A conference is a great way to meet people interested in what you are interested in, to hear speakers talk about what you are interested in and to have the opportunity to ask questions of those who know more than you do. There are people who come to conferences knowing next to nothing about the topic and expect an introduction and those who know a lot and want to go into greater depth. Therefore, organizing a day that will satisfy most people is quite the challenge. It is with that understanding that I submit this critique of the Jordan Is Palestine Conference that took place in Jerusalem on 17 October 2017.
Before the conference
The promos leading up to the conference were interesting. Look at this Facebook post.
Seems like quite an opportunity — to meet Jordanians who want to talk about a different way to resolve the problem between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria. (Unfortunately, the only Jordanian I could see in presence was Abed Alamaala, an invited speaker who now lives in the USA.)
Then there was the speaker line-up.
The day looked well organized and with a clear story line — past history, present day circumstances, and tomorrow. . . . the best-case scenario for tomorrow as envisioned by the organizers.
However, not all speakers listed above actually made it to the conference; some were replaced and others just did not arrive or speak. Those who are listed but did not speak include: Mordechai Kedar, David Bedein, Raphael Israeli, David Ha’ivri and Samer Libdeh. Speakers not listed above include: anthropologist Geoffry Clarfield, political scientist Salim Mansur, campaigner and political analyst Jeremy Saltan, and journalist Yishai Fleisher. And Mudar Zahran, himself, did not make it to Israel but was broadcast at the end of the day over a Skype connection.
One Major fail of the day – I understand that the programme changed a number of times as speakers dropped out and others took their place. But there is no excuse for not having a photocopied page with an outline of the final schedule available at the door as people came in. Printer not working? Then make a PowerPoint slide and put it up on that lovely huge screen on the stage. At the very least, there should have been a slide on the screen telling the name and affiliation of each speaker and the title of his or her talk when getting up to the podium.
So now, let me give a brief synopsis of the main points of the speakers as I understood them, in order of their presentations, followed by a short critique of each talk.
Michael Ross, International Jewish-Moslem Dialogue Center –
I want to send photos from this conference to King Abdullah II; he was invited but for some reason, there was no response from him. We are here today to learn, to talk and those who oppose this conference do not understand the concept of free speech. This is the first of a series of international conferences to discuss Jordan Is Palestine and to cultivate economic relations between Israel and Jordan/Palestine.
Interesting idea that! Extending — to the king you want to depose — an invitation to a discussion of his dethroning. Did you really expect a response other than something in the Jordanian press claiming that Israel is planning a coup? Free speech includes the freedom to oppose the conference, by the way. Also, this was not a conference to discuss economic relations between Israel and Jordan – not today’s Jordan and not tomorrow’s Jordan (if it will be different in any way from today’s Jordan). If it were meant to be that, there would have been at least one economist on the speaker list and that topic would have been one of the presentation titles. (I really hope you do not send the king any photos from the event.)
Ted Belman, Editor of Israpundit and Chair of this Conference –
This conference will be seen as the beginning of the end of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Since we began organizing the conference, Khaled Abu Toameh began a shaming campaign against Mudar Zahran who saw Mudar as ambitious, as if ambition is a fault. Mudar stood up to the king, fled to the UK, is now working on his second PhD, worked in the American Embassy in Jordan and was interpreter for Condoleezza Rice. He was offered, and refused, hush money by Jordanian authorities and chose to stay poor but honest. Abed Almaala, Deputy Secretary General of the Jordan Opposition Coalition, represents the one-million member Bedouin clan Bani Hassan. They wanted to have an insurrection against the king, but the opportunity never presented itself. Obama was against it; Trump may support it.
Interesting punctuation: “this conference will be seen as the beginning of the end of the Hashemite Kingdom”. So Mudar’s work over the past decade will not be seen as the beginning of the end of the Kingdom? Okaaay. In any case, I do not endorse that goal for this conference – this is not why I came to the conference. I came to listen and learn and evaluate. I did not come to promote a change of the guard in a country in which I have no voting rights.
If this was a serious conference, why was the second speech of the day talking about a shaming campaign? Was this a conference for discussing an idea or was this a conference showcasing Mudar Zahran? Certainly Mudar and the Jordanian Opposition Coalition comprise an important aspect the conference must consider, but, for Israelis, they should not be the centerpiece.
Finally, since when does an opportunity have to present itself for an insurrection to occur? I thought insurrections occur when those who initiate it MAKE the opportunity. But what do I know? I am not a historian.
Arieh Eldad, Former Member of Knesset – Title of speech advertised: Will the Arabs Leave Israel to Live in Jordan? A Realistic Vision for Utopic Peace in the Region –
Eldad spoke in Hebrew and there was no simultaneous translation. That was fine for some of the audience. He essentially said that nothing will happen until the Israeli government gets on board with the message that Jordan is Palestine. Perhaps Mudar will succeed in convincing the bulk of the Jordanian people, Eldad said, but such an eventuality can also result from a one-sided action on the part of Israel as former Knesset member, Benny Ayalon tried to promote in the past. If the Hashemites understand the dangers ahead for Jordan, Eldad went on, they can themselves create change as happened in the UK. All attempts on our part to influence what happens in our neighbouring countries failed — we failed in Lebanon, for example.
Referring to Goodman’s recent book on the fall-out from the Six Day War, Catch 67 (in Hebrew only), the left is correct to fear implications of demography and the right is correct to fear implications regarding geography. The solution is for Arabs in Judea and Samaria (J&S) to be residents of Israel and citizens of Jordan. Israel needs to clearly state that she has no intention to see the rise of another Arab country in the heartland of her soil.
I agree with Eldad that we should not involve ourselves in our neighbours’ INTERNAL affairs. Eldad says nothing about toppling Jordan’s king, but only what Israel can do, in his view, to work toward a solution. Unilaterally, if need be. According to Eldad, our clear message needs to be that Jordan is Palestine and the Arab Palestinians who are currently in J&S can stay there as Israeli residents and Jordanian citizens. Makes sense to me. If this is acceptable to us in Israel, then the next step needs to be what has to change in Israel for us to be able to work toward that end. That is something nobody at the conference dealt with. A caveat here: I do not see how we can do this unilaterally – but that could have been the topic of someone else’s presentation.
Yehuda Glick, Member of Knesset – Advertised Title of Presentation: Jordan is Palestine, The Only Solution a Win-Win Solution –
Over 20 years ago, every member of the left in Israel, regardless of what else was the topic of discussion, talked about the Two State Solution (2SS). They spoke as if everyone knows there will be two states for two peoples. And suddenly, it started working – this became the only workable solution anyone could think about. Glick told us that there is never only one alternative and thinking that way keeps us locked up. The alternative, Jordan is Palestine, has great potential. In fact, Arabs in J&S during the Jordanian occupation were Jordanians for 19 years. Glick expressed one problem with the Jordan is Palestine idea: “Who gave us the right to give up part of the Jewish state?”
The 2SS is wrong and impossible and not ethical: do we have the right to hand over people to the corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a leadership that does not respect human rights? We have been strengthening the Hashemites because we are afraid of having ISIS on our borders. But is this not saying that the Palestinian Arabs have no option but to be terrorists?
Finally, it is about time we took ourselves seriously. We do not need the world to recognize us. We ALL know Jerusalem is our capital. If the world wants to be relevant, the world will recognize the facts. Shalom means win/win, harmony. We need to address the idea that Jordan is Palestine as a relevant and rational solution, not as the ONLY solution. If we keep repeating this like a mantra it will start to take hold. And after Jordan will have been recognized to be Palestine for the Arabs, 100 years later we can take back Jewish lands on the east bank of the Jordan River that are part of our Jewish heritage. When the audience laughed at that comment, an unperturbed Glick said people laughed at Jabotinsky also.
Glick was a good speaker and I found myself agreeing with what he said (not sure about the part about us taking the east bank of the Jordan, however, regardless of it having been part of our ancient homeland). If we say, Jordan is Palestine often enough and long enough, it has the potential to change the parameters of the discussions regarding solutions.
Mordechai Nisan, Scholar at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew U – Advertised Title of his Talk: Jordan is Palestine: An Out of the Box Solution or the Only Solution Left? –
We need to use some political imagination and understand that what is, is not what will be. The missing variable today is Jordan. Anyone who supports the 2SS is either stupid or evil because it sets Israel up for destruction, according to Nisan. There are three players today: (1) Israel: we believe that the Jordanian Israeli relationship and collaboration is essential for security, but need to remember that Jordan went to war against Israel, allowed terror against Israel in the 1970s, and allowed Iraqi missiles to fly over its territory into Israel in the 90s. Jordan is Palestine means throwing the Palestinian problem back into Jordan’s backyard. (2) Palestinian Arabs: The are the losers, were dispersed and victimized. In Jordan they have not been allowed to exert their collective identity and are commonly regarded as trouble makers. Their collective identity was only developed in J&S and this needs to be transferred to Jordan. (3) The king is an outsider, not native so there is a foreigner exerting power over a native population. Jordan is Palestine in the same way that Rhodesia is Zimbabwe and this is a legitimate, humane solution for the Palestinian Arabs. When it has served Jordanian interests, Jordanian leaders said that Jordan is Palestine – mainly in order to prevent insurrection.
I liked his comment that “what is, is not what will be” and how the Palestinian collective identity was really only formed in J&S.
Edy Cohen, Bar Ilan University – Advertised Title of Presentation: Jordan’s King An Enemy of Israel, Jordan’s Regime the Source of the Problem –
There are two kinds of Arab politicians: those behind the microphones talking to the Palestinian population and those who collaborate with Israel. Today, most Arab states want relations with us because they are terrified of Iran. King Abdullah II tried to present himself as a defender of Al-Aqsa, but behind the scenes we prop him up against ISIS. Jordan often supports anti-Israeli UN decisions and UN proclamations that seek to sever the connection between Jewish sites and Israel as a way to drain energy from the attacks against the monarchy. There is no peace between peoples, but rather, cooperation between governments. The media and the population in Jordan are very antisemitic.
OK. He provides more context. His statement about peace not being between peoples but rather about cooperation between governments flies in the face of all the co-existence and pro-peace activism we see on the ground in Israel. However, if there were demonstrations in Jordan or the PA pressing their leaders to cooperate with Israel, we may have seen more movement toward cooperation from their governments. On the other hand, I do not see Saudi Arabia having taken cues from its populace to seek closer relations with Israel, but an understanding that it was in their best interest. I guess I do not really see what this talk added to our understanding of the Jordan is Palestine issue.
Rachel Abraham – Israeli journalist – Advertised Title of Talk: What Keeps Israel’s Jordan Borders Safe? Who Controls Jordan’s Army and Intelligence? –
For some reason, Abraham did not talk about this at all, but about human rights abuses in Jordan.
I did not see what this had to do with our discussion of the issue at hand. I was relieved, however, at the opportunity her irrelevant talk offered me to get a short nap. I had left home in Haifa at 5:30 am in order to beat the morning traffic and arrive at the conference site in time. I wonder how I would have survived the day and the drive home without this respite, so, while I do appreciate it, I question the use of valuable conference time on something that did not advance our understanding of the truly relevant issues. What woke me up was the shouting of a woman from the back of the hall, and I think she was wondering why Jordan’s human rights violations were being highlighted and not human rights violations on the part of Israel (I think she said Israel, but I was still waking up — perhaps she said the PA, naw, probably Israel).
Martin Sherman, The Israel Institute for Strategic Studies – Title of Talk: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jews, Fundamental Imperatives for Survival –
Sherman began by stating that there is no contradiction between his strategy for annexation of J&S and the Jordan is Palestine paradigm. He claims that most peace proposals suffer from self-deception and everyone should know that even if we only annex Area C of J&S, this cannot secure out borders and the world would react exactly the same to that as to our annexation of the entire so-called West Bank. “From the river to the sea” will happen, according to Sherman, and it will either mean exclusive Jewish sovereignty or exclusive Moslem sovereignty. The only way to ensure Jewish sovereignty is to address the three imperatives: the Geographic Imperative (secure borders), the Demographic Imperative (a Jewish majority), and the Delegitimization Imperative (overcoming the demonizing campaign against Israel).
Sherman’s presentation was clear and well-organized, using PowerPoint to focus the audience and increase our ability to concentrate on his message as he developed it. I would recommend that other speakers adapt this approach.
Geoffrey Clarfield – Anthropologist and Director of Mozuud – Surprise Speaker –
Clarfield began by telling the audience that the relevant unit of analysis in our part of the world is the clan, lineage being a most important status. Arab nationalism is dead except in Egypt where it remains central and perhaps in Morocco. Everything is tribal – the Ottomans were tribal. When the Allies won the war, they got to decide what happened here.
It is a well known historical fact that Israel was also on the east bank of the Jordan River. Yet, the British created an “upper class fake replica” of itself in Jordan when they brought in the Hashemites to an area previously populated with many Bedouin tribes. These Bedouin tribes had been the demographic majority until 1920, when a new wave of Jews came to the Palestinian Mandate and other Arabs followed them. These early Arabs were Aramaic speaking descendants of the Byzantine Empire. In fact, until 1900, there were 56 ethnic groups speaking 35 dialects.
The notion of Palestinian nationhood was created as a myth, a mirror image of the Jews. Any recommendation of a 2SS is based on stories of two brothers fighting as we find in the Bible. Returning to the topic of lineage, Clarfield argued that the lineages present in the region today are recent arrivals and they form mini-states within the countries they inhabit. We can only work with what we have on the ground and to take into consideration the fact that all the clans have different interests.
Clarfield suggested that politicians should consult with anthropologists and I can see why. It is clear to me that his view of the region probably coincides much with Mordechai Kedar’s emirates approach for resolving the problems in our neighbourhood. I would like to hear more from Clarfield.
Salim Mansur, Political Scientist at Western University – Surprise Speaker –
Mansur is a Canadian Moslem, born in Kolkata – he told us that because he is often mistaken for other origins. Prefacing his talk , he informed us about the Jewish General Jacobs who fought in the Indian army and freed East Pakistan (if you are interested, there is a brief history of this fascinating man here).
Mansur told us that, for the past 100 years, the Arabs have conducted a campaign of falsifying history — words have consequences, he said. The Arabs were gifted with states of their own when there were other peoples ruled by the Ottomans as well. The false Arab tale of occupation and betrayal turned into an excuse for not taking responsibility for their own fate. The flip side of this is denial of Jewish rights and this denial is based on a misreading of the Quran, a perversion of Islam, and using this for promoting antisemitism. The Quran tells the history of the Jews with only five major references to Mohammad.
Recognition of Jordan as Palestine will help the Moslem reconcile with Jews as proscribed in the Quran. Denial of Jordan=Palestine is a primary source of conflict in the region just as denial of the communist revolution in China set the stage for Korean civil war and the war in Vietnam. This shows us how misguided denial is dangerous. When the USA acknowledged mainland China, things changed for the better but that could not undo all the damage done until that point. One hundred years after the Balfour Declaration, it is long past time to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Jordan is Palestine!
All I can say is: YES! I think the last statement in the paragraph above should become a classic to be quoted repeatedly. Here is perhaps the mantra Yehuda Glick was talking about.
(Clarfield just made me aware of an article he and Mansur published in 2015 on this topic. You can read it here.)
Michael Ross spoke again –
Ross talked about Jordan’s categories of laws determining people’s rights (or lack thereof) and how Jordan does not follow international law regarding citizenship and residency, meaning that Jordan has apartheid laws. He talked about the categories of Palestinians in Jordan: the Syrian Palestinians, the Kuwaiti Palestinians, etc.
This is interesting, but how is it relevant to our discussion of Jordan=Palestine? Are we trying to justify Jordan=Palestine on the basis of Jordan’s mistreatment of the Palestinian Arabs within her border? No? Mansur’s point is the strongest.
Next, there was supposed to be a debate between Jeremy Saltan and Ted Belman with Yishai Fleisher moderating. Before I even present the gist of what each said, let me say something about the so-called debate itself. You need time to run a proper debate. This day had a packed schedule and in order to conduct a debate it would have had to be set up precisely. It was not even set up at all, never mind precisely. In a debate, the audience knows the two contrasting positions of the debate partners. No such title or statement was ever offered to us. We were told that Jeremy and Ted would debate and difficult questions would be asked. I seriously anticipated difficult questions because Ted promised us difficult questions from the outset of the day. I am still waiting for them.
Once we know the positions of the debaters, each side is given 5-10 minutes to present their main arguments and then they go back and forth. They should have been positioned on the stage standing together.Instead, each of them took to the podium for a lengthy speech and there was no back-and-forth argumentation between them. You judge for yourselves if their speeches even constituted material for a debate – in other words, were they even talking about the same issue from different points of view?
Yishai Fleisher was to be the gate-keeper. Instead, Fleisher was another speaker and, I must admit, since I was expecting him to moderate a debate, I did not write down what turned out to be his speech and so I no longer remember what he said. That is an unfortunate misuse of his talents.
Ted spoke first:
He talked about the interview he gave having been shown on Jordan television (I assume he means the one I linked to in Part II of this series of articles) with Arabic subtitles and that got over 100,000 views. He went on: we are calling for cooperation with Mudar, hoping the USA will enable the takeover of Jordan, and hoping this will happen before the end of next year. This is also being talked about in the Arab world. We will incentivize emigration of the 1,530,000 Arabs from J&S and 400,000 in Jerusalem. He claims that 90% of the former and 35% of the latter would accept the offer to be relocated within Jordan with new homes, scholarships and retirement funds, etc. He said they want to build a new city to provide jobs and more. The Palestinian Arabs within Jordan today will also have to be compensated in order not to create tensions between the veteran Jordanians and the new Jordanians. We also have a plan for Egypt, Belman said — we seek not rehabilitation but emigration.
I am very disturbed by this (as I was by Teds interview screened on Jordan TV – see 1:17-1:22). This is going over the bounds of good neighbours and good intentions and into the realm of interfering in another country’s internal politics. It is one thing for Mudar to present his ideas for change for HIS country and quite another for Ted to say “Let me help you do this”. I oppose this on ethical grounds. Furthermore, this is the stuff of behind-the-scenes manipulations that are carried out by professionals hired by governments to do so. I wonder if Ted needs drama in his life and imagines himself a spy or something like that because if Mudar does have the wherewithal to actually get the ball rolling in the direction he wants, Ted is setting himself up to be a bulls-eye on somebody’s target.
Jeremy spoke next:
He began with: I am tired of giving and giving and giving. We never get! There are three lies, according to Jeremy – (1) either 1SS or 2SS; (2) leftist argument that you cannot have it all, meaning Israel being Jewish and democratic and having sovereignty over J&S; and (3) using the word, peace, as if we all agree on what that is. First of all, there is a third option, power sharing, such as by cantons, a confederation or a commonwealth, or something else. That would open the way to having it all: Jewish, democratic and J&S. And we should be talking about stability rather than peace. How to achieve stability? By stopping the giving and starting the getting. We need to talk about applying sovereignty rather than annexation because the former is more exact; it is taking responsibility over what is ours. We need to prepare for the time when the rest of the world finally realizes that the 2SS is not going to happen. And each person in the audience has the responsibility to get involved and hold our leaders accountable.
Jeremy presented a clear and focused picture of what he, as a representative of the Bayit Yehudi party, offers to the discussion: another way of looking at the potential benefit to Israel of the Jordan is Palestine movement.
The final speaker, before Mudar was brought up on the screen on Skype, was Abed Almaala, Deputy Secretary General of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition – Advertised Title of Talk: What Will the PA and Hamas Do to Obstruct the Solution? Will the Jordanian Tribes Rebel Against the New Government?
Almaala said he came today to speak with the Jewish people because it is our responsibility to make contact with Jordanian people. Then he went into a description of the excesses of the royal family, with Queen Rania spending $200,000 on a dress when women from his clan are eating from the trash. He teared up at this. We will turn their palaces into hospitals, he said. He stated that the Palestinian Jordanians and the Bedouin have joined together in this fight. He promised that if they take control over Jordan and, after 6-8 months, they do not succeed in making the changes they promise, they will step down.
In a sentence, Almaala addressed the second question in the title of his talk, but he never did relate to the first question, something that would likely be of interest to Israelis to hear. Since we live with the PA and Hamas breathing down our necks, I would like to know what Almaala knows about their likely actions should the Opposition Coalition succeed in actualizing their plans. Unfortunately, his English was poor, so perhaps he did relate to that issue and I did not understand since I have to admit to only getting about half of what he said.
My Overall Impressions
What bothered me most about this conference was that it was a showcase for Mudar Zahran and the Jordanian Opposition Coalition and a plug for Israelis to support a push to overthrow the king of Jordan. I think it might be a wonderful development for us if Mudar and his Coalition actually have the power and the resources to accomplish what they say they want to. But it is not our place to reach out to the Jordanian people, as Abed Almaala asked us to do in his talk, especially given that we see how much Jew-hatred there is in Jordan. They are the ones who should reach out to us. As Mudar and Abed did.
And it is not our place to say that we are hoping for the King of Jordan to fall and for Mudar to take the reigns of power. I do not want to be involved in anything that makes it appear that I am cooperating with a coup in a country that is not my own.
The whole push of the conference should have been different – it should have talked about the subject from our very particular Israeli point of view. Some of the talks should have actually stuck to the titles that were advertised, such as that by Rachel Abraham’s (What Keeps Israel’s Borders Safe?), and it would have been informative had someone else been found to deliver presentations covering the topics of the cancelled talks on the original flier, those by Mordechai Kedar (Will Israel Support the Jordan is Israel Solution? What will happen to the Major Palestinian Areas in Israel?) and Raphael Israel (Will the Arab States Allow Jordan to be Palestine? Will the USA?).
For added perspective and depth, I would have liked to hear from someone who does not believe it would be to Israel’s benefit –not whether or not it is feasible, but whether or not it is even good for Israel. What would the economic and other ramifications, good or bad, be for Israel? In other words, less about why Jordan needs it and more about why Israel either needs it or does not. Perhaps even a debate between someone who believes it is our place to hold such conferences and someone who believes it puts Israel in a perhaps untenable position.
In other words, in a conference of this kind, I want Israel to be in the centre. And I want to respectfully leave the Jordanians to hash out their own internal issues.
So what did the Jordan is Palestine Conference 17/2017 accomplish? Not nearly as much as it could have. At the same time, I hope that it does not dampen the possibility that a better-organized conference can be offered in the future that will truly consider all aspects of the potential impact of Jordan’s future directions — whichever way they go — on us, her neighbour to the west.
This article first appeared in Israel Diaries.