While the world has been busy tackling the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival turned ally, Benny Gantz, have formed a national unity government. Its program would allow Netanyahu—before he hands the premiership over to Gantz next year, and with the approval of the Knesset—to annex swathes of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all or parts of the settlements, as well as consolidate Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem.
What does this mean for the peace process? If Israel’s entire political spectrum backs annexation of large parts of the West Bank and the swallowing up of Palestinian land, in addition to having already annexed Jerusalem; if Israeli political factions of all shades support a racist apartheid regime that legalizes discrimination between Jews and other citizens, denying full citizenship rights to 20 percent of the Israeli population; then what do the treaties signed with Israel mean? Is it not time for a fundamental review of those agreements?
When Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians decided to attend the Madrid Conference in 1991, the main goal was not to win back the Golan Heights and the occupied parts of Jordan or Lebanon. It was to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, and to establish an independent Palestinian state there. The Arabs had been unable to win back that land by force, but there were signs of hope that it could be won back through peaceful means and with international oversight.
This was the vision that drew the Arabs to Madrid, later resulting in the signing of the Oslo Accords. It brought about a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, nearly led to Syria signing a peace treaty with Israel, and inspired the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. However, the main goal was never to appease Israel, nor for any Arab state to make individual gains. Rather, the primary goal was always the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Today, the peace process is a mirage. And since all of Israel’s Jewish political parties agree to annex Palestinian land, conclusively killing all chances of a Palestinian state, what do the Oslo Accords mean? What does the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement mean? These questions are not emotional but political. What value does Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan have if Israel, by ending the idea of a Palestinian state and creating a situation that may push Palestinians out of the West Bank and into Jordan, thereby obliterating Jordanian and Palestinian national identity, is harming Jordanian interests?
These are legitimate questions that require answers. Were the Knesset to vote in favor of a plan to annex Palestinian land, this would violate numerous articles of the Jordan’s peace deal with Israel. Article 2, Clause 1, for example, stipulates that the sides “recognize and will respect each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.” Yet undermining the very idea of a Palestinian state is a direct threat to Jordan, its sovereignty and independence.
Clause 6 of the same article indicates that both sides believe that “within their control, involuntary movements of persons in such a way as to adversely prejudice the security of either Party should not be permitted.” Again, any Israeli annexation could lead to the forced displacement of Palestinians to Jordan.
Israel’s latest moves make a mockery of the goal that brought the Arabs to Madrid, and render the Arab Peace Initiative meaningless. They turn the Oslo Accords into a joke, place Jerusalem irreversibly under Israeli sovereignty, and now directly threaten Jordan’s national security. So what is left?
The Jordanian government should make intensive efforts to convince Netanyahu and Gantz of the risks of such a step, both as concerns Jordan and the peace process in general. Jordan cannot stand aside as the Israeli government proceeds with annexation. The situation requires diplomatic efforts led by King Abdullah II, both publicly and in privately, addressing such influential institutions as the United Nations, the United States Congress, the European states, and media outlets to explain the consequences of such a decision for Jordan.
King Abdullah enjoys a political status internationally that empowers him to play such a role. Even if he is unable to persuade the Israeli government to change course, he can at least highlight the dangerous consequences of its policies for Jordan, which enjoys a good international reputation and widespread respect. He can also highlight to the international community, which yearns for lasting peace in the Middle East, that these Israeli moves will affect not only the Palestinians but also Jordan and the peace treaties that were acclaimed globally and were seen as steps toward a comprehensive settlement and permanent peace.
The situation also calls for a genuine reconsideration of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. Amman should raise this issue seriously with the Israeli government and the international community, to show that Israel cannot simply take such unilateral measures without causing serious damage to its relations in the region. I cannot imagine that the Jordanian response to any annexation from July onwards will be limited to a statement of condemnation, the recalling of Jordan’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, or the expulsion of Israel’s envoy from Amman. The response must be proportional to the gravity of the existential threat.
If Israel does indeed go ahead with annexation, despite the objections of Jordan and the international community, the kingdom must stop clinging to the dream of a two-state solution, which will clearly have become impossible. The time has come for Jordan to undertake a serious review of its relations with Israel. It is clear that Jordan cannot continue with an approach that Israel itself doesn’t want, and which works against both countries. I am not arguing for or against any specific measure as much as for a serious review of the Jordanian approach toward Israel up to this point, and a reevaluation of its efficacy in the next stage.
If such an evaluation shows that Israel is working against the supreme interests of Jordan, it is clear that this would have serious implications for the two countries’ gas deals and other economic and security arrangements. It would also impact the examination of ways to support the Palestinians remaining on their land, until such time as Palestinian demographics would block Israeli moves that could lead to their departure. Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley and the settlements, as it did for Jerusalem, would create facts on the ground that the Arabs could not ignore.