By Lee Bender and Jerome R. Verlin
“The two-state solution,” as America and Israel define it, calls for “two states for two peoples” — for Israel and a new Palestinian-Arab state, sharing the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. The Palestinian Authority has expressly rejected “two states” in this sense, demanding a “right of return” to Israel for millions of descendants of Arabs who left Israel in 1948.
Reservations about this idea also exist on the Jewish side. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated that Israel will not cede security control of the Jordan Valley along the Jordan River border with Jordan and calls for any such state to be demilitarized.
Among the alternatives proposed by some Israelis is “the Jordan option,” frequently phrased as “Jordan is Palestine.” It’s not popular, to be sure — not with Jordan’s king, with fellow Sunni Arab states or with Israel, which sees Jordan as one of its few relatively nonbelligerent neighbors, or with the United States, which sees it as relatively pro-West.
But this assumes that the status quo in Jordan is stable and would not be dangerously jeopardized if “the two-state solution” in western Palestine were to come to pass.
The assumption is shaky. Jordan’s kings were enthroned by colonial Britain after World War I in the east-of-the-Jordan-River piece of the Palestine Mandate piece of the old Ottoman Empire. And its population already comprises a large majority of Palestinian Arabs (more than 70 percent).
From Israel’s perspective, a worst-case scenario — a “Palestinian” state extending from easternmost Jordan westward to the Judea-Samaria hill country overlooking Israel’s narrow coastal plain — would be realized. Moreover, Jordan is deathly afraid of having a “Palestinian-Arab” state on its border in the “West Bank/Judea-Samaria” and views it as an unstable threat.
Let’s examine whether the idea is politically feasible, and if it serves the best interests of Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
The ‘Jordan Option’ is a two-state solution that already exists
Unlike the “two-state solution” — whether or not as “two states for two peoples” with a Palestinian-Arab state in Judea and Samaria that does not yet exist — Israel and Jordan are already states. Both were part of the Palestine Mandate, and together, with their respective substantial Jewish and Palestinian-Arab population majorities, constitute two states for two peoples.
That Jordan’s Palestinian-Arab majority does not currently rule Palestinian-Arab-majority Jordan can and should be remedied within that 78 percent of the Palestine Mandate — not by partitioning Palestine’s remaining 22% left for the Jews once again between Arabs and Jews.
The ‘Jordan Option’ benefits Israel
Major American Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, as well as the lay and religious leaderships of the Reform and Conservative movements of American Jews, have voiced their views of what Israel should do: Implement “the two-state solution.” However, an Arab state in Judea and Samaria (and inevitably a painful piece of Jerusalem) does not serve the security or the Jewish homeland-reconstituting interests of Israel.
The Middle East being a place where the doctrine of unintended consequences runs amok, it’s indeed possible that replacement of Jordan’s minority Hashemite monarchy with majority Palestinian-Arab leadership — or even the monarchy’s reduction to a “constitutional monarchy” — might result in Jordan becoming a failed terrorist state. It is already a precarious state that Israel partly props up. But such an eventuality could come to pass in a Judea and Samaria Palestinian-Arab state as well. And for a mere 9 miles wide in Israel’s middle, it would be existentially closer and worse.
The dream of generations — the fulfillment of which the Jewish people in Israel is now bringing to pass — was not for a 9-mile-wide coastal strip, sans the Judea and Samaria hill country heartland and historic Jerusalem. Today, the boundaries of the State of Israel and land of Israel are coextensive. It would be a betrayal of the Jewish homeland’s sovereign redemption to slink back to ceasefire lines of a 1948-’49 war that were obliterated and superseded by infinitely more secure, infinitely more Jewish homeland-fulfilling lines of the 1967 war.
The ‘Jordan Option’ benefits the Palestinian Arabs
If the Palestinian-Arab ambition is a Palestinian-Arab majority state in the Palestine Mandate — not the destruction of the state of the Jews — then spacious Palestinian-Arab Jordan, 78 percent of that Palestine Mandate, is more in their interest than a landlocked piece of the smaller piece of that Mandate with borders delineated by the old ceasefire lines.
Here, they could absorb their fellow Palestinian Arabs living in apartheid “refugee camps” of their fellow Arab “hosts.” Arab citizens of Israel will continue to be such, and Arabs living in Judea and Samaria who choose to remain there will be resident noncitizens of Israel, with the right to relocate to their eastern Palestine Palestinian- Arab state.
Jewish and Palestinian-Arab-majority states already exist in what had been the Palestine Mandate, and comprise an equitable existing two-state solution for dividing that small piece of the Mideast into separate states for Arabs and Jews. Although that division is more than three-quarters for Arabs and less than one-quarter for Jews, it provides Israel with peace-promoting secure natural boundaries in the Jewish homeland’s historical place. And it provides Palestinian Arabs a three-times-the-size Israeli homeland with the existing infrastructure and functioning government of a Palestinian-Arab-dominated state in which to absorb the descendants of the long conflict’s Arab refugees, just as Israel has absorbed its Jewish refugees.
Lee Bender is co-president of the Zionist Organization of America – Greater Philadelphia Chapter and Jerome R. Verlin is a former vice president of ZOA’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter. They are co-authors of the book “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z.”