Last updated: April 26, 2013
Dr. Josef Olmert: Prince Hassan and the West Bank – a possible game changer

"This is the first time that such a statement comes from a member of the Jordanian establishment"

Prince Hassan bin Talal was for many years the heir apparent of his brother King Hussein, but under circumstances not fully clear even today was demoted by the ailing King, who on his death bed appointed his son, Abdullah, to be Jordan’s new King. 

Yet a Hashemite of such seniority, who is held in high esteem in the West, Israel and many Arab countries is not an insignificant politician. So, when he says to a group of Palestinians from Nablus that the West Bank is a part of Jordan and ought to be returned to her, and also, that he is opposed to the two states solution, his comments carry weight. His remarks could provide a basis for a discussion about the future solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly when Jordan’s internal stability is challenged by the opposition there.

Some historic context is needed here. Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem In April 1950, an act that was never sanctioned by any international or Arab body. Only Britain and Pakistan ever recognized the annexation and consequently many world-renowned jurists opined after the June 1967 war that the status of these territories was open for negotiations between Israel and Jordan as they were judicially no man’s land. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan formally renounced its claims to these territories only in 1988, which made the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994 possible as there was no more any territorial dispute between the two countries.

Now comes Prince Hassan, who according to the Jordanian site www.almustaqbal-a.com declared on October 9 that as the two states solution is becoming irrelevant, a reunion of the two banks of the Jordan River is an option to be pursued. The Prince spoke in a meeting chaired by the Speaker of the Jordanian Senate, Taher Al-Masri, himself a Palestinian from Nablus. The Palestinian participants allegedly expressed their support for the Prince’s statement.

As Hassan is no more the decision maker in Jordan, it is tempting to brush him aside and dismiss the speech as a mere rant by a disgruntled politician. It is a mistake though to do that. This is the first time that such a statement comes from a member of the Jordanian establishment and that is not a light affair. Moreover, the timing is of the essence. There are many in Jordan, mostly traditional supporters of the monarchy, who have raised objections recently to what they consider as the increasing influence of Palestinians inside the country, and they outright talk about “Jordan to the Jordanians’’, but alas, they ignore a ‘’small’’ problem; namely the fact that a big majority of Jordan’s population are Palestinians. Many of these ‘‘East Bankers’’ are aware of the rising power of the Jordanian opposition, composed mostly of Islamic elements, among them many Palestinians. This opposition wants real, representative democracy in Jordan, i.e. free elections which will lead, at least for a transition period, to a dual Palestinian–Jordanian constitutional monarchy. Subsequently even a Palestinian-led Jordanian Republic.

The “East Bankers’’ clearly do not want that to happen but they have no real answer to the combined political-demographic challenge presented by the Palestinians. The Hashemites, for their part, have proved many times in the past, that they know how to defend themselves and unlike the ‘’East Bankers’’ they understand the need to rely yet again, as in the past, on Western, mainly American and Israeli support.

Can they be sure of that support considering the current American policy in the Middle East? Can the King be sure about future Israeli support when there are growing voices in the Israeli right-wing that Jordan is Palestine?

These are questions which should trouble the current Jordanian leadership and most likely do. Here is why the speech by Prince Hassan is an important and timely contribution to any discussion about possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To start with, the Prince may allude in public to a debate which is already taking place behind closed doors in the corridors of power in Amman. Becoming again a champion of the Palestinian cause may be seen, at least by some Hashemites, as an incentive to Palestinians in Jordan to stick with the monarchy, rather than throwing in their lot with the opposition in the kingdom, be it Islamic or ‘’East Bank’ oriented.

It may be that the Prince has other reasons for his new position, perhaps a hint to Israel, that if it is impossible for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, let alone with Hamas, it can still be possible to negotiate with a more accommodating partner, the good old Hashemite Kingdom. Such an approach could solidify Israel’s traditional opposition to a Palestinization of Jordan, a nightmare for many Israelis, though not to right-wingers who wrongly believe that if Jordan were to become Palestine the West Bank could be part of Israel.

Be as it may, the Prince’s remarks shed renewed light on Jordan’s role regarding a possible solution of the Palestinian problem. It is about time that it happens as the demography and geography of Jordan are such that to ignore Jordan’s role is to ignore reality.

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