Relations with Israel

Jordan Table of Contents

In 1989 Jordan still refrained from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. The absence of formal relations notwithstanding, the two countries had cooperated directly or indirectly since 1967 in a multiplicity of matters pertaining to the West Bank, the Israeli-occupied territory whose Palestinian population retained Jordanian citizenship until 1988. Hussein's aim was to maintain influence and eventually regain control of the West Bank, a goal that had not been realized by 1988, when he renounced Jordan's claim to sovereignty of the area. Hussein's ambitions were frustrated by Israel's unwillingness to negotiate seriously any withdrawal from the West Bank and by the increasing popularity of the PLO. As early as 1974, Israel's refusal to consider a United States-mediated disengagement agreement with Jordan, similar to the ones that had then been concluded with Egypt and Syria, weakened Hussein's image as a leader who could recover occupied Arab land. Israel's refusal also helped to strengthen pan-Arab support for the PLO's claim to represent West Bank Palestinians. Later that year, Arab heads of state meeting in a summit conference in Rabat, Morocco, agreed to recognize the PLO's right to establish an independent state in the West Bank once the latter was liberated from Israel.

Although Hussein paid lip service to the 1974 Rabat decision, he continued to hope Jordan would recover the West Bank. His hopes were nurtured by Israel's refusal to deal with the PLO. To maximize Jordan's political leverage from the new situation, Hussein pursued simultaneously a highly visible policy of reconciliation with the PLO and a less perceptible policy of cultivating pro-Hashimite politicians in the West Bank. The measures intended to preserve Jordan's traditional links to the West Bank actually were undertaken with the tacit approval of Israel. These measures included authorizing the continuation of the long-standing economic and family ties between the East and West banks under the "open bridges" policy; continuing payment (until 1988) of salaries to Palestinian officials on the government payroll before and since 1967; strengthening economic links by increased imports from the West Bank and by continued extension of development grants and loans to Palestinian firms in the West Bank; and providing government guarantees for private Jordanian loans to West Bank municipalities.

After 1977, when Egypt's President Anwar as Sadat initiated direct negotiations with Israel that led to a separate peace agreement (and Egypt's temporary ostracism from the Arab world), Hussein was unwilling to follow Sadat's lead without prior pan-Arab acquiescence. Hussein apparently believed that in the absence of broad Arab support to legitimize any political talks with Israel, his own rule in the East Bank could be threatened. Consequently, he refused to participate in the Camp David process and was skeptical of President Reagan's 1982 proposal for a West Bank "entity" in association with Jordan. Israel's rejection of the Reagan Plan provided Hussein the boon of not needing to respond to an initiative that the Palestinians claimed would deny them genuine self-determination. Two years later, when Shimon Peres became prime minister of Israel, in September 1984, he offered to negotiate directly with Jordan without the participation of the PLO. Hussein decided the state of pan-Arab politics precluded his consideration of a "Jordanian option" at that time. Instead, he called for an international peace conference that would include a joint JordanPLO delegation. Hussein perceived an international forum that brought together both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as the principal Arab states and Israel as a protective umbrella under which he could enter into negotiations with the Israelis.

Peres, whose Labor Party was willing to consider Israeli withdrawal from at least part of the West Bank, endorsed Hussein's idea of an international peace conference in an October 1985 speech before the United Nations. Subsequently, he initiated secret meetings with Hussein to discuss procedures for convening such a conference and ways to finesse the issue of PLO participation. Peres opposed the presence of the PLO at a possible conference, but did not object to non-PLO representatives of Palestinians attending. Hussein was not able to obtain firm Israeli commitments, however, because Peres's coalition partner, Likud Bloc leader Yitzhak Shamir, opposed the convening of an international conference and prevented the government from achieving consensus on the issue. After Shamir became prime minister in late 1986, Peres, as foreign minister, continued his diplomatic efforts on behalf of an international conference. Peres had at least one publicized meeting with Hussein in London, but he lacked support from his own government. Hussein, who believed that Peres was interested in substantive negotiations over the West Bank while Shamir was not, took the unprecedented step during the Israeli elections of 1988 of announcing that a Labor Party victory would be better for the peace process.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress