Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 April - 2 May 2007
Issue No. 842
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Strange bedfellows

King Abdullah tries to woo the Israelis into accepting the Arab Peace Plan, writes Khaled Amayreh in East Jerusalem

Click to view caption
An Israeli soldier stands in the way of a Palestinian boy trying to plant an olive tree

When Acting Israeli President Dalia Itzik (President Moshe Katsav has been suspended from office for allegedly committing sexual offences) met Jordan's King Abdullah II last week, the king reportedly told her and the accompanying delegation everything they loved to hear.

According to the Israeli media, the king told the visiting Israeli officials that, "we are in the same boat, we have the same problems, and we have the same enemies."

The Israeli daily, Haaretz, reported that the king reiterated these comments a number of times and that "those at the meeting" understood the remarks as referring to "Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas".

The king also reportedly said at one point, "do you want Iran on the banks of the Jordan?"

More significantly, Abdullah II is said to have told the Israeli delegation that clauses in the Arab Peace Plan pertaining to the Palestinian refugees' right of return should be understood as referring to "compensation" not "repatriation", and that "everything will be consensual and that the Arab Peace Plan was not actually a plan but merely a talking point."

After former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, who took part in the meeting, reminded the king that Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa had referred to the plan as a "take-it-or-leave-it offer," the king reportedly told Rivlin, "leave him to me."

It is not completely certain if the king really uttered these remarks as the Israeli media and, indeed, Israeli officials taking part in the visit say he did.

The Jordanian press generally avoided the subject and reported tersely on the king's meeting with the Israeli delegation. Even Jordanian reporters working for foreign media outlets circumvented the sensitive issues, apparently fearing government retribution. The Jordanian authorities earlier confiscated an Al-Jazeera video-taped interview with Jordan's former crown prince Hassan containing criticism of Saudi Arabia for financing and arming anti-Hizbullah forces in Lebanon.

However, government spokesman Nasser Judeh denied that the king ever made these remarks during the meeting, suggesting during an interview with Al-Jazeera TV on Saturday, 21 April, that the Israeli press, which reported the remarks, was unreliable and shouldn't be trusted.

Indeed, when asked by Al-Jazeera reporter Ghassan Bin Jiddo if the king had told the Israeli delegation, which included a number of extremist settler leaders such as Tzvi Hendel, that "we have the same enemies," Judeh asked, "do you really think his majesty the king would ever utter such a thing?"

The king's remarks drew angry reactions throughout the occupied Palestinian territories and at various levels.

Hamas asked the Jordanian government to clarify the statements attributed to the king in regard to the right of return and also Hamas being an enemy of Jordan.

"We in Hamas would like to affirm that the right of return is a sacred right that no one has the authority to relinquish especially when international resolutions sanctioned it alongside compensation," the movement said in a statement issued on 21 April.

The statement added that, the "common enemy of all Arabs and Muslims was the usurping, colonialist Zionist entity that is occupying our land and desecrating our holy places."

The Islamic Jihad organisation, through its spokesman Mohamed Al-Harrazin, said the "right of return is a legal and inalienable human right which cannot be compromised."

Harrazin added that, "such statements don't serve the Palestinian cause at all but serve the goals of the Zionist regime and its allies."

Even Fatah, headed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, denounced the remarks, saying that, "nobody can decide on behalf of the Palestinian people with regard to the right of return," which he said was "the essence of the Palestinian problem".

A more stinging response to the royal statements came from the Palestinian public.

Abdul-Sattar Qassem, professor of political science at An-Najah University in Nablus and former presidential candidate, argued that Palestinians would attach more credibility to the Hebrew press reports on the King's statements than to denials by Jordanian officials.

"It is true the Israelis lie a lot, but Arab leaders lie even more, they are inured to lying to their people and to deceiving and misleading them.

"We, the Arab and Muslim masses, know quite well for many decades that you [Jordanian officials] and the Zionist entity face a common enemy and that enemy is the United Arab Islamic Trend. We also know that you have been coordinating intelligence efforts against all free Arab and Islamic movements.

"We are your and Israel's common enemy. But we will continue our struggle for the unity of the Arab umma. So, do what you may, and kill whomever you want to kill, for eventually you will only reap defeat."

The severity of Palestinian reaction to the Jordanian king's reported remarks reflect a growing determination to cling to the right of return for the refugees as a paramount right that should never be compromised especially as Israel continues to steal more Palestinian land and build Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories.

Moreover, there is a growing realisation on the part of major Palestinian political organisations, especially Fatah, that making concessions with regard to the right of return at this point would be a pre-negotiations disaster for the Palestinians. These would enable Israel to strip them naked without any bargaining cards in return, even before the start of any prospective final-status negotiations.

There is no doubt that the Jordanian leadership, namely King Abdullah II, is very worried about the possible ramifications and turbulence that may engulf the region, especially its most vulnerable spots, such as Jordan, if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is allowed to linger on without resolution.

Indeed, with the possibility of the quagmire in Iraq spilling over into Jordan, and with the very real possibility of Jordan becoming another battlefield between the American-Israeli partnership vs the anti- Israeli coalition (e.g. Al-Qaeda), King Abdullah feels the desperate need to make a concerted effort to convince Israel to accept the Arab Peace Plan.

Moreover, the king realises that while Jordan's Palestinian citizens are generally politically "dormant", at present, the continuation of "the stability of the country and the regime" can't be taken for granted. Indeed, he must be calculating that it could only be a matter of time before frustrated Jordanian-Palestinian youths resort to violence if they came to the conclusion that Israel bullied the Palestinians into surrender and that all the talks about peace were only fabrications.

Hence, his desperate attempts to get Israel to accept the Arab Peace Plan.

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