Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has angered the Palestinian leadership, which claims that the UAE violated the principle of “no normalization with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved.” The leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, has again joined the rejectionist bloc that opposes normalization with Israel, which includes the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
However, the agreement is supported by the rest of the Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, a country that was traditionally at the forefront of political and economic boycotts against Israel.
The situation in the West Bank and Gaza is no less responsible for the sense of abandonment the Palestinian leadership is feeling. The Palestinians rejected Israel’s offers of territorial concessions, including East Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state. They rejected an offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a more generous offer made by then-President Bill Clinton; a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; and finally, a peace proposal set forth by the Palestinians’ best friend ever in the White House: President Barack Obama. The Palestinians responded to the latter’s proposal by signing a deal of unity with Hamas, and trying to remove the United States from the peace process altogether.
It is my view that the PA’s rejectionist attitude towards these multiple offers has to do with its own inability to exercise control over the population in the Palestinian territories. In these territories, Hamas is a competing sovereign power waiting to depose the PA at the first opportunity, as it did in Gaza in 2007. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership is suffering a crisis of legitimacy as a result of its rampant corruption and inability to serve its population properly.
The Palestinian leadership’s rejection of peace offers reflects its own rejection of a Palestinian state. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat once joked that the Israelis want a Palestinian state more than the Palestinians do. He wasn’t wrong. The Palestinian leadership is not interested in an independent state because they know that the Palestinian government would likely collapse and that, in a worst-case scenario, a brutal civil war could ensue. Therefore, the status quo of the Israeli occupation is convenient for them, as they continue to receive money from foreign sources, security from the Israelis, and a scapegoat for the absence of peace.
Thus, for the United States and Israel turning to Arab states seems to be a step in positive direction. We are not talking only about normalization of relations between these states and Israel. Arab states should be part of the solution of the Palestinian question. Since the PA is unable to exercise control of its dissident population, let alone sign a peace agreement with Israel, sovereignty over the Palestinian territories must be delegated to an Arab entity. Thus, I believe the Jordanian option needs to be revived.
A unification in the form of a confederation between the PA and the Jordanian government could create a central authority capable of establishing an order that the PA alone is unable to guarantee. A new Palestinian government with Jordanian support could provide some peace and tranquility to the Palestinians. A Jordanian component could provide an effective counterbalance to Hamas insurgent attitudes. A confederation would allow an autonomous Palestinian political entity to connect with a larger economic area and thus reduce Palestinian dependency on Israel and foreign aid. For the Israelis, it would be easier to withdraw from the West Bank knowing that the Jordanian army would be responsible for guarding the borders between Israel and such a Palestinian/Jordanian entity.
Early in 2018, the Trump team discussed with President Abbas the idea of a Jordanian/Palestinian confederacy. Abbas seemed to be open to the idea. Early in 2019, Adnan Abu Amer, a professor at the University of Ummah in Gaza, confirmed that Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians were discussing the idea of a Palestinian confederation.
Jordan has objected to this solution since it disengaged from West Bank in 1988. However, the incorporation of the West Bank in the form of a confederation can enhance Jordan’s economy, as it is a largely under-populated country. Likewise, Jordan can secure, through an agreement with the Palestinians, full control over the confederation’s security and borders. It is reasonable to assume that Hamas, under Jordanian sovereignty, will be deterred from committing acts of terror, as Jordan has effectively reined over Palestinian and Islamist militant groups in the past. Gaza could either be incorporated into the Palestinian/Jordanian confederation or into Egypt with a similar arrangement like as with Jordan.
This solution requires the mediation of the United States, and support from the Arab states . Likewise, it requires pressure on the Jordanian monarchy and possibly Egypt. Jordan has vehemently opposed Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, and now it has gotten what it wanted with Israel’s suspension of plans for annexation. Now, Jordan could step in to put an end to a conflict that has caused so much misery and pain. Jordan can restore not only peace but also normalcy — and perhaps even prosperity — to the Palestinian people. It is reasonable to assume that the Palestinian people are tired, not only of the Israeli occupation, but also of the ceaseless fighting that has failed to bring any tangible results for them.
*Luis Fleischman is the author of the upcoming book, “The Middle East Riddle: A Sociological Study of the Middle East Peace Process and Arab/Israeli Relations in Light of Current Events in the Region.” He is also a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College and co-president of the Palm Beach Center for Democracy ad Policy Research.