Sep 11,2023 –
When the Israeli government held a cabinet meeting last May in a tunnel underneath Al-Aqsa Mosque, I remembered asking the late Yasser Arafat, in 2000, about the reasons behind the failure of his latest round of talks with Prime Minister Ehud Barak, under the auspices of President Bill Clinton. Arafat had relayed, with Dr. Nabil Shaath’s presence, that Barak demanded Israeli sovereignty below Al-Aqsa Mosque.
My shock at the time was not that Barak indirectly endorsed the goals of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Rather, that Barak’s demand gave a clear indication that the Israeli political scene no longer consisted of various parties along the common left, right and centre lines. Instead, it was dedicated to paving the way for a growing majority that rejects peace, whereby the religious extremist can be allied with Zionist extremist, alongside a diminishing minority that still believes in the possibility of reviving the ‘Peace of the Brave’.
I initially wrote elements of this article in May but then hesitated and paused, further studying and reading into the details of the political scene emerging from Washington to Amman, and the surrounding regional capitals. It has always been my conviction that Jordan’s foreign policy and diplomacy, which I was honoured to be a part of, and to which our successive Hashemite leaders have adhered, is committed to moderation and absolute belief in peace, which is a basic and primary human right. With that in mind, it was clear that the growing extremism, in both rhetoric and practice, pursued by the current Israeli government since its formation last November, is mainly aimed at trying to influence the Jordanian political discourse. By adopting an extremist approach, the Israeli government aims to push towards and attract an extremist reaction from Jordan, as well as from President Mahmoud Abbas. However, Netanyahu does not realise that our Hashemite leadership is wiser than his narrow calculations, and that President Abbas, whom I have had the honour of knowing personally since 1995, has not changed one iota in colour and shape of his moderate political discourse, based on international legitimacy.
The cause for my frustration lately is not the recent Israeli aggression against the Jenin camp – despite its cruelty and ugliness, the Israeli leaks targeting the Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, the poisonous leaks claiming the illegality of the Jordanian presence in the West Bank in 1948, and not even the successive extremist and racist statements by members of the Israeli government. Rather, what provokes me (in the context of overall regional and international circumstances), is that the apparent growth of the anti-peace majority in Israel is threatening regional peace and security in a way that has not been seen in three decades. On this point, certain matters require elaboration and should be described using the right terms, regardless of the consequences.
First, Peace of the Brave: All peace efforts that began at the end of the sixties were based on UN Security Council Resolution 242, and one of the most important principles in that resolution was ‘emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. Israel’s acceptance of that resolution was recognition that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are lands occupied in 1967, and this principle is what brought the parties together at the Madrid Peace Conference. For those who do not know the true meaning behind the expression ‘Peace of the Brave’, adopted by the late Presidents Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat, and blessed by the His Majesty Late King Hussein, may God rest his soul, and President Clinton: it represented the conclusion of an existential struggle between two parties. Under this framework, Israel is not required to cease exiting (‘will not be thrown into the sea’); and, the Palestinians do not need to be deprived of their homeland, both those residing in their historical homeland, as well as refugees and the diaspora – in addition to having a right to establish their political identity. The true meaning of the ‘Peace of the Brave’ was to end the zero-sum equation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Therefore, UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the clear principle of the ‘Peace of the Brave’, represent the primary basis to the demand for a two-state solution, and this cannot be renounced. If the extreme right in Israel believes that force can create new legal facts, it is mistaken. Force only produces a continuation of the bloody conflict, the extent and long term consequences of which, cannot be calculated. The current Israeli reality of perpetuating the destruction of the culture of peace is a crime that began with the assassination of Rabin, then the siege of President Arafat in his Head Quarters (Al-Muqata’a), and the gradual renunciation of commitments and agreements witnessed by the world. The Israeli right does not realise that its extremist political approach could extend to a state of daily torment from which Israelis will suffer, not just Palestinians. Moreover, it puts security and peace in the region at risk, with unpredictable consequences and outcomes.
Second: The homes being built on the occupied Palestinian territories are actually colonies, not settlements, and those who inhabit them are colonists, not settlers. This is the objective reality in all languages, and it is time for our official and media discourse to call things by their proper names.
Before Sharon ordered the withdrawal from and destruction of Gaza colonies, and when hopes for achieving peace were high, I personally was not concerned with news of the construction of colonies. Because the logic of true peace between the Palestinians and Israelis necessitates that Israelis would leave these colonies, so they may become part of a compensation to Palestinian refugees, within the framework of final status negotiations.
Third, the occupation: The Israeli occupation represents the secret behind the absence of security and lasting peace in the region, and a major reason behind the birth of extremism and radicalisation. During his speech at Jeddah Summit, His Majesty King Abdullah made it clear that unless a two-state solution is reached and an independent Palestinian state is established (on the June 4 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital in accordance with the two-state solution), peace and security in the region will remain subject to a constant threat.
So I apologise to my friends who believe in peace west of the river -Palestinians and Israelis, because all our efforts to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem are not only jeopardised by the positions of the Israeli National Security Minister and the practices of the Israeli police, but also by moving away from the real major issue: occupation. As long as the ruling coalition in Israel does not recognise that its presence in the West Bank is an occupation, we will face successive bouts of tension and radicalisation, with undesirable consequences, from which both the Palestinian and Israeli people will suffer.
Fourth, Realism: During my recent participation in various meetings, forums and conferences, I often heard references to ‘realism’ when discussing developments in Palestinian-Israeli relations. Some believe that Israeli actions on the ground and the continued construction of colonies have made the two-state solution unrealistic, and diminished this solution’s meaning and goals. The proponents of this ‘realism’ do not appear to see the reality of the alternative. The Israeli right cannot accept the fact that there are more than five million Palestinians between the sea and the river, and that the world rejects racial discrimination and Apartheid (after the curtain came down on this in South Africa). Furthermore, there is the fact that the Palestinians refuse to confiscate their rights and will not stand down before achieving their goals, whatever the cost.
Political realism requires us to remember that Israeli actions on the ground do not create new rules of international law. And, political realism has thus far proven that our friends and allies in Washington (for well-known reasons), the sponsors of peace, are reluctant to take the required additional steps to implement the peace agreements they have witnessed. This hesitation has narrow interests, but its consequences may be disastrous, even for the US itself.
Realism should underline that Israel’s acceptance of Palestinian rights within the framework of the two-state solution, and the acceptance of Israel by all its neighbours, is less costly in the long term than an existence protected by weapons.
The Israeli nuclear power (the Samson Option) is a reality, as much as the F-16s and Israel’s military superiority. However, this does not negate the fact that in the absence of fulfilling Palestinian rights, there is also another reality. The birth of every Palestinian child in the West Bank, or even Yafa or Lod, constitutes a ticking time bomb that harms Israeli security.
Fifth: Where is Israel headed? The crisis of the current Israeli government and Netanyahu’s personal internal dilemma is not over yet, and Washington’s policy of criticising Israel in secret while supporting it in public, will not work. In my personal assessment, Washington must calculate the real cost of this approach (even at the party level and amid the upcoming presidential elections), because the Israeli right-wing government does not deserve this US position. This is a government that has eliminated the culture of peace from the minds of younger generations. Unless the Israeli youth believe in peace and its key requirements, most notably the Palestinian people’s attainment of their rights, the goals of normalisation, whether those achieved or sought after, will not bring real peace for Israel.
We in Jordan believe in the inevitability of peace and respect the peace treaty, and within this treaty is our agreement that Jordan’s borders with the West Bank will be demarcated in the future with the Palestinian state. However, recent leaks attributed to Prime Minister Netanyahu, have referred to the intention of building a ‘security fence’ between Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories. This reminded me of an interview I held with a non-Jordanian television station, in which I was asked about Israel’s violations of aspects of the peace treaty, including the water agreement. My response was that the continued violation of the peace treaty by Israel might lead us to seal our borders with historic Palestine with an ‘iron curtain’.
Israelis who believe in peace have become isolated, and their numbers and political weight is diminishing in the face of an extremist wave that is currently ruling the Israelis’ fate. Unless two decisive messages are sent to Tel Aviv, Israel’s moderation is doomed. The first message is that the Arab position, issued within the framework of the Jeddah Summit statement, is the position of every Arab capital, and no Arab country can be singled out to deviate from the Arab consensus on the Palestinian issue. The second message, from Washington, is transforming and shifting US support of the two-state solution into dynamic positions with impact on Israeli politics. Otherwise, the most important realistic question that we must face will be: Can Israel coexist with the growing Palestinian demographic ticking bomb?
Ambassador Ziad Majali