Jordan`s Not-So Far-fetched Scenario for West Bank

King Abdullah II is deeply preoccupied in restructuring governance in his realm according to a self-designed pattern of democracy. This revolutionary process is going forward quietly step by step. This month, he appointed a new government shorn of policy-making authority in the fields of foreign affairs, defense and home security, prerogatives that will pass to the royal court. Furthermore, he is acting to decentralize parliament in Amman.
But along with these radical reforms, the Jordanian king’s peripheral sight is fixed on his western neighbor. He has not missed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s descent deeper day by day into the morass of disorder and revolt.
Last Tuesday, April 11, US president George W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon debated the chances of propping Abbas’ rule up against collapse. Next Thursday, two senior American officials, deputy head of the national security council Elliott Abrams and undersecretary of state for Near East affairs David Welch, will be visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to try and determine its feasibility.
But according to our Amman sources, Abdullah thinks the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen is sinking rapidly and may be beyond saving. What interests him most is the July 17 Palestinian election and its potential impact on stability in his kingdom given his large Palestinian population. Hamas’ prospects of sweeping the election improve as Abbas weakens. Of one thing Abdullah is certain: he cannot afford a Hamas takeover of Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Hamas terrorist group is not isolated or autonomous; it is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide jihadist movement which is strongest in the Arab world. A Brotherhood-dominated government in Ramallah would point a knife at the Hashemite throne in Amman.
Abdullah is therefore turning over the possibility of Jordan moving in to fill the power vacuum that would be formed on the West Bank by Abu Mazen’s downfall.
Last week, the Jordanian ruler set up a new body called the Commission for Determining Jordan’s National Agenda. Its eight sub-committees were entrusted with drafting new laws for the redistribution of legislative authority among provincial parliaments still to be created.
debkafile‘s Amman sources reveal that the king has decided on three provincial parliaments for Irbid in the north, Salt in the center and Kerak in the south. Each will elect a government to administer the province.
A royal decree will cut down the central parliament in Amman from 110 to 80 seats. Two more royal reforms are of critical importance.
1. He has adopted the Ottoman Empire’s term wilaya for the new provinces. debkafile‘s experts note that the historical term pertained to large territories, often whole countries. All biblical Palestine was one; Iraq, two.
2. The new cabinet headed by Adnan Badran that was sworn in April 7 has one third more Palestinian ministers than the former Fayez government. However, the only post with real authority was awarded the Palestinian-Jordanian economist Basem Abdallah, whose job it is to reform the economy. The Bedouin tribes of the south and their 34 deputies in the national assembly are protesting bitterly over the increment in jobs for the Palestinians at their expense. The king has not taken them into his confidence about his plans to empty many of the government’s functions of content and share out legislative powers among provinces. He wants to see the process in place before it is unveiled.
As for the West Bank, the Jordanian king would not be surprised if a breakdown of the Abbas government in Ramallah produced an invitation from Washington, pro-Jordanian elements among the Palestinians – and even possibly Israel, for him to step in and sort out the mayhem in the West Bank.
Such an invitation might lead to consideration of a plan to make the territory the Jordanian kingdom’s fourth wilaya. The Palestinian Authority already has a muqataa – the Ottoman Empire’s term for a governing administration under the Sultan. It would retain broad powers in such local fields of operation as employment, education, and general services to the population, while West Bank representatives would be integrated in the Palestinian faction of the disempowered central parliament in Amman.
Abdullah’s aides are seeking to muster a majority of royalist supporters for the three Jordanian provincial governments. The headhunt is led by Jordan’s elder statesman Zeid al-Rifai, many times prime minister in Amman, his son, Samir Rifai, one of the king’s closest advisers, and the speaker of parliament, Abd al Hadi Majali.
debkafile‘s Washington sources have no doubt that the king discussed his West Bank concept with Bush during their White House talks in March. Neither gave the game away in their public appearances later. The president only praised “His Majesty’s” steps for democracy in general terms, making no commitments. He may have set Abdullah’s suggestion aside as a possible Plan B for consideration if the Palestinian Authority crisis becomes terminal. Our American sources are certain Sharon was clued in on the Jordanian option when he visited the presidential ranch in Texas last week.
Whatever becomes of this as yet unformed notion, a Jordanian-Palestinian province on the West Bank might open up some fresh thinking on ways of keeping some Jewish settlement blocs in situ – if not under full Israeli sovereignty then at least under Israeli administration – under give-and-take accords.

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