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An Israeli Love Story

by Uri Avnery

Sunday 8 July 2007

NOT SINCE the resurrection of Jesus Christ has there been such a miracle: a dead body buried in a cave has come to life again.

The “Jordanian Option” gave up its soul almost twenty years ago. Even before that, it never was very healthy. But in 1988, some time after the outbreak of the first intifada, it was officially buried by none other than His Majesty, King Hussein, himself. He announced that he had given up any claim to the West Bank.

It was a pitiful death. There was no proper funeral. Shimon Peres, one of its parents, pretended not to know the deceased. Yitzhak Rabin turned his back. From dust it came, to dust it returned.

And now, suddenly, it has seems to have sprung to life again. Three wandering scribblers claim to have seen it with their own eyes. Not in Emmaeus, where the three apostles of Jesus saw their resurrected master, but in Washington, capital of the world!

THE ISRAELI love story with the Hashemite dynasty started three generations ago. (Hashem was the founder of the Mecca family to which the prophet Mohammed belonged.)

In World War II, Iraq rebelled against the Hashemite king, who was imposed on them by the British at the time they installed another branch of the family in Transjordan. The Iraqi king and his entourage fled to Palestine. Here he was warmly received by the Zionist institutions, which provided him with a secret radio station on Mount Carmel. Many years later, I heard this from one of the people directly involved, Minister Eliyahu Sassoon.

The British army returned the Hashemites to power in Baghdad. But, as Sassoon added in sorrow, they repaid good with bad: immediately after their restoration they adopted an extreme anti-Zionist line. By the way, the Irgun underground organization was cooperating with the British at the time, and its commander, David Raziel, was killed in Iraq in the course of the operation.

Issam Sartawi, one of the PLO leaders, a refugee from Acre who grew up in Iraq, later claimed that when the Hashemites returned to Baghdad, the British organized a massacre of the Jews in order to gain them nationalist popularity. The documents about this infamous episode are still kept under wraps in the British archives.

But the relations with the Hashemites continued. On the eve of the 1948 war, the Zionist leadership kept in close contact with King Abdallah of Transjordan. Between the King and Golda Meir, several secret plans were hatched, but when the time came, the king did not dare to break Arab solidarity, and so he also invaded Palestine. It has been claimed this was done in close coordination with David Ben-Gurion. And indeed, the new Israeli army avoided attacking the Jordanian forces (except in the Latrun area, in an attempt to open the way to besieged West Jerusalem.)

The cooperation between Abdallah and Ben-Gurion bore the hoped-for fruit: the territory that was allotted by the UN to the putative Palestinian Arab state was partitioned between Israel and the renamed Kingdom of Jordan (the Gaza Strip was given to Egypt). The Palestinian state did not come into being, and Israeli-Jordanian cooperation flourished. It continued after King Abdallah was assassinated at the holy shrines of Jerusalem, and his grandson, the boy Hussein, took his place.

At that time, the tide of pan-Arab nationalism was running high, and Gamal Abd-el-Nasser, its prophet, was the idol of the Arab world. The Palestinian people, who had been deprived of a political identity, also saw its salvation in an all-Arab entity. There was a danger that the Jordanian king might be toppled any minute, but Israel announced that if this happened, the Israeli army would enter Jordan at once. The king continued to sit on his throne supported by Israeli bayonets.

Things reached a climax during Black September (1970), when Hussein crushed the PLO forces in blood and fire. The Syrians rushed to their defense and started to cross the border. In coordination with Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir issued an ultimatum: if the Syrians did not retreat at once, the Israeli army would enter. The Syrians gave up, the king was saved. The PLO forces went to Lebanon.

At the height of the crisis, I called upon the Israeli government in the Knesset to adopt the opposite course: to enable the Palestinians in the West Bank to set up a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Years later, Ariel Sharon told me that he had proposed the same during the secret deliberations of the army General Staff. (Later, Sharon asked me to arrange a meeting between him and Yasser Arafat, to discuss this plan: to topple the regime in Jordan and turn the country into a Palestinian state, instead of the West Bank. Arafat refused to meet him and disclosed the proposal to the king.)

THE JORDANIAN OPTION was more than a political concept - it was a love story. For decades, almost all Israeli leaders were enamored of it - from Chaim Weizman to David Ben-Gurion, from Golda to Peres.

What did the Hashemite family have that enchanted the Zionist and Israeli establishment?

In the course of the years I have heard many rational-sounding arguments. But I am convinced that at root it was not rational at all. The one decisive virtue of the Hashemite Dynasty was - and is - quite simple: they are not Palestinians.

From its first day, the Zionist movement has lived in total denial of the Palestinian issue. As long as possible, it denied the very existence of the Palestinian people. Since this has become ridiculous, it denies the existence of a Palestinian partner for peace. In any case, it denies the possibility of a viable Palestinian state next to Israel.

This denial has deep roots in the unconscious of the Zionist movement and the Israeli leadership. Zionism strove for the creation of a Jewish National Home in a land in which another people was living. Since Zionism was an idealistic movement imbued with profound moral values, it could not bear the thought that it was committing a historical injustice to another people. It was necessary to suppress and deny the feeling of guilt engendered by this fact.

The unconscious guilt feelings were deepened by the 1948 war, in which more than half the Palestinian people were separated from their lands. The idea of turning the West Bank over to the Hashemite kingdom was built on the illusion that there is no Palestinian people ("They are all Arabs!"), so it could suffer no injustice.

The Jordanian Option is a euphemism. Its real name is “Anti-Palestinian Option”. That’s what it’s all about. Everything else is unimportant.

THAT MAY explain the curious fact that since the 1967 war, no effort has been made to realize this “option”. The High Priests of the Jordanian Option, who preached it from every hilltop, did not lift a finger to bring it about. On the contrary, they did everything possible to prevent its realization.

For example: during Yitzhak Rabin’s first term as prime minister, after the 1973 war, Henry Kissinger had a brilliant idea: to return the town of Jericho to King Hussein. Thus a fait accompli would have been established: the Hashemite flag would wave over West Bank territory.

When Foreign Minister Yigal Allon brought the proposal to Rabin, he was met with a determined refusal. Golda Meir had promised in her time that new elections would be held before any occupied territory was returned to the Arabs. “I shall not go to elections because of Jericho!” Rabin exclaimed.

The same happened when Shimon Peres reached a secret agreement with King Hussein and brought the finished product to the then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir threw the agreement into the waste bin.

("You face a difficult choice," I once joked in a Knesset debate, “Whether not to return the occupied territories to Jordan or not to return them to the Palestinians.”)

ONE OF the interesting aspects of this long love story was that not one of the Israeli lovers ever took the trouble to look at the problem from the other side. In the depths of their heart, they despised the Jordanians as they despised all Arabs.

In the middle of the 80s, I received an unofficial invitation to Jordan, then officially still an “enemy country”. True, I entered with a rather dubious passport, but, once there, I registered as an Israeli journalist. Since I was the first Israeli to go around Amman openly, declaring my identity, I attracted quite a lot of attention in higher circles.

A senior government official invited me to dinner in a posh restaurant. On a paper napkin he drew the map of Jordan and explained to me the whole problem in a nutshell:

“We are surrounded by countries which are very different from each other. Here is the Zionist Israel, and here the nationalist Syria. In the West Bank, radical tendencies flourish, and in close-by Lebanon there is a conservative sectarian regime. Here is the secular Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and here the devout Saudi Arabia. From all these directions, ideas and people flow into Jordan. We absorb all of them. But we cannot quarrel with any of our neighbors. When we move a bit towards Syria, on the following day we have to make a gesture towards Saudi Arabia. When we come closer to Israel, we must appease Iraq quickly.”

The obvious conclusion: the Jordanian Option was a folly right from the beginning. But nobody in the Israeli leadership grasped that. As the wise Boutros Boutros-Ghali once told me: “You have in Israel the greatest experts on Arab affairs. They have read every book and every article. They know everything, and understand nothing - because they have never lived for one day in an Arab country.”

OLD LOVES do not die. True, the first intifada pushed aside the Jordanian Option and the leaders of Israel flirted with the Palestinian Option. But their heart was not in the new love, and they acted as if driven by a demon. That explains why no serious effort was made to fulfill the Oslo agreement and to bring the process to its logical conclusion: a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Now, suddenly, people are once more talking about Jordan. Perhaps one could ask King Abdallah II to send his army into the West Bank to fight Hamas? Perhaps we could bury the “Two-State Solution” in a Jordanian-Palestinian federation that would allow the Jordanians to take over the West Bank again?

The King was appalled. That is just what he needs! To incorporate the turbulent and divided Palestinian population in his kingdom! To open the border to a new flood of refugees and immigrants! He hastened to deny any part in the scheme.

Federation? That is quite possible, he said - but only after a free Palestinian state has come into being, not before, and certainly not instead. Then the citizens may decide freely.

A famous book by the Israeli author Yehoshua Kenaz is called: “Returning Lost Love”. It seems that this old love is gone forever.