- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

Long before the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994, Israel’s late warrior-statesman Moshe Dayan used to say the following: Although Israel did not have a peace treaty with Jordan, peace with it was a great deal warmer than with Egypt — with which Israel did have a treaty. This was a reflection of a long list of historical, geographical and political factors — including the threat that both Israel and Jordan faced from common enemies in the Arab world.

Some historians have speculated that the founders of Israel and Jordan (or as it was then called, Transjordan) — David Ben-Gurion and the Hashemite Emir (later king) Abdullah, the great-grandfather of Jordan’s present sovereign—hadprobably reached an unwritten understandingtograntthe Hashemites a foothold in those parts of Palestine later called the “West Bank.” Whether there actually had been an understanding, before or after the fact, it is now difficult to prove one way or another. But whether by agreement or not, those areas did come under the de facto military occupation of Jordan for 19 years — until the latter was driven out by Israel after it injudiciously joined in the unprovoked Egyptian-Syrian aggression against the Jewish state in 1967.

But all that is history — and since then relations between the two neighbors have definitely been on the up and up.

It was, therefore, doubly perplexing and disappointing to Jordan’s friends in Israel and United States to see it taking the lead in the present campaign against Israel’s security fence — both at the United Nations and the planned hearing of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague. Though gratitude is not usually the most common commodity in international relations, Jordan’s stance on the fence also attests to a strange memory lapse on its part; after all, it had been Israel who had made a major effort to help Jordan mend its fences with Washington after siding with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, and it had been Israel who more than once intervened in Washington to help alleviate Jordan’s precarious financial situation. Even the water Jordanians get in their tapswouldprobablybe scarcer were it not for Israel.

But moral considerations aside, more importantly, Amman’s position also looks like a diplomatic and political blunder of the first order — potentially damaging to its own vital strategic interest in the long run.

The arguments used by Jordan’s usually fair and well-informedforeignminister against the security fence are totally groundless. (And why does he call it a “wall” when it isn’t — as he could see for himself by making a long overdue visit to Israel?) He mentioned international law. But objectively speaking, there isn’t a single paragraph under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, that would make Israel’s fence illegal.

The objections to it are purely political — something the court in the Hague should certainly not be concerned with. The Jordanian spokesmen were obviously aware of this. Therefore the main thrust of their contention was that the fence “would kill every opportunity for a viable Palestinian state,” and that hence it wasposing”adirect threat…to Jordanian national security as it might revive the transfer option” (i.e., of Palestinians to Jordan). However, no rational explanation was given why a fence, whose sole purpose is preventing suicide bombers from killing Jewish and Arab civilians, should cause a sudden mass exodus of Palestinians. Not only does the fence, to the chagrin of more than a few right-wing Israelis, follow in most instances the former Green Line — with some minor deviations required by day-to-day security needs — but Israel has also made it abundantly clear that it does not regard the fence as the final political border with a future Palestinian state.

The reason why the Palestinians, led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, oppose the fence is precisely because they want to keep the option of continued terror — as the suicide bombing in Jerusalem 11 days ago proved once again. (The attack, in which 11 innocent civilians died, was a “joint venture” of Hamas and an offshoot of Mr. Arafat’s own Fatah movement.)

But why should Jordan, which has consistently opposed terror, object?

That the automatic anti-Israel majority at the U.N. General Assembly voted to refer the fence to the ICJ shouldn’t have surprised anyone. More surprising is the fact that the court itself didn’t decide that the referral of the matter of the fence was actually ultra vires, in other words, beyond its own authority to deal with. As a senior American legal authority, Professor Ruth Wedgwood of Johns Hopkins University, has pointed out, the General Assembly may never make recommendations on matters of international peace and security while the Security Council is “seized of the same matter” — as it obviously is — not least because of its adoption of the road map for peace in the Middle East.

This evidently didn’t interest those who voted with the Arab contingent at the United Nations, totally ignoring the criminal actions of those who made the fence a necessity. Or as former White House counsel David Rivkin and jurist Darin Bartram wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Fundamentally, arguing that a state that is facing daily threats from suicide bombers cannot legally erect even passive defenses, suggests that the critics’ real problem is Israel’s existence.”

Given that two-thirds of its population consists of Palestinians, the Jordanian government’s stance on the fence was probably dictated by internal politics for the most part. Amman seeks to present itself, somewhat unconvincingly, as the protector of the Palestinians. However, further consideration should have made responsible Jordanians realize that they had made a major diplomatic and strategic blunder.

Though for understandable reasons, Jordanian officials won’t admit it, Israel’s security fence in the Jordan Valley might serve Jordan’s own interests even more than those of Israel — for what else would protect the Hashemite Kingdom from the irredentist tendencies of a future Palestinian state to unite with its Palestinian brethren on the eastern side of the Jordan River, just a few miles away?

Mistakes can still be corrected — and the sooner the Jordanian policy-makers recognize their misstep, the better it is for the mutually beneficial Israeli-Jordanian relationship — and no less so for stability in the Middle East.

Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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