DEBKAfile Exclusive Report. Aspects of a possible confederation between a Palestinian West Bank state and the Hashemite Kingdom – not Syria – were the subject of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent conversation with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, debkafile’s sources reveal. Nothing was decided and the two leaders agreed to hold further discussions in the coming days.
This idea has become a focal talking point in Amman, Washington and Palestinian centers.
Netanyahu brought some pointed questions to the highly confidential one-on-one at the Hashemite palace: He asked the king how much responsibility would Jordan undertake in controlling West Bank security and intelligence activity? What were his plans for extending such control from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip? And how would Jordan’s intentions fit into the security arrangements demanded by Israel in both territories as part of any accord with the Palestinians?
According to US and Jordanian sources au fait with these ideas, the current goal for the next stage of Israel-Palestinian negotiations in the coming months would be a long-term interim accord. It would leave the core disputes on permanent borders, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the future of Israel’s settlements in Judea and Samaria to a later round of negotiations at some unspecified time in the future.
The establishment of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation would sidestep the difficulties of reciprocal recognition – a Palestinian state by Israel and Israel by the Palestinians as the national state of the Jewish people. Jordan has recognized Israel and the two nations maintain full diplomatic relations. The confederation’s ruling body as such would be able to recognize Israel without requiring a public Palestinian declaration of acceptance. Equally, Israel would be saved from having to formally accept Palestinian statehood and could simply greet the new joint entity and extend an assurance of cooperation that in practice would be implemented through Jordan or any Muslim Arab element taking part in the move.
In early December, the Palestinian Authority’s Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) secretly advised certain Palestinian leaders “to be prepared for a new confederation project with Jordan and other parties in the international community.”
He did not name those parties. debkafile’s sources reveal that he was referring to Egypt, Turkey and Qatar – in other words, the members of the pro-American Sunni-led bloc American diplomats established in Cairo last month in the course of Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza and the negotiations that led to an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.
American sources said at the time that Washington was not averse to additional Gulf nations including Saudi Arabia adding their weight to the initiative for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation and was willing, if it took off, to consider granting the endeavor security guarantees and economic assistance.
Asked why the project had not figured in Israeli political discourse, those sources accused the Israeli media of generating an election campaign climate that hostilely depicted Netanyahu and his party as extreme right-wing nationalists who consistently refused to talk peace with the Palestinians. Showing the prime minister as quietly preparing to return to the peace track after forming his next government, assuming he wins the Jan. 22 poll, would spoil their show. Netanyahu himself prefers to stay aloof from his accusers.
According to Arab sources involved in the new initiative, it gained traction from the UN General Assembly’s Nov. 29 upgrade of the Palestinians to non-member observer status. On the strength of this upgrade, the Palestinian Authority is claiming the status of a government representing an independent state and therefore eligible to join Jordan as a confederation partner.
Such a setup may have room for Hamas which too would be saved from having to recognize the state of Israel.
For the first time in their decade-long rocket offensive against their Israeli neighbors, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers are scrupulously upholding the ceasefire deal they struck with Israel. The Netanyahu government has reciprocated by substantially easing restrictions on the territory. And now, after six years, Israel will this week allow building materials to cross through into the territory, including cement and gravel, withheld until now lest they were used to build smuggling tunnels for supplying terrorist organizations with war materiel. Public transport, including buses and trucks, will also soon be running through the crossings and, for the first time, too, a large group of Gazans was allowed to attend this year’s Christmas ceremonies in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Netanyahu appears to have decided that the chances of another outbreak of hostile operations from the Gaza Strip have receded. Indeed, there is a good chance that Hamas may find the confederation project the West Bank’s Fatah rulers are about to pursue with Jordan attractive, and let itself be led to join by Egypt and Qatar.
There are more straws in the wind attesting to the confederation project being on the move. The US-based Palestinian professor and journalist, Daoud Kuttab, writing in The Atlantic on Dec. 27, reported that King Abdullah’s closest advisers include partisans of the confederation notion – i.e. Jordan’s restoration to its pre-1967 rule of the West Bank.
Kuttab goes back in history to quote the late Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), the terrorist leader Israel eliminated in Tunis in January, 1991, as saying: “What the Palestinians wanted was five minute of independence and then they would happily agree to a confederation with Jordan. “
Interestingly, this phrase is increasingly cited by Arab and Western media.
Furthermore, US and Arab sources disclose that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has deeply committed himself to the step. They say this commitment was partly manifested by his consent to drop Ankara’s boycott on cooperation with Israel in the framework of NATO and that more evidence of revived US-Turkish-Israeli cooperation is still to come.
Dec. 23, debkafile reported exclusively that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to resume peace negotiations in March, as soon as Netanyahu, who is generally expected to win the January election, has assembled his new government.
The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem made haste Thursday to deny reports that he planned to invite opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni to join the next cabinet in her old job as lead negotiator in talks with the Palestinians. According to our sources, Netanyahu has reserved that role for himself.