By Daoud Kuttab
25 June 2015
The absence of a political horizon has strengthened Palestinians’ attempts to reach a different form of independence.
Failure on the political front made them work on a more doable idea: to empower Gaza and the West Bank economically through improving trade with their natural Arab environment.
Jordan, which has the longest border with Palestine and the only way in and out of the West Bank, is perfectly situated to help it carry out an accelerated economic boost that can focus on trade, investment and joint projects.
Joint visits by economic, business, industry and tourism Palestinian and Jordanian officials, along with connecting Jericho and other Palestinian areas to the Jordanian electric grid appear to be key components of this process.
But European diplomats working quietly on this front noticed that attempts to improve trade exchanges between Jordan and Palestine are not moving quickly.
Instead of a win-win situation for each side, the trade exchange is apparently subject to political constraints.
Jordanian-Palestinian relations under President Mahmoud Abbas and His Majesty King Abdullah are unprecedented.
Yet, one can detect a certain hesitation in this relationship on the part of the Jordanian government.
Jordan’s uneasiness with the Palestinians was recently revealed in a meeting between a senior official and journalists.
Jordan seems to be worried that something sinister is going on between the Palestinians and Israelis behind Jordan’s back. Jordan and others (including senior Palestinian leaders and major world powers) remember how the Oslo Accords were cooked in secret meetings without consultation with allies.
The Jordanian official says that Jordan, one of two Arab countries that signed a peace treaty with Israel and is custodian of holy places in Jerusalem, does not want to be caught short again.
The recent problems between Jordan and Palestine began in late December when the Palestinian leadership rejected the advice of Jordan’s U.N. representative Dina Kawar and insisted to move ahead with a vote on a UN Security Council resolution putting a deadline to Israel’s occupation.
Kawar and Jordan’s top leadership argued that the resolution did not have a chance to win in the setup at the time, and that it required more time. An expected change in the membership of the Security Council, in early January, would be more accommodating, she argued.
But Palestine insisted, the resolution was put to a vote and failed to muster the needed nine positive votes, thus averting even the need for the US to veto it.
Since then, a few other cases contributed to a worsening of relations, including an assault on Jordan’s Chief Islamic Justice Ahmad Hilayel, who was prevented from giving a sermon at Al-Aqsa Mosque by militant Hizb Al Tahrir worshipers.
This was followed by the controversy over Palestine’s position regarding the nomination of Prince Ali amidst accusation — denied strongly by the Palestinians — that their vote was cast for FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter.
Nevertheless, Abbas and his intelligence chief Majed Farraj quickly moved to smooth relations with a personal visit to the home of Prince Ali.
Whatever the circumstances, it is imperative that Jordan and Palestine bury the hatched and move quickly to resolve some of the issues that have damaged relations.
An important move in this direction could be reaching agreements on better trade relations as well as on the movement of people and goods across King Hussein Bridge.
Removing obstacles and tariffs, and enabling speedy travel (hopefully by one’s own car) at both bridges can go a long way in strengthening the steadfastness of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
A peace deal might be elusive at the moment, but this should not deter the intensification of Palestinian-Arab relations with the aim of at least laying solid foundations for an economically viable Palestinian state within the internationally agreed-to 1967 borders.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street.