October 2, 2016 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1272

Idea Of Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Resurfaces, Only To Be Rejected By Both Sides

October 2, 2016 | By C. Jacob*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1272

Alongside the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, alternative ideas are sometimes proposed, such as one-state solutions or a return to the Jordanian option, which involves a political connection between Jordan and a Palestinian entity, for example in the form of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. The stance of the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships on this option has long been that a confederation would only become possible following the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and that any discussion of the matter at an earlier stage is harmful for the Palestinian cause.

Lately, the Jordanian option has once again become a topic of public debate in both the PA and Jordan, after Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh[1] mentioned it in a March 27, 2016 interview with the Palestinian online daily Dunya Al- Watan. Furthermore, in meetings held recently between Palestinian and Jordanian figures in the PA and Jordan, these figures express support for the confederation option: former Jordanian prime minister 'Abd Al-Salam Al-Majali referred to the Jordanian option as "ideal," though he later clarified that he had only been voicing his private opinion. Jordanian MP Muhammad Al-Dawaimeh arranged for a delegation of Palestinians from Hebron to visit Jordan to discuss a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

It should be noted, however, that with the exception of Nusseibeh, the figures discussing the notion of a confederation seem to be seeking publicity or have stressed that their statements represent only their private position.

Reactions to these statements in the PA and Jordan were not long in coming, most of them rejecting the idea of confederation at the present stage. Many regarded the renewed interest in this option as indicating disillusionment with the Palestinian leadership and despair of achieving the two-state solution. Both Jordanians and Palestinians argued that any discussion of this option before a Palestinian state has been established serves only Israel and harms the rights of the Palestinians and their hope for a state. They stressed that Israel, which has thwarted the two-state solution, must not be presented with alternatives that are less desirable for the Palestinians. Even those who expressed support for confederation stressed that it could only be implemented after a Palestinian state has been established and the issues of the permanent settlement have been resolved.

Given that the confederation idea found few supporters, and that even the figures who recently raised it did not present any coherent plan for its implementation - and perhaps even did not mean for it to be taken as a feasible option - it seems that conditions are not currently ripe for the promotion of the of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation.

This report reviews the statements made recently regarding the Jordanian option and the responses to them in the Jordanian and the PA media.     

"Jordan and Palestine" (image:, May 5, 2016)

Efforts To Promote The Confederation Proposal 

Sari Nusseibeh: Confederation With Jordan Is The Palestinians' Last Remaining Option

As mentioned, several Palestinian and Jordanian figures recently brought the Jordanian option back into public debate, the first of them being Sari Nusseibeh in a March 2016 interview. This is not the first time Nusseibeh has mentioned a confederation: in December 2011 he defended the idea of an Israeli-Jordanian confederation (rather than a Jordanian-Palestinian one) in an article he posted on the Maan News website.[2] In his recent interview, he spoke of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, stressing that this was the Palestinians' only remaining option in light of the impasse in the political process. He said: "In the past I firmly opposed this option, but after many years, and especially today, we badly need this option. However, it is possible that Jordan is not yet able to bear this burden." Nusseibeh said that the solution to the Palestinian problem that he had proposed 14 years ago with Ami Ayalon, then a leader of Israel's Labor Party (i.e., the People's Voice initiative) is no longer feasible, for every proposal has an expiry date. "The solutions and proposals [we suggested then] were suitable for that period... Today no solutions or negotiations between the two sides are on the horizon, especially considering the increasing [rate of] construction in the settlements and the miniscule chance of implementing the so-called two-state solution... We have no other way out of the current situation, because we have no army with which to liberate Palestine or even half of it. [That kind of] strategy relies on power, and we have no power, especially considering the conflicts among the Arab and Muslim countries, which does not help us, strategically. If we read the situation and the future [objectively, we see that] no solution that can meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people."[3]

On May 13, 2016, a research institute affiliated with Al-Najah National University in Nablus published the results of a survey indicating that 42% of Palestinians support the establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation and 39% oppose it.

Reports On Jordanian And Palestinian Figures Promoting Confederation

In May 2016, two months after Sari Nusseibeh's interview, there were reports about efforts by various figures to promote the confederation proposal. Jordanian MP Muhammad Al-Dawaimeh launched an initiative called "One Million Hebronians," as part of which Al-Dawaimeh visited Hebron, and later a delegation from the city visited Jordan and was hosted by the community of Hebronian Palestinian there (a community which, according to Al-Dawaimeh, numbers over a million people). According to a May 22 report in the Jordanian daily Rai Al-Yawm, the purpose of the delegation's visit to Jordan was to promote a confederation, and the Hebron delegation was to meet with King Abdallah to discuss this issue. The daily also reported, citing prominent figures in the Hebronian community in Jordan, that Al-Dawaimeh was acting on behalf of the king. However, Al-Dawaimeh denied this, saying that the Jordanian authorities were in no way involved in the initiative.[4]

In response to Al-Dawaimeh's initiative, prominent figures from the Hebronian community in the PA and Jordan issued a joint statement against "the attempts to revive the Village Leagues."[5]   The statement harshly condemned the initiative, calling it "a plot intended to harm both Jordan and Palestine," adding that those behind it were figures with "suspicious positions" who sought to normalize relations with Israel and who frequently visited the "Zionist entity."[6]

Jordanian columnist Bassam Badarin described Al-Dawaimeh as "a controversial figure," and claimed: "Al-Dawaimeh visited Hebron only to have his picture taken with some dignitaries from Hebron and its villages and environs..."[7]

Another figure who raised the confederation option was former Jordanian prime minister 'Abd A-Salam Al-Majali. On May 21 he visited Nablus and attended a gathering of some 100 dignitaries from the city that was convened in his honor by former Nablus governor and PLO executive committee member Ghassan Al-Shak'a. In his speech at this gathering, Al-Majali said: "Personally I believe in a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, but not right now, only after the establishment of a Palestinian state. A confederation of the two states is considered the ideal and optimal solution for [both] the Palestinians and Jordan. The [Jordanian] kingdom cannot exist without Palestine and Palestine will not be able to live without Jordan - but we must wait."[8] Al-Shak'a, for his part, called to "continue discussing the many ideas raised by 'Abd A-Salam Al-Majali."[9]

Several days later, on June 2, Al-Majali denied the existence of any plan for confederation and clarified that he had been expressing his private opinion and did not represent any official element.[10]

Al-Majali (center) speaking at the Nablus gathering (image:, May 21, 2016)

The Nablus gathering (image:, May 21, 2016)

Some suggested a connection between Al-Majali's visit to Nablus and the attempt made on Al-Shak'a's life several days later,[11] but Al-Shak'a denied this. In an interview with the Israeli Arab magazine Al-Sonara, he said: "This is not the first time 'Abd A-Salam Al-Majali has visited my home. We are friends and we honor and respect one another... [Al-Majali] spoke of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, but the legal basis for confederation is that it involves two states, not an entity called the Palestinian Authority and an existing state [Jordan]."[12]  

Negative Palestinian And Jordanian Responses To The Notion Of Confederation

The Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships refrained from responding to these efforts to promote a confederation, but these efforts did spark popular and media responses, including in the Palestinian and Jordanian press.

In The Palestinian Press: Opposition To Confederation

The Palestinian press featured many columns and articles, including by senior PA officials, attacking Nusseibeh's comments and opposing the confederation proposal, on the grounds that there it is not certain that Jordan would welcome it and that a confederation could only be formed after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Some also held that a confederation would be a prize for Israel, absolving it of the need to pursue a two-state solution. As of this writing, there have been no pieces published expressing support for the idea.  

Criticism of Nusseibeh: His Ideas Emanate From Despair; The Palestinians Aspire To Put Down The Roots Of Their National Identity In Their Own Land

Hani Al-Masri, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote that in expressing his idea for a confederation, Nusseibeh had spoken out of disappointment and a sense of a Palestinian leadership vacuum, adding that this was no justification for reviving the Jordanian option. He wrote: "If [Nusseibeh's] claim that there is no leadership is accurate - and [I believe that] it is indeed partly accurate - it is necessary to examine the reason for this and [also to examine] how a Palestinian leadership can be created - unless Nusseibeh believes that this absence of a leadership is divinely decreed." Al-Masri went on to note that there was no indication that Jordan was interested in the option of a confederation and that Nusseibeh was speaking out of despair, and added: "Today Jordan is among the enthusiastic supporters of an independent Palestinian state, which is the first line of defense against the Zionists' expansionist ambitions."

Likewise, 'Omar Al-Ghoul, a former advisor to former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and a columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, responded to Nusseibeh's comments by stating that both Jordanian and PA leaders had expressed a clear and agreed-upon position that a confederation would only be formed after the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. He added: "The Palestinian public does not respond to this option [of a confederation]... because it seeks to put down the roots of its national identity in its own Palestinian land. Despite the deep crisis in which the Palestinian political enterprise finds itself, the [Palestinian] leadership and people have not yet lost hope of realizing the goal of independence and a state."[13]

A Confederation Would Be A Prize For Israel And Create Problems With Jordan

Al-Ayyam columnist Muhammad Yaghi wrote that the Jordanian option is not aimed at restoring the pre-1967 borders, with the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem returning to Jordanian sovereignty; rather, what it really aims to do is allow Israel to return to Jordan parts of the West Bank that are densely populated by Palestinians, while retaining its control of the rest. He wrote: "Why must we facilitate the export of the occupation's problems to someone else? [If] the two-state solution has been thwarted, that does not mean [we should suffice with] autonomy in Area A [of the West Bank, i.e., the areas currently under full PA control] or with  annexing [territory] to Jordan and creating a problem with the Jordanians, who aren't interested in this solution. Rather, we should adopt the one-state option."[14]

Al-Ayyam columnist Rajab Abu Suraya argued that a confederation was a bad solution for the Palestinians, as it would not meet their minimal aspirations, rights, and goals. He wrote: "It seems that Arab countries - the Gulf, Egypt, and, to some extent, Jordan - need a swift resolution of the Palestinian problem in order to open up channels for normalization and warm [relations] with Israel, which may even lead to a military or security alliance vis-à-vis the Iranian challenge... A confederation is tempting for Israel, because if Israel agrees to Israeli-Arab talks instead of Israel-Palestinian ones, it will take the Golan Heights and the right of return off the table and negotiate only on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as per the confederation approach - that is, without the condition of establishing a Palestinian state on all the land [occupied in] 1967."[15]

In The Jordanian Press: Opposition To Confederation - At This Stage

The Jordanian press featured articles by officials and columnists reiterating Jordan's official position, which is that the option of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation could only be discussed after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. According to these writers, no confederation with the PA (rather than a Palestinian state) is possible, and it could even do damage to the Palestinian people and to its demand for an independent state; even a discussion of it at this point would be harmful. Other articles rejected the idea of a confederation out of hand, arguing that the Palestinians had their own identity, and that such a move could lead Israel to abandon further implementation of the Oslo Accords and allow most West Bank residents to be transferred to Jordan. 

Former Jordanian Minister: Jordan's Option Is To Establish A Palestinian State

Former Jordanian minister Saleh Al-Qallab wrote in the government Jordanian daily Al-Rai: "Jordan declared its agreement to the resolution of the Rabat Summit [i.e. the 1947 Arab League Summit] naming the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and it has [since then?] addressed all matters concerning the Palestinian problem in accordance with this resolution. [Jordan] was also the first to treat the PA as an independent state, and exchanged ambassadors with it in a format that is maintained to this day and that will likely be in place until the Oslo Accords are implemented and the occupation withdraws from the West Bank and beyond. This has been our permanent position over time, and it relies on the unshaken belief in the need to respect the will of [our] Palestinian brothers...

"With regard to the Palestinian problem, Jordan and Jordanians have no option other than to support the Palestinian people. This is our people. We are of it, and it is of us. We will support the Palestinians in every way, with everything we have, including with [our] lives, until the desired Palestinian state is established with holy Jerusalem as its capital. After that, we will decide. Even if we insist that we are one people and one nation, there can be no return whatsoever to the Jordanian option... Jordan's option is to realize the dream of the independent Palestinian state on the basis of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank to the June 4, 1967 borders, obviously including Jerusalem."[16]

At This Point, Discussing A Confederation Only Does Harm

In another article on May 26, Al-Qallab added: "There is no dispute that the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples are one, and that the future of Jordan-Palestine relations is unity, whether [as a single] merged [entity], as it was prior to the resolution of the famous 1947Arab League Summit in Rabat that recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, or as part of a confederation or federation. In order for this transition to be safe and free of negative impact, we must ask whether Jordanians and Palestinians should take this step today, when the state of Palestinians is unstable, or [only] after Israel withdraws from all the territory it occupied in 1967 and the Palestinian people attains self-determination with the establishment of a Palestinian state with an independent East Jerusalem as its capital...

"There is a fear that Israel will take advantage of the venture in question - that is, a confederation - and of conditions in the region and the dire situation in the world to transfer most West Bank residents to the eastern shore of the Jordan River, on the pretext of sending them back to their homeland and their families. In such circumstances, it will do no good to change our minds or to run to the UN - because if the UN could have deterred the aggressor, it would have [already] implemented its resolutions and forced Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, which in 1967 was the other half of the Hashemite Jordanian kingdom. In addition, Israel, which closely follows every development in this matter, tells the world that there is no need to continue the peace process based on the Oslo Accords or any other agreement so long as a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is on the horizon and so long as the Palestinians in the West Bank can move to the East Bank [i.e. to Jordan]...

"The world, and the Israelis, do not realize that the introduction of the [idea] of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation at this point stems only from the boredom afflicting the Jordanians and Palestinians, and that it is merely a thought exercise for those who fear mental atrophy. Reintroducing this issue now and under these circumstances could lead to very grave developments. The question is whether the 'geniuses' making this dangerous proposal in this dire situation want the PLO to abandon the resolution of the famous summit in Rabat that decreed it the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and want a delegation [representing] this imaginary virtual confederation to replace the PA, the PLO, and the Palestinians in the difficult negotiations that were halted at a certain point."[17]

Jordanian Columnist: Talk Of Confederation Prior To Palestinian Independence Is Useless And Is A Conspiracy Against The Palestinians

Rahil Muhammad Ghuraiba, a columnist for the Al-Dustour daily, wrote: "Talk of a confederation before Palestine is liberated and before the Palestinian people gain their independence is meaningless and is a kind of conspiracy against the sacrifices made by the Palestinian people and by [other] Muslims and Arabs for half a century. Furthermore, it ignores the martyrs, the blood, and the weeping wounds, and wastes years of struggle by all resistance factions and by anyone who threw a stone or lost years of his life in the occupation's dungeons... Anyone proposing a confederation before the Palestinian land and people are liberated, and before the independent [Palestinian] state is established on their land, is rushing to please [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu and [Israeli Defense Minister] Lieberman, even if they call this 'thinking outside the box'...

"When the Palestinian people is liberated and can establish its state on its liberated land, and when it attains full sovereignty and can freely make independent decisions, then we will consider proposing projects for merging or unity with the neighboring Arab countries."[18]

Jordanian Official: A Confederation Is A Zionist Idea Aimed At Circumventing Palestinian Rights - And Must Be Opposed

Former Jordanian government spokesman Samih Al-Ma'aita wrote: "Anyone who knows Jordan and the Jordanians understand that the idea of federation or confederation is not a possible [solution for] the Palestinian problem. We all know that this idea is a Zionist initiative [aimed at] circumventing the Palestinian rights and Jordan's demand for establishing a true Palestinian state on Palestinian land. It is the occupation, no one else, that needs to pay [compensation to] the Palestinian people, but we have grown accustomed to hearing in our circles occasional claims, interpretations, and rumors regarding a Jordan-Palestine confederation. Everyone in this country should perhaps treat this idea with political contempt, as it is clear that digging it up from time to time in this way is aimed at keeping it alive, at provoking us Jordanians, at sowing dissent among our social and political elements, and at causing us to open the gates to civil war... Therefore, it is our duty as Jordanians to decide on our own options and to be sure that the state, the leadership, and all Jordanians have no wish to solve Israel's problems or to realize the goals of the merchants of civil war...

"Even if for the sake of the argument we say that we enthusiastically accept confederation or federation or something similar - with whom will it be established?! With a [Palestinian] Authority that cannot control its own affairs, with a territory and a people under occupation? [An authority] restricted by agreements that prevent it from attaining even the same status as a true municipality? Would we establish a confederation or federation with a divided Palestinian territory and a Palestinian people split into all sorts of factions, with two governments whose hostility [towards each other] surpasses their hostility towards the occupation? An authority whose economy is weak and dependent on the Zionist economy[?] Even its power plants halt operations when the occupation stops providing them with fuel. [Could we establish] a confederation with a political entity that is corrupt, paralyzed, and sick - including with the malady of the coup that Hamas carried out in Gaza [in 2007]?...

"Those who spread this Zionist idea do not believe in the rights of the Palestinians but have made a decision, especially regarding the displaced and the refugees, the right of return, and the idea of the Palestinian state. Under the auspices of the Zionists, they spread the idea of confederation with Jordan, because eventually this idea will enable resettlement [of the Palestinians in Jordan] with no turning back. It will bury the right of return and the idea of an independent [Palestinian] state. And it will force Jordan to pay the price, instead if the occupation."

Al-Ma'aita added: "We should firmly oppose these Zionist ideas. We believe that all Jordanians, chiefly the regime establishment, have decided against anything that harms the identity of the Jordanian state and the right of the Palestinian people to establish its independent state in its homeland, and we believe that the occupation should pay the price for this, rather than any Arab element - [especially] not us Jordanians. There should only be a truly independent Palestinian state, though we can expect this issue [of  confederation] to be raised from time to time."[19]

Al-Dustour columnist Hussein Al-Rawashdeh wrote: "I suspect that this confederation stew was set to cook in the context of regional changes. It is true that Jordan's historic position is that a confederation is conditional upon the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But who knows what will happen if the two-state solution fails or backslides. I just want to warn our society openly. We will not be blackmailed, because if we want to we will emerge from this trap, even at a hefty price."[20]  

Jordanian Journalist: Palestinians Have Their Own Identity And They Cannot Be Annexed To Another Country

Similarly, Al-Ghad columnist Fahd Al-Khitan wrote: "It has been said many times that confederation means suicide for Jordan. But no one believed or wanted to believe this. Moreover, we responded to attacks on us from a defensive position, without launching a serious initiative that ties positions to actions.

"Those who dance to the tune of confederation are generally disregarding the position of a large sector of the Palestinians, especially those who cling to their land. For the most part, these [Palestinians] adhere to the option of an independent state; they also include a stream that wants no union of any kind with Jordan, even after the Palestinians actualize their right to an independent state...

"The Palestinian identity coalesced in the course of the bitter conflict with the Zionist movement. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not just residents who can be annexed to another country. Despite everything that is said about Israel's position, it has recognized them as a people and has also recognized their right to an independent state. How can we, after [the Palestinians] travelled this long road awash with blood and sacrifice, again call them just 'residents,' as in the old Zionist texts?"[21]

 * C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Sari Nusseibeh, who belongs to a distinguished Muslim family in East Jerusalem, is a professor of philosophy and the former president of Al-Quds University. He is considered a pragmatist and advocates non-violent struggle. He is one of the only Palestinian public figures who have openly suggested forgoing the right of return in return for an Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. In June 2003 Nusseibeh and former Israeli Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon launched the "People's Voice" (aka "National Consensus") peace initiative. Its key proposals were two states for two peoples; borders based upon the June 4, 1967 lines with Jerusalem as an open city, the capital of two states; Palestinian refugees will return only to the Palestinian state, and Palestine will be demilitarized.

[2], December 20, 2011.

[3], March 27, 2016.

[4], May 8, 2016.

[5] The Village Leagues were established in the second half of the 1970s by Palestinian figures who sought to form a Palestinian leadership alternative to the PLO that would be willing to negotiate with Israel.

[6], May 26, 2016.

[7], May 19, 2016.

[8], May 22, 2016.

[9], May 21, 2016.

[10], June 2, 2016.

[11] The assassination attempt was part of recent violent clashes in Nablus. See MEMRI...

[12], July 22, 2016.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 16, 2016.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 3, 2016.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 31, 2016.

[16], May 8, 2016.

[17], May 26, 2016.

[18], May 24, 2016.

[19], May 23, 2016.

[20], May 22, 2016.

[21], May 23, 2016.

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