- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Few statesmen find themselves in a political situation more difficult than that of Jordan’s King Abdullah, who meets President Bush at the White House today. To the north, the Hashemite kingdom faces Syria, which it previously accused of supporting Hamas terrorist operations in Jordan. To the east, there is Iraq; Jordan hosts upwards of 700,000 refugees displaced by the fighting. To the south, there is Saudi Arabia, which like Jordan is a longtime Arab monarchy that has become a target of al Qaeda in recent years. Ironically, the most stable geopolitical situation in the neighborhood lies west of the Jordan River, where Israel retains security control. And looming over everything is the danger posed by the possibility that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons.

One topic King Abdullah and Mr. Bush will discuss today will be the extent to which Israel can safely relinquish that control in the West Bank to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who visits Mr. Bush tomorrow. Israel has been trying to do this for close to five years, only to pull back time and again because Palestinian security forces failed to do the job. The problem flared into the open last month when American officers responsible for monitoring Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the road map peace plan went public with complaints that Palestinian security forces do not try to eradicate the armed wings of terrorist organizations like Hamas.

In an effort to remedy the situation, upward of 600 Palestinians have reportedly been training under U.S. supervision in Jordan to join an “elite” Palestinian security unit. Israel, as part of a series of “goodwill gestures” announced during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the region last month, agreed to permit the PA to reopen 20 police stations in part of the West Bank. Then, on Saturday, Hamas — the very organization that drove Mr. Abbas’s Fatah organization out of Gaza in June — staged a massive attack on Israeli troops guarding the Keren Shalom border crossing, where food, medical supplies and other forms of humanitarian aid are transferred from Israel to Gaza. Hamas used armored personnel carriers, acquired with Israeli permission by the Palestinian Authority during the 1990s, in carrying out the attack.

Then, yesterday, the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat quoted unnamed diplomats as suggesting that King Abdullah would ask Mr. Bush to defer or cancel his trip to Israel next month if Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail. Jordanian officials in Washington say the newspaper report is wrong. We’re inclined to give Amman the benefit of the doubt — in large part because the Hashemite regime and the Palestinians have had an uneasy and occasionally violent relationship for close to 60 years. The last thing Amman needs is an unstable, violent regime on the West Bank. Or, as Mahmoud al-Zahhar, a senior Hamas official, said in November: “…[If] Israel quits the West Bank, Hamas will take it over. And we say this is true.”

That’s worth keeping in mind in analyzing the future security situation in the West Bank.

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