March 16, 1999 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 15

Jordanian Policies on the Palestinian Problem - Part II: Developments Since the Death of King Hussein

March 16, 1999 | By Yigal Carmon and Y. Feldner*
Palestinians, Jordan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 15

While both Jordan and the PA support the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [hereinafter, the Territories], they do not share the same views regarding the future of the relations between Jordan and the Palestinian entity. The PLO, which expressed its support of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation several times, had to withdraw it due to the adamant objection of King Hussein. The death of the Jordanian monarch and the stalemated peace process presented the Palestinian leadership with an opportunity to reintroduce the confederation.

Arafat Revives the Idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation

On February 12, 1999, a few days after the late King Hussein was buried, Arafat declared that the Palestinian Authority was willing to form a confederation with Jordan, in accordance with an old Palestinian National Council resolution.[1] Arafat's Spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, added that the Palestinian Authority is ready to negotiate the confederation with Jordan even before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.[2]

This statement shocked the Jordanian leadership, mainly because it was delivered in such proximity to the death of King Hussein. The King had repeatedly rejected this idea and on one occasion even stated that he would not have the word 'confederation' uttered anymore in his presence.[3]

The Jordanian leadership responded with much discontent and immediately announced that Jordan's position on the issue of confederation is unchanged, namely, it would not discuss it before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In addition, the Jordanian Prime Minister at the time, Fayez Al-Tarawna, summoned the Palestinian Ambassador to Amman, Omar Al-Khatib, and asked for clarifications.[4]

Palestinian officials were quick to explain that nothing was meant to be done against the will of the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples and leaderships and that there was no novelty in Arafat's statement. At the same time, however, Palestinian officials stated that the Jordanian-Palestinian bond cannot be severed and that "there is no escape" from establishing a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation on both banks of the Jordan River in the future.[5] Yasser Arafat himself stated to a Jordanian delegation visiting Gaza: "we are one twin brother and you are the other twin brother."[6]

Although Jordan never officially declined the confederation, the Hashemite family has no interest in allowing the PLO to regain a foothold in Jordan. A Palestinian-Jordanian confederation would inevitably curtail the integrity of the Hashemites' sovereignty, because they would have to share the government. "Jordan has no need for a confederation, because it is a state on its own that enjoys all the elements of a modern state," writes the Jordanian columnist Jihad Al-Mumani, "if Jordanians agree to a unity with their Palestinian brothers... it will only be a gesture in order to solve the Palestinian problem... and in the framework of the state of institutions and sovereignty - [namely,] the Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom led now by King Abdallah, son of Hussein."[7]

Moreover, a confederation with the Palestinian entity will increase the demographic imbalance in Jordan. Although a confederated structure does not theoretically entail one side's control over the population of the other, the fact that the PLO sees itself as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians wherever they may be, may impair the principle of equality between the parties of the confederation. "The main [reason for] the objection of Jordanians to this idea is their fear that in the long term this will harm Jordanian national identity," writes the Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab. "With Palestinians constituting the business leadership and the majority of the population in the Hashemite Kingdom, such an alliance will further dilute Jordan's attempts to reflect a distinctive national political color..."[8]

The Jordanian opposition to the confederation also reflects the lack of mutual trust in the relations between the PLO and the Jordanian leadership.[9] The political cooperation between the two - which derives from a unity of interests for the purpose of establishing an independent Palestinian state - exists despite the loss of trust since the bloody armed clash of 1970.

Arafat's statement is also connected to the stalemate in the political process and to the dilemma facing the Palestinian policy. In the last two years, Arafat repeatedly committed himself to a unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state on May 4, 1999. However, due to heavy Israeli and international pressures, Arafat may have to avoid or postpone such a measure.

Under these circumstances, a declaration of a confederation with Jordan is a convenient outlet for the Palestinian leadership, because it may mitigate the Israeli public's opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The confederated superstructure will bestow upon the Palestinian state a 'Jordanian' appearance, which may be more acceptable in Israel.

Israeli Involvement in Reviving the Idea of Confederation

Arafat's Advisor for Strategic Affairs, Hani Al-Hassan, revealed that former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, who is known for his public support of a Palestinian state, was the one who suggested to Arafat to return to the idea of confederation. According to Al-Hassan, Peres met with Arafat, a day before his confederation-statement and presented him with a formula he developed with Israeli MK Yossi Beilin which, Peres claimed, was supported by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Martin Indyk. According to this offer, a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation should be declared "a day or two after the declaration of an independent Palestinian state."[10]

Palestinian officials wanted to emphasize that although such a declaration may have a positive influence on the Israeli public, because it may provide a basis for a solution of the Refugee and Jerusalem problems in a 'Jordanian framework' - under no circumstances does it mean the resurrection of "the Jordanian option."[11]

In effect, the Palestinian-Jordanian joint superstructure will not serve as an alternative to the PLO's exclusive status in the Territories. "Peres as a Zionist," explains Hani Al-Hassan, "seeks a solution that suits the Israeli outlook and not one that is based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338... However, issues such as the question which will be the political capital [Amman or Jerusalem] will be decided internally between Jordan and Palestine, and under no circumstances will it be on Jerusalem's account...."[12]


Jordan felt betrayed in 1993 when it discovered that Israel and the PLO had held secret negotiations behind its back in Oslo. This feeling may have resurfaced when the Jordanian leadership discovered that the architects of Oslo, Peres and Arafat, again started to discuss Jordan's future, while everybody was preoccupied with the death of King Hussein. Jordan responded with clear disapproval. Nevertheless, Jordan does not cease to support the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. This, under the current circumstances, is Jordan's only way to release itself from the Palestinian bear hug.

* Yigal Carmon is the President of MEMRI. Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, February 13, 1999. The PNC resolution stipulates the establishment of a confederation on the condition of holding a referendum which will reflect the free will of both peoples.

[2] Al-Ayyam, February 13, 1999.

[3] Daoud Kuttab, "the Grosset Webster Dictionary," February 14, 1999.

[4] Al-Quds, February 14, 1999.

[5] For example, Arafat's Advisor on Strategic Affairs, and Member of the Fatah Central Committee, Hani Al-Hassan, Al-Ayyam, February 13, 1999, and also Editor of the Fatah monthly and Arafat's mother-in-law, Remonda Tawil: "Palestine and Jordan are Siamese twins that cannot be separated." Al-Awda, February 16, 1999.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 10, 1999.

[7] Al-Dustur, a Jordanian newspaper, February 14, 1999.

[8] "The Grosset Webster Dictionary,", February 18, 1999.

[9] On this issue, refer to: Saut Al-Haqq we Al-Hurriyya, March 3, 1999; and Said Ghazali, The Jerusalem Times, January 22, 1999.

[10] Hani Al-Hassan to Al-Ayyam, February 13, 1999.

[11] The 'Jordanian Option' is the long held Israeli hope that Jordan would become its political counterpart to the solution to the Palestinian problem, despite the Rabat and UN recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians.

[12] Hani Al-Hassan to Al-Quds, February 13, 1999. See also, Secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ruhi Fatuh: "the ideo of the alternative homeland is dead... some people fear that the death of King Hussein will revive the Israeli idea of an alternative homeland. However, this idea is dead, because the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples do not accept it." Al-Quds, February 13, 1999.

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