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Israel, Jordan and Security Along the Eastern Line

JINSA Report #: 

May 20, 2011

Most of the aggravated commentary about President Obama's digression from the stirring winds of change in the Arab world into the details of Palestinian statehood have to do with the 1949 Armistice Line, or 1967 line - the western line of Palestine - and whether the President changed U.S. policy. Probably not as far as it goes. But missing is a discussion of the eastern line of Palestine - the Jordan River, according to Mr. Obama - and what it means to have the eastern border of Palestine on the western border of the Kingdom of Jordan.

The President no doubt did the Palestinians a favor by announcing that "Palestine" would have a border with Jordan. It implies no IDF, no restrictions on relations between the Palestinians and states to their east, including Iran, and no restrictions on imports including weapons. The President no doubt knew he was telling Israel its requirements for defensible borders would not be met. But did he know what he was telling King Abdullah, America's friend and ally, a moderate Arab leader and reformer in many ways? Did President Obama mean to tell King Abdullah that Jordan was about to lose its defensible border as well?

The confluence of interests between Israel, Jordan and the United States - including Jordan's fear of Iran and concerns about Syria - have facilitated a security umbrella from the western border of Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza). That allowed the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with Israel to increase economic stability and rule of law in the West Bank. Jordan has worked to improve its economy with the assistance of a water agreement with Israel, Israeli agricultural technology in the Jordan River Valley and the Israeli-financed Qualified Economic Zones that account for several percentage points of Jordanian employment. King Abdullah supported the training of Iraqi police in Jordan and facilitated the training of Palestinian Security Forces. (We're not enamored of the idea, but it was agreed upon between Israel and Jordan and the U.S. Security Coordinator.)

Interestingly, Jordan hasn't figured in much of the "Arab Spring." There were some ethnic and tribal riots, but Jordan has had less upheaval than Egypt, Syria, Libya or Tunisia. This is, in part, because the Kingdom has an excellent security service and in part because Israel and Jordan cooperate to prevent the smuggling of weapons and people into the West Bank where the Palestinians could cause trouble for them both. Palestinian leadership does not accept the separation of the West Bank from the East Bank of the Jordan River and does not accept the legitimacy of Jordan. They fought a war to make it Palestine and they lost. King Hussein knew what he was doing in 1988 when he renounced Jordan's claim to the West Bank and ensured that he would not ever regain a million hostile Palestinians.

In the same way that President Obama's demand for a settlement freeze upset stable relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, his demand for a Palestinian-Jordanian border without the IDF threatens to upset stability along a much wider front.

Israel's need for defensible borders includes an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River Valley. Jordan's need for defensible borders includes the same.

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