Time for a 'Plan B'?
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have begun once again in earnest - amid no shortage of western pressure.
In spite of John Kerry's apparent optimism, expectations on the ground are far lower. Both sides have been there before, and many are nervous that America's new-found zealousness could backfire. As Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) MK Ayelet Shaked pointed out in her fiery letter to the American Secretary of State, previous negotiations have ended in renewed violence, and the US administration is taking a gamble with the lives of both Israelis and Arabs by embarking on such a risky venture at a time when Israel is virtually an oasis of calm and stability in a region wracked by conflict and upheaval.
But nonetheless the talks are indeed continuing, along the lines of the so-called "Two-State Solution." Under that formula, the State of Israel will cede control over all or most of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), in addition to the Gaza Strip, which Israel already ceded in 2005. Those territories would be handed over to the PA to rule as an independent Arab state of "Palestine" which, it is hoped, will drop all further claims to the rest of Israel in return, ushering in an era of peace and harmony in the region.
Of course, the reality is much more complicated.
As with Gaza, any withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would be accompanied by the ethnic-cleansing of its Jewish population, and the dismantlement of all Jewish communities in a region that has been the cradle of Jewish civilization for 3,500 years.
But western leaders and those on the Israeli left insist that such a "painful sacrifice" would be worth it - finally convincing Israel's Arab neighbors to make peace with the Jewish State, and end one of the region's most intractable conflicts.
But apart from the historic Jewish claims to the territory, Judea and Samaria are strategically important - crucial, some have argued - for Israel's security. The region encompasses around 25% of Israel's total landmass, and is immediately adjacent to the Israeli coastal plain where more than 70 percent of the country's population and 80 percent of its industrial capacity are located. Without Judea and Samaria, central Israel would be reduced to a mere 8 miles at its narrowest point, rendering it extremely vulnerable to attack and relatively easy to invade. Indeed, a long line of military experts have expressed the belief that such borders are utterly indefensible.
This being the case, even those Israelis who would support such large-scale concessions in theory, are nervous to do so without a guarantee of a real and lasting peace.
And that does not look promising.
Repeated PA statements declaring its end goal as the elimination of the State of Israel, and their view of negotiations as simply another stage in that process, have raised doubts about its true motivations. Many fear that there is nothing preventing the PA from simply taking Israeli concessions and then finding new pretexts to continue the conflict in an even stronger position than before, as they argue it has done in the past.
Another criticism of the "Two-State Solution" described above is that it ignores the fact that Gaza is currently ruled by Hamas, not the PA. Hamas openly rejects any and all compromise with Israel, and calls not only for the destruction of the State of Israel, but for the annihilation of the Jewish people. Additionally, there are the various other left-wing and Islamist factions who also reject any compromise with the Jewish State, and have declared that they will not be bound by any agreements between the Israeli government and the PA.
Moreover, with one eye on events in Egypt and Syria, Israelis worry about making painful concessions to the Palestinian Authority on the basis of a peace agreement, only to wake up one day to a new government which no longer respects those agreements.
And there is a reason why many Palestinian Arabs do not feel bound by the decisions of the PA. The lack of free and democratic legislative elections since 2006 poses serious questions about its legitimacy to rule; and constant allegations of corruption, torture and repression have turned many against it.
Yet many Israelis fear that the US is looking to push the initiative forward regardless, as the Obama administration scrambles to prove its continued relevance in a region where its foreign policy is looking increasingly directionless and irrelevant. The assurances delivered by the US government to the PA guaranteeing all of its preconditions in advance of negotiations will do little to assuage Israeli fears that their country's interests will be sacrificed on the altar of US foreign policy in any eventual deal with the PA.
"Two states for two peoples - on two sides of the Jordan River"
Against the backdrop of those concerns, a fresh initiative is emerging, with support from both Israelis and Palestinians.
This coming Sunday, Professors for a Strong Israel (PfSI) will be hosting a conference in Jerusalem's Menachem Begin Center, to discuss an initiative that they term as "Two States for Two People, on Two Sides of the Jordan River."
The initiative calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State on the eastern side of the Jordan River (present-day Jordan), where there is already a Palestinian majority of 65-80% in a country of approximately 6.2 million.
The Kingdom of Jordan (originally known as "Transjordan") was established in 1946, on three quarters of the territory previously allocated for a Jewish state in the famous Balfour Declaration in 1917. It was the result of a partition of the British Mandate of Palestine as a compromise between Jews and Arabs - a compromise which began at the 1922 San Remo Conference, when the Arab population received the lion's share (77%) of the country, to the east of the River Jordan, and the Jews received the remaining portion to its west.
But instead of handing over control to the local Arab population, the British government installed the Hashemite tribe of Jordan's King Abdullah I (grandfather of King Abdullah II), which was sympathetic to British imperial interests. That ushered in an era of autocratic, minority rule which lasted until today, and left the local Jews and Arabs to continue to fight over the remaining 23%.
Despite being the majority, Palestinians in Jordan are subject to widespread discrimination and repression by the government. Recently, sensing the growing threat from disgruntled Palestinians, the Jordanian government began stripping large numbers of their Jordanian citizenship, dealing another blow to their collective civil rights, and illustrating how it relies on their disenfranchisement to survive.
"Not everything has a cure"
Event organizers point towards the uncertain future of the Hashemite regime, amid challenges to its legitimacy from within and the spreading of popular uprisings in the wider region.
"Precisely now, with the Arab world in upheaval and political mayhem, we must examine another alternative, that is: Jordan as the Nation State for the Palestinians," PfSI declared in a statement released this week.
"When the 'Arab Spring' reaches Jordan, a Palestinian State will effectually be established there based on the Palestinian majority," they point out.
As a result, should a Palestinian state be established in Judea and Samaria "it is more than likely that we could awake to a reality wherein there are two separate Palestinian states, both bordering on Israel."
Former MK Professor Aryeh Eldad, who heads the group, said that “scores of attempts have been made in the past to transfer portions of Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Land of Israel, to the Arabs, in response to international pressure."
"Not only did these attempts all fail," he says, "but they invariably ended in war, violent outbreaks, intifadas and waves of terror directly mostly against civilian populations, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
"In spite of this, the ‘peacemaker brigades' persist in imposing the same formula, as if they cannot understand that this conflict is not territorially-based, and therefore the solution cannot be the division of the Land of Israel.
"The conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East is an intractable religious war," he continued. "Israel is at the forefront of this war. Any division of the Land of Israel could not possibly be the solution for the conflict, but rather the cause for further war and bloodshed."
When asked by Arutz Sheva how this initiative could succeed in solving a conflict that is "not territorial," Eldad said that it was time for people to recognize that there aren't always comprehensive solutions.
"Almost all common diseases don't have a cure - from diabetes, to hypertension... you can't always 'cure' a problem decisively, but you can still treat it," he emphasized.
"The Israeli-Arab war is a religious war, an ideological war, a clash of civilizations. You cannot cure it by drawing a border on the map.
"What I suggest is a formula that will 'treat' and limit the conflict, without subjecting Israel to an existential threat like placing a Palestinian state in the heart of the country."
Such a formula would also be advantageous to the Palestinian side, he explained, by emancipating millions of Palestinians in Jordan, providing a solution to the ongoing "refugee problem" (Jordan is three times the size of Israel) and satisfying Palestinian Arab demands for self-determination.
Eldad cautioned that he was not suggesting Israel actively work to underme the present Jordanian government.
"But we must have a 'Plan B' ready... we must prepare ourselves for the day when there is no longer a Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, but a Palestinian state."
Israel must act quickly to formulate such a plan, he urges, "lest the West Bank turns into another Gaza," referring to the Hamas takeover which followed the handing over of the Gaza Strip to the PA.
Neither the US or Israel have a "Plan B", he pointed out - an incredibly naive and potentially catastrophic position given the volatile and unpredictable nature of regional geopolitics.
When the Jordanian regime falls, he says, "Israel should openly welcome and recognize a Palestinian State there and offer to help it" through trade, security cooperation, and in any other way possible.
In return "they will accept their position as Palestinian state and grant citizenship to their brethren elsewhere in the world, including Judea and Samaria."
There is much support for the plan among Israelis, he said, but many are not yet convinced that it is "realistic" - which is why he says Sunday's conference will focus primarily on "practical issues," from demography and topography to international law.
The problem, he says, is that Israelis have been convinced that the only alternative to surrendering Judea and Samaria is a "bi-national state" which would effectively put an end to Jewish self-determination - a discourse he aims to challenge.
His organization will be releasing the findings of a survey on Sunday morning which he says will back his claims.
Many Jordanian Palestinian leaders are also supportive of the initiative, says Eldad, but most are "not yet ready" to take a public stand, fearing government reprisals.
One Palestinian activist who is taking a public stand in support is Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian-Palestinian dissident who is a leading advocate of the initiative.
Citing comments made at a Congressional hearing on the Syrian conflict, in which King Abdullah was quoted as saying that he could be out of power "within a year," Zahran is confident that, sooner or later, "the king [of Jordan] will definitely fall."
"It is important to recognize the fact that there are no differences between Palestinians and Jordanians," he said. "We are the same people of Jordan divided by colonial names, therefore I will be there to follow my people’s interest and secure that they move forward in the era to come."
"A huge injustice was done" by partitioning the region in a way that disenfranchised Jordan's Palestinian majority, empowered a foreign minority dictatorship and perpetuated the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says.
Zahran also says that such an initiative is within the interests of the western world. He urged western states not to repeat the same mistakes they have made elsewhere in the region, calling on them to prevent Islamist groups taking control in the aftermath of the regime's fall by supporting the secular Palestinian opposition, among whom he says there is great support for such a plan.
"The issue is not only founding a Palestinian state in Jordan, but also avoiding the risk of Jordan turning into 'Hamas-stine,'" he explained, referring to the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood opposition there, which is linked to Hamas.
Apart from Professor Eldad and Mudar Zahran, conference notables will include Nobel Prize Winner Professor Israel Aumann, Deputy Minister of Transportation MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), General of Reserves and the Chairman of the Electricity Company Directorate, Yiftah Ron-Tal, and former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Other dignitaries were invited - including US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel and heads of diplomatic missions in Israel - but it was not clear whether any of them would be attending.