Why Jordan’s identity can’t be bought

Protesters march with signs showing the Dome of the Rock and reading in Arabic, left to right, “Jerusalem is not for sale” and “Do not give up rights” in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Friday. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty Images)
The deal of the century promises billions of dollars — and a future of regional instability.

By Sean Yom and Katrina Sammour | The Washington Post | Jun 24, 2019

So long as the alternative homeland scenario [relocating Palestinians to Jordan] is a potential outcome of what happens Tuesday, the kingdom could face an existential crisis of national identity. Thus, the deal of the century may ultimately wreck two states — the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

Pressured by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration, Jordan is attending Tuesday’s U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Bahrain. It does so with gritted teeth, because this may herald an existential crisis that will upend its stability in the coming years. Despite neither Israel nor the Palestinians sending official delegations, the multilateral summit is the economic kickoff to the “deal of the century.” It will promise tens of billions of dollars to the Palestinian territories and Arab neighbors, including Jordan, as incentive to accept a plan that will foreclose Palestinian statehood. Suffering a financial tailspin, Jordan would normally jump for more foreign aid, with foreign debt almost matching all economic output, and unemployment at nearly 20 percent.

The problem, however, is one of national identity, or lack thereof — and more aid cannot buy Jordan one. Jordanians fear that the deal of the century means making their kingdom an “alternative homeland” for Palestinians, who will enter through mass resettlement or a confederation with whatever part of the West Bank that Israel does not want. This Jordan-is-Palestine proposal originated among the American and Israeli right wing in the 1980s with a simplistic logic: If Israel does not want the Palestinians, give them to Jordan. This is also the nightmare uniting Jordanians in collective resistance. The question of “who is Jordanian” has always been difficult to answer, given the kingdom’s short history, societal diversity and openness to refugees. But while Jordanians may not agree on what Jordan is, they know what it is not — Palestinian territories.

Because of influxes of Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars, the majority of Jordanians today are of Palestinian origin. They nevertheless recognize the alternative homeland scenario means destroying the right of return, as well as conceding the dream of Palestinian statehood. Tribal Jordanians from East Bank backgrounds, the historical support base of the ruling monarchy, fear this will reduce them to a demographic sliver while aggravating the communal tensions left by the 1970 civil war, still a taboo topic. The Hashemite monarchy adamantly rejects this option, because it will trigger unrest, hammer the economy and end its symbolic custodianship over the Jerusalem holy sites. For a kingdom that is no stranger to protests, such astounding consensus validates what many political scientists know: Identity is not material, meaning the ideas and norms that construct a national self-conception take a long time to evolve. They cannot simply be imposed or bought.

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