President Donald Trump’s Peace of the Century plan is still under wraps, but the snippets that keep on leaking out don’t leave too many revelations for the eventual grand unveiling. The latest came this week from Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, during a meeting with a group of Israeli left-wing lawmakers at his Ramallah headquarters. He told them that Trump’s peace envoys, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, had presented him with a diplomatic plan based on a confederation with Jordan. His reply was affirmative, except for a demand that Israel be part of the grouping. “They asked me if I believe in a federation with Jordan, and I told them that I was interested in a three-sided confederation with Jordan and Israel. I then asked, if the Israelis would accept this.”
The confederation concept has hung over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for decades. It never took off before and its fate is still in question.
The concept was first mooted in 1972 by the late Jordanian King Hussein as a formula for recognizing the unique status of the Palestinian population on the two banks of the River Jordan and sealing their cooperation in security and economic affairs. The confederation idea, less binding than a federation, came up in the 1980s. Arafat preferred this format to the plan proposed by US President Ronald Reagan in September of that year, because the president stipulated Arab recognition of the Jewish State. It was preferred by the PLO also because it offered the Palestinians greater autonomy, while respecting the interests of the two confederal partners: Jordan, which was shorn of its role as representative of the Palestinian people by the 1974 Arab League summit, sought to recover this role by a foothold in Judea and Samaria. The PLO sought a political base in Jordan, after its leaders were thrown into exile in Tunisia by the IDF victory in the 1982 Lebanon war.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat arrived that year in Amman and got together with Jordan’s King Hussein for mapping out a confederation pact between the two entities as the shared solution for the future of the kingdom and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Under this plan, Israel was to withdraw completely to the June 4,1967 lines, without being awarded Arab recognition. This confederation was to link two entities: Jordan on the East Bank of the Jordan River and Palestine on the West Bank. It was approved by Jordan in 1983. In February of that year, the 16th Palestinian National Council was convened in Algiers and approved the confederation plan. In April, Hussein ratified the plan, but then Arafat evaded affixing his signature on various pretexts. The Jordanian king eventually lost patience and shelved the whole scheme.
But the Hashemite royal house did not quite give up. Even after Jordan’s ties were severed with the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria, the kingdom held on to the dream of reuniting the two banks of the Jordan once the Palestinians attained autonomy. But Amman again set the idea aside when the first Palestinian uprising (intifada) against Israel in 1987 was seen to betoken Palestinian craving for absolute sovereignty in a state of their own apart from Jordan. On July 28, 1988, King Hussein announced he was severing Jordan’s links with the Palestinians of the West Bank.
Over now to September 2018, when Arafat’s successor Abu Mazen posed an innocuous-sounding question to Trump’s peace team about attaching Israel to a future Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. He was perfectly aware that the question was absurd. But like Arafat, he was intent on derailing the Trump peace plan in a way that the blame would be placed at Israel’s door.
In Arafat’s days, the Gaza Strip did not count in a confederation plan because Hamas’ violent takeover was still in the future. Today, 36 years later, the Trump plan would still exclude Gaza from any linkage with Jordan, because it leaves the door open to ties with Egypt. But anyway, the question is academic. The incumbent King of Jordan, Abdullah II has informed Trump’s envoys that he has no intention of accepting confederal ties with any Palestinian entity.