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Confederation with Jordan Idea is Revived then Reburied for Now

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The concept of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in the administered territories, an idea that was revived last week by some Israeli and Palestinian leaders, has started to fade as a proposed way of advancing the Middle East peace talks at this time.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had publicly floated the idea, suggesting that discussion of the final status of the territories now could break the deadlock over the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which are focused on setting up a transitional period of Palestinian self-rule in the territories.

Some key members of the Palestinian delegation, such as Saeb Erekat, appeared to embrace the idea initially. But now it has become apparent that officials in the political arena do not believe the time is ripe to study new proposals.

The notion of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is not new at all. The proposal has emerged periodically, typically when other channels of negotiation seem exhausted.

In 1985, Jordan’s King Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat signed an agreement related to the confederation idea.

Article 2 of the agreement stated that any possible confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians would take place only after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Yasir Abed Rabbo, head of the PLO information department and a member of its executive committee, also made some favorable comments this week regarding the confederation option.

He said the Palestinians were willing “to consider the option” although he said there had been no discussions with Jordan on the subject. The statement came on the eve of a meeting of PLO leaders in Tunis to re-evaluate the state of the Middle East peace talks.

RABIN IS AGAINST THE IDEA

But the other parties to the deal have raised objections. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he does not like the idea, and his Jordanian counterpart, Abdul Salam al-Majali, emphasized last weekend that confederation would be discussed only after a peace pact is reached first.

There were news reports last week that PLO and Jordanian officials had formed a joint political committee to discuss confederation, but the significance of the committee was played down and the contacts described as just “coordination.”

Ironically, the Palestinians and Jordanians have largely reversed their positions on the issue.

When the matter was discussed in 1985, the PLO insisted that a confederation take place only after an independent Palestinian state is established. The PLO feared at the time that King Hussein would take advantage of the confederation to retake control of the West Bank, which was under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.

Now the Jordanians are hesitant about the confederation taking place so quickly, for the opposite fear: that the Palestinians would take over Jordan by means of their demographic majority. Some 300,000 Palestinians immigrated to Jordan after the Persian Gulf War.

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