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Jordanians and Palestinians at a New Crossroad

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In the past decade, the Jordanian government has initiated a controversial policy of rescinding the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians. On April 12, Jordan announced it will also invalidate the passports of Palestinians affiliated with the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization. This harsh action has had little public outcry or opposition. There has been little if any threatening reaction from Palestinians and these reports have gone largely unnoticed in Western media.

Why is this relevant? The stability and territorial integrity of Jordan is also a priority for the United States, a key ally. In the 1950s and 60s, the United States supported Jordan's moderate views as a bulwark against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's radical Arab nationalist philosophy and supported Jordan's pro-Western orientation to counter the spread of Communism in the Middle East. Today, the U.S. continues to provide aid to the Hashemite Kingdom as a reward for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994. Tensions between Israel and Jordan have been reduced, and economic cooperation has increased.

Consequently, since 2004, Jordan has been working behind the scenes in promoting the King's moderate and tolerant vision of Islam known as the Amman Message which seeks to reduce the threat of radicalism and extremism. Moreover, with a small GDP and few natural resources, Jordan has nonetheless played an important role in accepting thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

As I have previously noted, King Abdullah's anxiety will not abate as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists. In this diplomatic deadlock and in the absence of a resolution resembling a two-state solution, Abdullah will continue taking extreme measures to distinguish Jordanian and Palestinian identities and prevent the implantation by some who advocate "al-watan al-badil" (the alternative homeland).

The King has frequently gone out of his way to assert that "Jordan is Jordan" and "Palestine is Palestine." He has also encouraged Hamas to dispel the possibility of Jordan serving as a substitute homeland.

Although Abdullah adamantly rejects the notion of Jordan becoming a new "Palestine," he might entertain the possibility of confederation with an independent Palestinian state. However, Abdullah and other Jordanian officials have not yet publicly stated that confederation could occur -- but only after -- and not before an independent Palestinian state is established.

There are signs Palestinians may also support this initiative. During an 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."

This scenario provides certain positive benefits for all parties involved. For Jordanians, linkage with the West Bank would help unite families and tribes which had been interconnected until 1967. For Palestinians, confederation with a stable, moderate monarchy would greatly help overcome the power sharing deadlock between rival factions Hamas and Fatah, who currently show no indication of reconciliation. For Israelis, security guarantees could be negotiated more smoothly by Jordanian officials who already maintain diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, thereby reducing the uncertainties a future Palestine would present. For the U.S. and its allies, Jordanian-Palestinian confederation could represent a source of stability and security in the region and would no doubt receive substantial Western assistance as long as overall military and diplomatic responsibilities reside with the authorities in Amman.