The peace process without peace: the study of Israeli-Jordanian relations

Zafar Bangash

Jumada' al-Akhirah 25, 1419 1998-10-16

Book Review

by Zafar Bangash (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 16, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1419)

ISRAEL, JORDAN AND THE PEACE PROCESS By Yehuda Lukacs, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, US. 1996. pp.360. Hbk: $39.95.

Since the signing of the peace accords between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel four years ago in Washington, a whole industry has sprung up studying the peace process. There are departments, organisations and think-tanks all drum-beating about it.

The peace process, however, is not about peace. There has been precious little in the troubled Middle East. In fact, since the formal signing of the agreement, there have been more killings, bloodshed and suffering inflicted on the Palestinians, than at any time before. Prior to the peace process, the Palestinians only had to face one enemy - Israel; now they have to face the brutes of the Palestinian Authority as well.

This book, while about the peace process, does not directly address the issue of peace insofar as it affects the Palestinians. Rather, it looks at a secondary issue: the role of Jordan in the peace process. A plausible case can be made for studying this particular part of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle. After all, of all the Arab States, Jordan has the longest border with Israel. It is a small country with none of the resources that other Arab States have - such as oil - and has a small population. The only other exception to this frontline position is that of Lebanon, which has an even smaller population and is much more vulnerable than the Hashemite kingdom.

Israel and Jordan, however, have something in common. Both are artificial States carved out of territory that belongs to the Palestinians. Also, neither State is economically viable. While Israel enjoys enormous economic clout, it is not by dint of its own productivity. It is a parasitical State that thrives on America. Jordan gets crumbs by comparison. Puppets, however, cannot be choosers.

But king Husain of Jordan is the most popular Arab ruler in Israel. He has always been popular with Israeli rulers; the Israeli public learnt of the monarch’s deep attachment to the zionist State only after 1994 when the two countries signed a formal peace treaty.

In Israel, Jordan and the Peace process, professor Yehuda Lukacs sheds light on Husain’s popularity in Israel. While officially in a state of war, Jordan under king Husain has collaborated closely with Israel. This had started long before Husain took the reins of government in his tender hands while still a teenager. His grandfather, Abdullah had no sooner toyed with the idea of recognising the zionist State when he was shot and killed by an irate subject in 1951. Husain’s father Talal was declared insane and deposed by the British because he refused to go along with their plan!

The young Husain was placed on the Hashemite throne, accompanied by a British nanny, more diplomatically referred to as a wife. He has not only remained a loyal British stooge for 40 years but graduated to become an obedient client of the US as well as its zionist ward Israel.

Lukacs reveals that even though self-proclaimed enemies, Jordan and Israel practised a relationship of interdependence, especially since the 1967 war. The author contends that it was based on corresponding interests and shared concerns. The two were certainly united in their aversion to Palestinian national aspirations.

Jordan occupied the West Bank in 1948; Israel the East Bank and the rest of Palestine. The West Bank was to have formed part of the Palestinian State under the United Nations partition plan, which illegally handed over 60 percent of Palestine to the zionists. Neither Israel nor Jordan, however, wanted that plan to succeed, for their own reasons.

The subversion of Palestinian aspirations, therefore, brought the two into a close embrace. Since 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank as well the rest of Jerusalem, taking both from Jordanian forces, another factor brought them together: sharing of resources. Water, the most precious commodity in the Middle East, has been quietly shared by the two ever since.

Lukacs states that the de facto peace between them made a formal peace treaty more difficult. It would have meant Israel vacating the West Bank and Jerusalem (at least the Eastern part of it); and king Husain would have had to come out of purdah about his long-standing relationship with the zionist State.

Jordan’s formal relinquishing of claim over the West Bank in 1988 facilitated their relationship to be made public. It had nothing to do with Husain’s being a statesman, or making a sacrifice for the Palestinian cause. This is how Jordan’s official media presented it at the time. The reason was far more sinister.

By renouncing his claim to the West Bank, he no longer needed to demand Israeli withdrawal from there before the two could enter into a formal peace treaty. This was further facilitated by the Madrid conference in 1991 following the Gulf War in which the majority of Arab regimes had sided with the American-led assault on Iraq. Ironically, Husain had publicly remained friendly to Baghdad. It has since been revealed that it was also part of a ploy to serve Uncle Sam’s interests.

Lukacs’s argument that Jordan and Israel came close to each other because of shared interests is only partly true. Jordan is certainly a ‘frontline’ State. Given its small size, dependent economy and small population, it has never been in a position to take on the Israelis alone.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the June 1967 War, Husain publicly admitted that it was a mistake for Jordan to have joined the war against Israel. He said that it did not serve his country’s interests. Perhaps, but one should ask: what war? In 1967, it was not a war; it was a walkover. The Israelis bombed the Arab air forces within the first few minutes of the war and from then on, it was simply a mopping-up operation in which the only thing holding the Israelis back was the speed with which their vehicles could drive across the Arab landscape.

Lukacs writes that Jordan’s relations with Israel since 1967 were not only cordial but also consistent. One cannot say the same thing about Jordan’s relations with its Arab neighbours. For instance, its alliance with Syria lasted from 1975 to 1977. With Iraq it had an alliance from 1979 until very recently. The time period is important.

In 1979, Saddam Husain became the undisputed supremo in Iraq. King Husain immediately cultivated his friendship and remained close to him until the Iraqi tyrant was cut down to size by the western assault on his country. Throughout this period, however, the Jordanian monarch sided with Saddam. In 1981, he even created the Yarmuk Brigade to fight alongside the Iraqi forces against Islamic Iran.

Yet Jordanian forces have seldom participated in any battle against Israel. Even in the 1967 war, the Jordanians fled without firing a shot. And in 1973, king Husain not only refused to join Egypt and Syria against Israel but the Jordanian monarch actually tipped off the Israelis 48 hours in advance of the impending attack. It was the zionists’ arrogance that blinded them to taking the information seriously.

Even with Egypt, whom the Arab regimes had declared a pariah State following its Camp David surrender of March 1978, Jordan was there to help in its rehabilitation. It bacame the first Arab State to reestablish relations with Cairo in 1984.

This fits in well with Lukacs’s contention that Jordan always maintained good relations with Israel. It would hardly have made sense to break off relations with a country (Egypt) that had done so formally and publicly while the king was secretly maintaining contacts with the Israelis. This is something that Husain always wanted to do but circumstances prevented him from doing so.

This book, part of the Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution series, sheds light on an important aspect of the Middle East conflict. Conflict resolution is as ancient as man. While human beings cannot live in a permanent state of war, the zionists believe that they can create conditions in which there may not be an actual war but there is no peace either. Israel’s technological superiority and unquestioning support from the US has made it into a regional bully.

Jordan under king Husain has not only succumbed to this bullying but it has become an accomplice in Israeli crimes. For instance, in September 1970, Jordanian forces massacred Palestinian fighters in what came to be called the ‘Black September’. Palestinian fighters were driven out of Jordan into Lebanon. One front - across the Jordan River - was permanently sealed for them to operate from against the zionist enemy even though officially Jordan was still in a state of war with Israel.

Treachery runs in the blood of king Husain. His great grandfather, Sharif Husain, had betrayed the Ottomans and aligned himself with the British in hopes of being made the king of all Arabs. The British used and then ditched him, offering his son Abdullah the crumbs of Trans-Jordan, carved out of Palestine, the bulk of which was given to the zionists.

Lukacs does not consider Husain’s behaviour as treachery. For him, the issue is one of ‘shared interests’ and ‘common goals’. When one subordinates the interests of one’s own people and abandons the cause while pubicly claiming to represent it, then it is treachery.

There can be no peace with such men in control of the destiny of parts of the Muslim Ummah. The whole notion of the peace process is a fraud. For Israel, peace means it must have what it demands; others’ rights are neither recognised nor accepted as worthy of consideration. The only peace Israel is prepared to offer to the people of the Middle East is the peace of the graveyard. Is it any wonder that the Muslim masses reject it categorically even if their rulers are rushing to embrace it?

In order for there to be peace in the Middle East, some fundamental issues must be addressed. First and foremost, the injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people must be redressed. Without this, there can be no peace, regardless of how many books are written on the subject. There is little doubt that the zionists and their apologists are masters at acrobatics. Books such as these can hoodwink readers into a false sense of complacency. The very fact that Husain has been presented as a ‘moderate’ ruler gives clue to the author’s preferences.

Those who surrender to zionist interests are, by definition, moderate. Israel’s opponents are branded as ‘terrorists’. Such warped thinking can hardly advance the cause of peace. It is grotesque to talk about the peace process when the only thing the Palestinians and the Muslim Arab masses have experienced is suffering and humiliation at the hands of the zionists and their own oppressive rulers.

It would be far better to examine the root causes of the grievances of the Palestinians and to judge the issue from the same perspective that gives so much weightage to Israeli or western interests. Unless both parties are judged according to the same yardstick, there can neither be peace nor any solution to the problems of the Middle East, regardless of how many books are written about it.

Zafar Bangash is Editor of the Canadian-based Crescent International newsmagazine

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