Jordanian-Palestinian activist Mudar Zahran is not a man who minces his words. In fact, his outspokenness against the Jordanian regime has made him a persona-non-grata in his own country, forcing him to seek asylum in the UK.
Zahran did not pull any punches Sunday afternoon, speaking at a conference entitled "Two States for Two People, on Two Sides of the Jordan River." Deriding the Jordanian ruling elite as "Armani-wearing, English-speaking autocrats" he called on all parties to consider a radically different track to the current peace initiatives based off of a "Two State Solution" which would see a Palestinian Authority-run state in Judea and Samaria.
The conference was held at Jerusalem's Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and organized by Professors for a Strong Israel, with the goal of fostering debate over alternatives to the "Two State Solution" which is currently on the table.
Zahran was the sole Palestinian Arab representative, but claimed to represent the "secular Palestinian majority" in Jordan, where between 60-80% identify as Palestinian, and which he believes hold the key to ending his people's conflict with Israel.
Arab, Israeli rights "not mutually exclusive"
He posited that the establishment of a Palestinian state in what is today Jordan would essentially solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a way that was both practical and "historically just" for both peoples, and further claimed that such an eventuality was "inevitable," given what he saw as the increasing instability of the ruling Hashemite regime.
On the one hand, Zahran said that he understood why many Israelis oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (also known as the "West Bank"), noting the region's strategic and historical importance to the Jewish State. Jews have lived in the area for more than 3,500 years, and its position in the center of the country, stretching to within 8 miles of the coast and overlooking Israel's main population centers, mean that its surrender to the PA would render Israel extremely vulnerable to attack.
Zahran said Israelis were rightly concerned that, even if the PA was being genuine about peace talks, it was highly possible that an Israeli withdrawal would be followed by a takeover by the Islamist Hamas movement, which is openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas ousted the PA in Gaza following Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the territory, and promptly intensified a campaign of terror against Israeli civilians, including the raining of thousands of rockets and mortar shells on Israeli communities in the south of the country. A Hamas-run Judea and Samaria would put most of the rest of Israel's population - including greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - at similar risk, posing an existential threat to the State of Israel.
He noted that the aging PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas did not have any obvious replacements, and claimed that once he was no longer at the helm the PA would quickly lose its control over the vast array of competing Arab tribes in Judea and Samaria.
On the other hand, he insisted that "we [Palestinians] will never give up a single inch of our rights as human beings," and that a solution had to be found that would satisfy the demands of millions of Palestinian Arabs for statehood.
However, unlike most Israeli and Arab leaders, he does not see the two imperatives as mutually-exclusive.
Zahran pointed to a number of international treaties, including the Faisal-Weitzmann agreement and the San Remo Declaration, which sought to establish a Jewish state west of the Jordan River, and an Arab one to the east (in addition to almost two dozen other independent Arab states).
"We [Arabs] got 77% [of the land originally allocated for a Jewish state], you barely got 22%" he said, referring to the San Remo Declaration, which saw more than three quarters of the land allocated for a Jewish state by the Balfour Declaration separated as an Arab state.
"This is one of the very few occasions we outsmarted the Jews," he quipped, but went on to lament the fact that instead of handing control to the local Arabs in "Transjordan," the British installed the Hashemite royal family, which hailed from the Hejaz, in what is today Saudi Arabia.
Re-opening the debate
A lack of democracy and the rule of the Hashemite minority over the Palestinian majority rendered it "illegitimate," Zahran claimed, and reiterated his view that the Kingdom would soon succumb to the "Arab Spring."
He accused the king of spending more than 50% of the country's GDP on the military, and enriching himself and his family at the expense of the rest of the population.
Once the king falls, he said, it is only natural that the Palestinian majority would vote in a Palestinian government, creating a de-facto Palestinian State. The only remaining question is whether that state would be secular or an Islamist "Hamas-stine," he claimed, urging western leaders to support the secular Palestinian opposition movement to avoid the latter.
The empowerment of the majority in Jordan would put the interests of the people before that of a ruling elite, granting both freedom and a better quality of life to all its citizens. A Palestinian Jordanian state would extend a similar "right of return" to the one which Israel grants to Jews throughout the Diaspora, he added, solving the refugee problem and granting full political rights to Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria without posing a demographic threat to the Jewish state. Their status would be identical to that of Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem, who enjoy the status of "residents" in Israel, whilst voting in PA legislative elections.
Zahran also reserved harsh criticism for the "Hashemite cheerleaders" among many Israeli politicians and supporters of Israel, condemning them as shortsighted and immoral for supporting an autocratic regime on the basis of short-term security considerations, which regional developments have proven can change nearly overnight.
But whilst Zahran's views did receive wide support at the conference, not everyone was in agreement.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotoveli dismissed the idea as a 'fantasy,' saying that there is no way that Israel could control whether the Jordanian government falls or not.
Instead, she called on the Israeli government to consider annexing Judea and Samaria and granting its Arab population full citizenship. She insisted that such a move would not pose a significant demographic threat to Israel if the government focused on encouraging Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel), and as long as the rights to "citizenship" be made contingent upon the upholding of one's "duties" as a citizen - which she claimed would neutralize the threat from hostile elements within the Arab population who seek to undermine the Jewish State.
Former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon disagreed with both views. He pointed to the excellent security cooperation between Israel and the Jordanian government as proof that the continued existence of the Hashemite Kingdom was in Israel's best interest.
Despite the split in opinion, the event's organizer, Professor Aryeh Eldad, was pleased with the outcome, though he reserved criticism for the Israeli right.
"The right has been very good at saying what should not be done, but has failed to come up with an alternative solution."
The conference, he said, had gone a long way to reopening a debate which in his view had been stifled since the Oslo accords in 1993.
Interview and footage from part of Mudar Zahran's speech: