Forcing the neighbors into play

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The Israeli strategy for dealing with the Palestinians has changed significantly since the first agreement was reached between the two sides in 1993. This change is forcing Jordan and Egypt, unwillingly, to adapt.

Until the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, the Israeli vision of a solution was to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and allow for a Palestinian state to emerge. Certainly, this was not a vision in line with international law. At the negotiating table, Israel was bargaining over the exact location of borders as well as aspects of Jerusalem and the issue of refugees. Away from the negotiating table, Israel was creating facts on the ground, expanding and creating settlements, in an attempt at directing the outcome of negotiations.

Nevertheless, the two sides, as well as interested and involved third parties and the international community in general, were promoting a solution to be reached through negotiations that involved two states on the basis of the 1967 borders. It was a strategy pursued, albeit more hesitantly, in the years between the assassination of Rabin and the assumption to power of Ariel Sharon.

Historically, both Egypt and Jordan were relieved of the Palestinian burden by the vision of the two-state solution. The Palestinian struggle was, and remains, a highly emotional one for Arab publics and especially the publics in these two countries. But the Oslo process allowed both countries to take a step back from the conflict, culminating in the late King Hussein’s decision to disengage from the West Bank and support the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people with the objective of achieving an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet even during these years when the Likud did not dominate Israeli politics, Ariel Sharon clung to his long-held belief that if there were a need for an independent Palestinian state, Jordan should be that state. Sharon claimed the West Bank as part of Israel and in any case saw Jordan’s population as majority Palestinian, hence such a solution made sense to his rightwing extremist mindset.

Thus, when Sharon took power in 2001 there was an "evolution" in Israel’s strategic vision. Israeli leaders have continued to pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution. But on the ground, Israel has in fact been taking unilateral steps to determine the future of the occupied territories and shape their relations not only with Israel but also with Egypt and Jordan. While negotiations have restarted and are ongoing, they function primarily to give Israel time to implement this new strategy.

In fact, Israeli practices strongly contradict Israel’s verbal commitments in negotiations. Israel is gradually dividing the polities of the West Bank and Gaza from each other. At the same time, it is reducing the dependency of these two areas on Israel. This is more obvious in the case of Gaza although it is slowly becoming clear in the West Bank.

The de facto separation of Gaza from both the West Bank and Israel, combined with the brutal siege Israel has imposed on the impoverished strip of land, has left Gazans little choice but to deepen their linkage with Egypt one way or another. And while Egypt has no interest in such a process it has little choice but to acquiesce.

This explains the active role Egypt has taken in both internal Gazan politics as well as in mediating relations between Israel and Gazans and between Palestinians generally, by sponsoring sessions of dialogue between Fateh and Hamas and other factions.

Something similar can be expected in the West Bank, particularly once Israel has completed the building of its separation wall. This wall, in addition to separating Palestinian areas from each other, will separate the populated parts of the West Bank from Israel. This will of necessity create de facto dependence on someone else and that can only be Jordan or through Jordan.

While Jordan is less involved in domestic Palestinian politics than Egypt, we are witnessing an increase in movement between Jordan and Palestine, in addition to an increase in economic relations and interactions across the River Jordan. There are new projects; Jordan supplies electricity to the Palestinian side of the Jordan Valley, including to Jericho. This coincides with news, which Hamas has confirmed, that Egypt is supplying fuel to Gaza. It’s possible that the recent resumption of reconciliation efforts between Hamas and the Jordanian government is part of this trend.

Jordan and Egypt are adapting to the shift in the Israeli vision because they have little choice. They are unwilling participants in a unilateral Israeli strategy that spells the end of a negotiated two-state solution.

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