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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Abbas says Kushner offered Palestinian-Jordanian confederacy

Palestinian leader says he would only accept if Israel became part of confederation. Amman says it rejects any discussion of idea of ending two-state solution

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meeting US White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in the West Bank city of Ramallah. AFP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meeting US White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in the West Bank city of Ramallah. AFP

US President Donald Trump’s most senior Middle East advisers proposed the formation of a confederacy between Palestine and Jordan in a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas as a possible solution to the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he revealed on Sunday.

In a meeting with several Israeli lawmakers and an Israeli NGO in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday, the Palestinian leader said Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt asked him what his views were towards a "confederation with Jordan", according to anti-settlement group Peace Now.

Mr Abbas said he told US officials that he would only accept being part of a confederacy if Israel was a member of it too, making it a tripartite arrangement. His comments are a removal from his traditional position of two states for the two peoples of the conflict.

The date of the conversation and the proposal was not given. It is an idea that has not been on the table since the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1993.

"I was asked if I believe in a federation with Jordan," Mr Abbas said of talks held with Mr Kushner and Mr Greenblatt, Peace Now reported.

"I answered: Yes, I want a confederation with Jordan and Israel. I have asked the Israelis if they would agree to such an offer," the statement quoted Mr Abbas as telling those present at Sunday's meeting.

An adviser to the 83-year-old leader of the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority confirmed the meeting to The National but declined to comment on its contents.

The revelation is significant as details about the Trump government's much-speculated peace plan, which is being worked on behind the scenes, have been few and far between. Mr Greenblatt told The National in a statement that Washington would not be drawn on what has or has not been proposed to the Palestinians.

‎"Over the past 19 months we have probed all relevant parties about many ideas and possibilities. The plan, when released, will reflect ideas that we think are realistic, fair and implementable that will enhance the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people," he said. "We will not discuss any specific ideas or private conversations that may or may not have been had with leaders in the region."

Jordanian officials shot down the proposal late Sunday, saying a confederation with Palestinians “is not open for discussion”.

In a statement to local news media, Minister of Media and government spokesperson Jumana Ghunaimat highlighted the Jordanian king's frequent remarks stressing that “there is no alternative to the two-state solution”, and that “the proposal of a confederation is not open for discussion”.

“The Jordanian position on the Palestinian cause is firm and clear: it is based on a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state on 1968 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Ms Ghunaimat said.

The proposal also represents the first time that the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederacy has been talked about publicly by the Palestinian leader. His condition that Israel be party to any confederation arrangement effectively closes the door on the idea, since Israel is unlikely to accept. A confederacy is the idea that states can join together but retain their own sovereignty.

Jordan has a large Palestinian population, many of them refugees. Israel’s far-right settler community has long advocated against the establishment of a Palestinian state and denies the Palestinians’ right of return to their homeland.

In public and in private Jordanian officials have recently stressed that Amman continues to support a “two-state solution” with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, indicating that despite reliance of over $1 billion in annual US aid, pressure from the Trump government has not changed Amman’s long-standing position.

Mr Abbas’s comments on the US-proposed confederation struck a raw nerve in Jordan at a time both Palestinians and Jordanians have expressed concern that the kingdom, and the Palestinian cause, is under threat.

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The concept of a “confederation” between a Palestinian entity and Jordan has been rumoured and discussed in private by politicians, tribal leaders from both sides and officials – yet always as a rumour propagated by Israel.

The idea itself is often rejected out of hand by both sides in Jordanian society. Jordanians of Palestinian origin fear the union would lead to an end to their refugee status and of any hope of a return to their national homeland, while Jordanian tribes fear the demographic change in such a confederation would make the original inhabitants of Jordan a minority.

King Abdullah II has frequently shot down rumours of a potential confederation or “alternative homeland” for Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

Mr Abbas said he was against the coming peace plan to be presented to the Palestinians by the Trump government. He also condemned Washington's decision to cut all aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Friday. He maintained that he wants a solution for Palestinian refugees exiled around the 1948 formation of Israel, not to harm Israel, but to live side by side with it.

“Seventy per cent of Gaza residents are refugees. Most of them live off UNRWA’s assistance,” Mr Abbas reportedly told his Israeli guests. “Then President Trump says to cancel UNRWA and give humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. How is it possible that one on the one hand you cancel UNRWA and on the other hand help Palestinian residents?”

Germany said it would significantly increase its funding for the UN agency after the cuts. “The loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Relations between Washington and Ramallah had already deteriorated significantly before the UNRWA cuts after Mr Trump relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May. The decision effectively recognised the contested city as Israel’s capital, although most of the international community believes the city’s status should be decided through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Trump said earlier this month that the Palestinians would get “something very good” after his Jerusalem move, a statement shrugged off by Palestinian officials.

They have cut all direct dialogue with their American counterparts, accusing the Trump government of failing to be an impartial broker in the conflict and carrying out policies that are blatantly in favour of Israel and damage any hopes of a future Palestinian state.

Mr Trump has failed to condemn continued settlement building by the Israeli government, viewed internationally as one of the most right-wing in Israeli history. Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law by the majority of the international community.

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