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Dhaka Tribune

Revisiting the ‘peace process’: Jordan-Israeli relations

Update : 03 Nov 2014, 10:14 PM

Over the last year, we have heard much about the possibility of a long and just peace between Israel and Palestine. By contrast, far from peace-building, the conversation surrounding the harrowing scenes we witness coming out of Gaza and the West Bank – or recently out of Jerusalem – continues to focus on attributing blame to one side or the other.

The international complacency with the continued non-resolution regarding a Palestinian state has generated widespread nihilism permeating “zones of order and disorder.” It is a trigger for both Zionist extremists, who, unsatisfied with Palestine alone, yearn for the penetration of the whole Middle East, and for Islamist extremists, who, like ISIS, are pursuing their own expansionist agendas.

When the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was incorporated into the preamble of the Palestine Mandate, created with the authority of the League of Nations, the international community effectively violated the cardinal principle of self-determination, which was at the very core of the League’s Covenant and subsequent Charter. The repercussions of this violation have been felt ever since, above all in the cycles of violence in Israel and Palestine, which continue to destabilise the entire region.

Arabs and Israelis have arrived at a crossroads: either we move further away from one another, pursuing self-interests that will inevitably bring about destructive regional Balkanization, or we move closer together and, taking our common humanity as the starting point, realise a sustainable peace process founded on President Woodrow Wilson’s guiding principle of self-determination.

Success will be predicated on dealing first with the obduracy of extremists, whether the hardline Israelis who insist on a God-given right to the land roughly encompassing the whole of the southern Levant, or those who conversely are intent on “drive(ing) the Jews who live in their midst into the sea” and who between them currently block any possibility of successful negotiations in the near future.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, a good starting point might be to re-examine the strengths and weaknesses of previous initiatives (many of which were prematurely cast aside).

While Jordan does not negotiate on behalf of Palestinians, it is intimately involved because the peace process has profound political, security, economic and demographic ramifications for the country. Hosting the largest number of Palestinian refugees, Jordan’s “carrying capacity” is becoming increasingly limited, especially in the light of recent mass waves of refugees from Iraq and Syria. Israel’s refusal to comply with the humanitarian responsibilities outlined in Resolution 237 serves as a reminder that Jordan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should not be secondary to that of Israel.

Throughout Jordan’s official involvement in the peace negotiations, Israelis, regardless of party affiliation or ideological position, maintained that Jordan had no claim to the West Bank. The annexation of the West Bank by Jordan in 1950, they argued, was recognised only by Britain and Pakistan. And, yet, as I used to say to Israel’s negotiator, “That’s two more than recognised yours.” Nevertheless, the legal status of the territory remained unresolved.

A number of options by both sides that offered pragmatic compromises were all eventually discarded in favour of the Camp David formula of “gradual autonomy” over a five year transition period.

Moderates on all sides have been overpowered by those with extreme religious convictions and have been left to address the absorptive capacity of the land which we all inhabit. These same extremists in their beliefs have ignored the vulnerability and fragility of this region, whilst working towards our Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) instead of being committed to our Mutually Assured Survival (MAS).

The refugee problem, along with the status of Jerusalem as described in the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, is a trans-boundary issue. Economic and social developments demand an integrated and agreed approach between the stakeholders. The exploitation of natural resources, and the growing demand for energy are all areas of critical imbalance which will be the root cause of future conflict.

Minimum consensus, which, in itself, is dangerous as it inevitably falls short of sustainable peace, dictates that there can be no territorial compromise except in return for a conventional peace treaty. This posits the following three questions:

First, if two conventional peace treaties – between Egypt and Israel and between Jordan and Israel – have been inadequate to resolve the crises in the West Bank and Gaza, how and when can we expect Israel to initiate meaningful talks with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours?

Second, if Israel insists that Jerusalem cannot be re-divided and must remain the capital of Israel, what common ground is there between Palestinians and Israelis, or between Jews, Christians and Muslims of Arab cultures? Nationalist politics on all sides have poisoned the atmosphere between these peoples who lived happily together in the Fertile Crescent for centuries.

In his testimony before the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry on Palestine in 1946, Chaim Weizman stated “I wouldn’t like to do any injustice: the Muslim world has treated the Jews with considerable tolerance. The Ottoman Empire received the Jews with open arms when they were driven out of Spain, and the Jews should never forget that. On the other hand it’s no use blinking the fact that these great humanitarian traditions are now under the pressure of modern nationalisms.”

The spiritual significance of Jerusalem for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam places it above regional geopolitics. One way or another, Jerusalem must be shared once again among all the Abrahamic faiths for there to be a peaceful region.

Third, how can comprehensive peace ever be achieved when no international conference (such as the Congress of Berlin or Vienna) that involves all the super powers, or even key regional players, is ever seriously considered? Given that the exclusionist policies of the Security Council are predicated on Israeli exceptionalism and committed to shielding Israel’s expansionist and discriminatory practices, from illegal settlements to systematic abuses of civil rights, comprehensive peace seems more obscure and elusive than ever. This should be a major cause for concern.

We need a new regional architecture, not unlike that of Europe following the Helsinki Accords: a constructive, inclusive conversation, not in competition with the West, but, recognising the gravity of the situation, in a spirit of mutual respect and partnership. Within this architecture any progress, in the present conditions, must be sought slowly, gradually, incrementally and organically, and with an emphasis on the concrete issues of the conflict.

Even while seemingly ceaseless time, energy and news coverage is dedicated to the problem, any suggestion today that we consider a process with a revised quartet that includes Russia, is greeted with apprehension and a marked lack of statesmanship. Yet such a process would strengthen those in Israel who accept a Jewish state within a more compact territory vis-à-vis those who, fearful of the Arabs, demand an ever larger Israel.

It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that no number of fences or shields can provide long term security.

Ultimately, the conflict comes down to control over the region, and its resources. To ensure self-determination for the Arab people and non-exploitation of their resources, the Arabs must be involved in any peace process conversation, so that their concerns and interests are heard. As my friend, the former Turkish President Turgut Ozal, God rest his soul, told me once, “When there is a peace conference, it is far better to be at the table than on the menu.”

It is undeniable that the sense of separateness cultivated by Israel and those in Washington who reward Israeli belligerence, admittedly aided by the intellectual intimidation practiced by militant Islamist extremists, prevents many in the Arab world from seeing Israel as a potential partner in regional development.

This situation is further exacerbated by Zionists’ racist argument of carrying the white man’s burden in Palestine, whereby Israel inhabits the role of the “civilising” white man in the region. But the citizens of the world, many Arabs and Israelis, recognise this for the shameful colonial rhetoric that it truly is. A unitary democratic state should be established in Arabia where people, irrespective of race and religion, can work and live in harmony.

Israel must acknowledge its own role as a stakeholder in regional stability and development by committing to peace along the lines laid down in UN Resolutions 242 and 338. Furthermore, Jordan, along with its neighbours, must be included in talks and negotiations pertaining to the peace of our region. Only then, can we move forward inclusively to address the possibility of the long and just peace we all so desperately seek.

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