An understandably reluctant partner

Whether or not Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip takes place, and whether or not Egypt’s projected involvement in Gaza Strip security reaches fruition–Jordan’s parallel involvement in West Bank security will, at best, be a far more modest undertaking. The contrast between the Jordanian approach to security involvement and that of Egypt is illustrative of the different ways in which the Palestinian dynamic affects the Palestinians’ two Arab neighbors.

Egypt is motivated to offer to intervene in Gaza by the perception that post-disengagement Gaza will pose a security danger: a radical Islamist takeover that threatens to overflow into Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a major potential threat to the regime. Egypt also apparently considers its growing involvement with security planning for Israeli disengagement as a means of buying American good will at a time when it cannot satisfy United States demands for democratization and human rights reforms. Egypt, after all, gets over two billion dollars a year in US aid, and recently received an additional large sum linked to its role in the 2003 Iraq war. Moreover Egypt sees its involvement in Gaza as a way of reasserting its traditional inter-Arab leadership role at a time when the US presence in Iraq has shattered any pretension on the part of the Arab world to be in control.

Jordan, in contrast, perceives no similar security danger emanating from the West Bank. Not only is Israel not withdrawing from most of the West Bank, but Hamas has been rendered much weaker there than in Gaza, and in any case Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood is integrated into parliament and is not viewed as a threat to the regime. Nor does Jordan feel any obligation to compensate Washington for a perceived failure to deliver on reform. Indeed, its model of gradual, top-down reform is highly regarded and has given it leadership status in western eyes. And at the inter-Arab level Jordan, a small country that has been maneuvering successfully among the larger and more powerful states that surround it, perceives no need to compete with Egypt.

Jordan will continue to train Palestinian security personnel: King Abdullah II confirmed this with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei in late June. But Amman apparently does not intend to exceed the parameters of security assistance it provided in the past–it has in any case reportedly trained more than 5,000 Palestinian policemen and officers over the past 10 years. It might be prepared to consider deeper involvement–meaning a security role on the ground in the West Bank, similar to what Egypt is contemplating in the Gaza Strip and on its side of the Philadelphi road–but only if, and when, Israel withdraws from all of Judea and Samaria and/or reengages with the Palestinians in a roadmap-like peace process. In that contingency, Amman would have a profound demographic security interest in ensuring a stable transfer of power in the West Bank and preventing the kind of chaos that is liable to push Palestinians to seek to cross the border into Jordan.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is hardly likely to implement such a comprehensive West Bank disengagement that includes the Jordan Valley. In any case the Hashemite Kingdom has, since the 1980s, abjured any patronage role or other form of direct involvement in the affairs of Palestine–a policy currently expressed in the "Jordan first" slogan seen everywhere in the kingdom. Yet some Israeli strategic planners and political leaders, who apparently are not listening to the Egyptian and Jordanian leadership, persist in thinking that what’s best for Egypt and Jordan is to intervene in Palestine and help ensure security and stability where Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed, and to that end even to absorb excess Palestinian population!

Egypt may have its own reasons for accepting a role on the ground in Palestine–but it is hardly likely to open its border with Gaza to Palestinian migration. As for Jordan, it apparently has every reason to ignore the invitation.