Ali al-Shihabi, an author and commentator on Middle Eastern politics and economics with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia, last week threw a bombshell into regional Arab politics with an op-ed in the pro-Saudi TV channel and website Al Arabiya, headlined: “The Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine.”
Al-Shihabi is a graduate of Princeton University and the Harvard Business School, and his articles are considered mainstream in the Sunni Arab world, which is why his op-ed caused such a stir and outrage on social media and news sites in Jordan. Former Jordanian Information Minister Muhammad al-Momani responded in an article headlined, “The Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine – unrealistic, illogical, and not patriotic.” Some in Jordan have suggested that al-Shihabi’s article was part of a Saudi-Israeli plot designed to “bring the Palestinian issue to an end at the expense of the Palestinian people and the expense of Jordan.”
Some historic context: the Hashemites used to be the rulers of the holy city of Mecca in the Arab peninsula since the year 968. In 1916, Hussein bin Ali of the Hashemite dynasty sent his sons and tribe of warriors to support the British invasion of the Middle East, to expel the hated Othman empire. In return, Britain promised its support for Arab independence under universal Hashemite rule. But while the Hashemites were busy sabotaging Turkish railroads in the Syrian desert, their chief rival in the Arabian Peninsula, the king of the Najd Ibn Saud, annexed the peninsula and in 1925 and established his son, Faysal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as the supreme ruler. The region was later incorporated into Saudi Arabia, goodbye Hashemites. The Brits were embarrassed and so, to compensate their loyal allies, they cut off the entire eastern part of then-Palestine and declared it to be Trans-Jordan, under the Hashemite rule. Of course, the section that was cut off had been promised to the Jews as part of their homeland. Promises, promises.
Naturally, the Saudis and the Jordanians have maintained their rivalry over who should rule Mecca, so that when the nice folks in King Abdullah II’s palace in Oman read al-Shihabi’s article proposing to take away their last vestige of rule and hand it over to the “Palestinians,” they are not amused.
Of course, as our loyal readers already know, about 80% of Jordan’s population consider themselves “Palestinians,” and many of them arrived there in 1948 as part of the population transfer which they still refer to as the catastrophe (Nakba).
“The basically insurmountable power imbalance between the Arabs and Israelis, let alone between the Palestinians and Israelis, argues for a radical rethinking of the approach to solving the Palestine problem,” opens al-Shihabi’s op-ed.
And then he throws the bomb:
Israel is a reality firmly implanted on the ground that has to be accepted, however grudgingly, by the region around it. While it never had a “right” to displace millions of Palestinians and colonize their land, it succeeded, with the help of British imperialism and US support, in doing exactly that. After all, since it was the Germans who had murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust, justice argues that the Jews be given the choicest land in Germany for their state rather than the land of the Palestinian people, who had done them no harm. Justice, however, does not make history; hard power does—and Palestinians must reconcile themselves to this painful reality and move forward with their lives without being held back by false hopes and illusions (my emphasis – DI).
The next paragraph might as well have been stated by a Zionist spokesperson at a get-together of the Women’s International Zionist Organization in Queens:
This illusion of “return” has served some Arab regimes’ interests by giving them a powerful excuse to avoid integrating Palestinian refugees as citizens, particularly in Lebanon and even Jordan, both of which have millions of disenfranchised Palestinians in their camps. These regimes feared that these refugees-cum-citizens would alter their demographics and threaten their ruling order. Consequently, the excuse given was that since the Palestinians would eventually return to Palestine, giving them citizenship would technically undermine their “right of return” and hence they should be denied citizenship. Palestinian leaders actively colluded in perpetuating this tragedy.
“The Palestinian problem can only be solved today if it is redefined,” al-Shihabi argues, then sticks the knife deep and gives it a twist for good measure: “The most logical vehicle for this redefinition and hence for the solution to the Palestine problem is the kingdom of Jordan.”
Now, here comes the part the Zionist side would not like so much:
This proposed enlarged kingdom would include present-day Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank (areas populated by Palestinians attached in a contiguous manner and physically connected to Jordan, i.e., not broken up into islands). Israeli arguments as to the need to retain the Jordan Valley become moot since the valley will now be controlled by a Jordanian government with a reliable record of maintaining peace with Israel. The convenient argument that Israel has no “peace partner” will now also be eliminated.
Except that Israel need not worry, this part of the plan is trivial, lip service, if you will. The crucial part of al-Shihabi’s proposal is not the political future of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza – it’s all about the Saudis openly supporting a takeover of the Hashemite kingdom by its “Palestinian” majority. Because once there’s a real Palestinian State out there, Israel can start encouraging dangerous elements who make a living nowadays on murdering Jews to walk across the plank to the other side of the river. Israel has done it in the past. Look how al-Shihabi describes potential resistance to his plan:
While “rejectionists” will likely resort to violence, the fight to crush these groups will be immeasurably strengthened by the support of the Palestinian masses, who will have voted in favor of this solution.
Finally, tell me if you won’t sign off on his assessment of regional politics in the not-so-distant future:
Failure to carry out such a plan puts the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Jordanian state itself at serious risk of what many Israelis, whispering among themselves, call “transfer,” that is ethnic cleansing. Over seven million Palestinians in historic Palestine (the area between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea) continue to live in a gray zone of political disenfranchisement with no hope in sight. This, the Israelis know, is a recipe for armed conflict or massive civil disturbance that could eventually bring insurmountable global pressure upon them. Increasingly many Israelis will see such ethnic cleansing, which could take place under the fog of a regional war—say, with Iran—as the only solution to this problem. Here Israel could forcibly kick out the Palestinians into Jordan and Egypt in a genocidal war and, in the process, destroy the Jordanian state as we know it today. Those who would write off such a scenario as outlandish have not been paying enough attention to political discourse in Israel since its founding.
Is it any wonder the Jordanians are so upset about this idea? Deep inside, the entire region has been expecting it, at least since it has been established in a string of catastrophic losses that Israel cannot be destroyed.
Something to think about.