

A new discourse is needed to link the struggles of both native and Palestinian Jordanians

These socioeconomic and political events revealed sharp divisions in Jordanian society.

They led to the perpetuation of a false belief that holds that reform, whether of the political system or the stance on Palestine, would be at the expense of one of the two components of the Jordanian people, that is Trans-Jordanians and Palestinian Jordanians.

The loss was dual: Jordan's political actors outside the regime had failed to secure a historical deal over constitutional amendments, public policies and laws, for example on elections, political parties, and freedom of expression.

Internal reform has been put on hold indefinitely, while more than two million Palestinians in Jordan were excluded from the struggle for their central cause.

A new deal

Addressing this problem requires reviewing the two old but fundamental approaches to Jordan's role, conceived with the armed struggle that began 50 years ago.

One struggle must emerge now, expressing the aspirations of all Jordanians, regardless of their divisions and sub-identities.

This new discourse must represent the interests of Jordanians, from their workplace through the establishment of real trade unions, to political representation, for the sake of both internal reform and for the liberation of Palestine.

Indeed, achieving social justice, securing real political representation away from identity-based rifts, and confronting Israel are three issues that should be at the heart of any new discourse, one that learns from - but does not repeat - the mistakes of the past.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.