President Abbas may be pursuing a confederation with Jordan -- a move that could finally break the stalemate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
In the summer of 1993, I was granted a rare scoop as a Palestinian journalist: an exclusive interview with the prime minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, the first ever given to a reporter working for a leading Palestinian newspaper. Midway way through the one-hour meeting, I asked Rabin for his vision as to the ultimate political status of the West Bank and Gaza in 15 or 20 years. Rabin, who at the time, we later discovered, had approved the Oslo back-channel, took a puff at a cigarette given to him by one of his aides, and answered that he envisions It being part of an entity with Jordan.
I remember this response almost 20 years later, and at a time now when the Oslo Accords -- which Rabin signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 -- have all but been declared dead by all parties involved. Mahmoud Abbas, who signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Israel on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that fall, is now on the verge of leaving political life with no clear successor for him or for the Palestinian Authority that has been established in parts of the West Bank since the agreement's implementation in 1995.
The failure of this approach has led some to suggest other avenues of breaking up the logjam -- the result of U.S. President Barack Obama's lack of political will and the failure of the rest of the world to pick up the pieces without U.S. involvement. It is in this political limbo that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finding itself toying with an old-new formula: A role for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
In a meeting with members of the Ebal charity in October, which is made up of Jordanians of Palestinian (Nablus) origin and hosted by Jordan's speaker of the upper house, Taher al Masri, Jordan's Prince Hassan bin Talal opened up the issue. In the speech, recorded and posted on the jordandays.tv website, the prince stressed that the West Bank is part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which includes "both banks of the [Jordan] River." He added that he "did not personally oppose the two-state solution," but that this solution is irrelevant at the current stage.
The October 9 talk received little attention until a former PLO leader repeated the idea, albeit in a different tone. Farouk al Qadoumi, one of the founders of the PLO's Fatah movement, gave an interview to the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, in which he suggested the return of the West Bank to Jordan as part of a federation or a confederation. Qadoumi, who opposed the Oslo Accords and has refused to step foot in the Palestinian Authority areas, has little clout in the PLO, and at one time accused Abbas of being behind the poisoning of the late Yasser Arafat. Qadoumi's statement was quickly opposed by the secretary of the PLO, Yaser Abed Rabo, who called it "naïve."
But earlier this month, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Abbas informed several PLO leaders "to be prepared for a new confederation project with Jordan and other parties in the international community," and that his office has already issued reports that evaluate "the best strategies to lead possible negotiations with Jordan" toward "reviving the confederation." He has reportedly asked PLO officials to prepare themselves to pursue this strategy. This report, if confirmed by official sources, could be a watershed moment for the Palestinian national movement, and the highest profile endorsement of this persistent proposal.
Abbas's willingness to explore a Jordanian confederation comes on the heels of the United Nation's recent declaration of Palestine as an observer state by a 138-9 vote. This clear victory for Abbas gives him the political capital to explore such a potentially controversial move -- and also the international recognition of sovereignty that would allow Palestinians to enter into a confederation with Jordan as equal partners.