Palestine’s right: past as prologue

Prince Hassan of Jordan
11 February 2009

As the world watches the anguish in Gaza continue, I am moved to reflect on the tenth anniversary of the death of my beloved brother, King Hussein, and my family's historic involvement in all stages of the tragedy of Palestine. Prince Hassan is a senior member of the Jordanian royal family, and president of the Arab Thought Forum. His official website is here.

Also by Prince Hassan in openDemocracy:

"Annapolis: a view from Amman" (26 November 2007)

"The failure of force: an alternative option" (16 January 2009)

For the Hashemite family, history is not a series of unconnected events, but a chain of responsibility handed to us by our forebears. The indissoluble interaction of events on both sides of the River Jordan demands positive pressure to resolve what has become a sixty-year tragedy for the Palestinian people. 

Today the Palestinian people exist in a state of limbo. They enjoy neither statehood nor the status of a protected community. Instead of the reciprocity of two states enjoying equal sovereignty as originally envisaged by the United Nations partition plan of 1947, one of these states (Israel) predicates the establishment of the other (Palestine) on its own security, and claims the right to determine whom among the Palestinians it accepts as a valid interlocutor and partner. 

This asymmetrical position has unfortunately come to define the approach of those powers, great and small, which have substituted themselves for the United Nations as the ultimate source of legitimacy. By dividing the Palestinians into two categories, "moderates" and "extremists", they have effectively endorsed Israel's position, thus denying the Palestinian people's right to choose their representatives.

Neither the partition plan, nor subsequent United Nations resolutions envisaged or provided for the possibility that Palestine would, for sixty years, become a "temporary" state. The issues of sovereignty in the territories administered in trust by Jordan and later sequestered by Israel remain unresolved. The stark difference in administrations being the Israeli interpretation of the laws of occupation which today has reduced the Palestinian people to the status of unprotected aliens.

The "land for peace" formula extrapolated from UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for settling the Palestinian and Arab conflicts with Israel was ambiguously phrased. And, in the absence of a comprehensive solution, the rights of untold numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons have never been addressed. Statelessness is growing, and with it the bitterness it engenders. Among openDemocracy's articles on Jordan:

Nermeen Murad Garlick, "Jordan: how the monarchy manages change" (19 May 2002)

Gil Loescher & Arthur C Helton, "Jordan: coping with a war next door" (1 April 2003)

Paul Hilder, "The Amman roundtable, or people matter" (2 June 2004)

James Howarth, "Jordan's 9/11" (10 November 2005)

Paul Rogers, "Jordan catches Iraq's fire" (10 November 2005)

James Howarth, "The fallout from Amman" (16 November 2005)

Deena Dajani, "Jordan: directing democracy" (13 March 2008)

In 1974, King Hussein acquiesced to the Arab League's demand at its conference in Rabat to declare the Palestine Liberation Organisation "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", empowering the PLO politically. However, Jordan, as a legal sovereign entity, could only cede territory to another sovereign entity. In a twist of history, the PLO's status as sole representative is now being questioned by the Palestinian people themselves.

A regional structure

The middle east is witnessing the development of transitional self-governing institutions. But as the conflict takes its ghastly toll and impedes progress, a temporary international stabilisation agency is needed to ensure a peaceful and normal life for all the inhabitants of Palestine and Israel and to protect all riparians from each other (see "The failure of force: an alternative option", 16 January 2009).

My great-grandfather, Sharif Hussein's vision was of a United States of Arabia, in which the historical and cultural particularities of all its regions and peoples would be recognised and respected. Arab renaissance to him meant a covenant with the poor and the marginalised in realising all their inalienable rights. Intra-independence and mutuality still offer the best hope of bringing peace, justice, and prosperity to our sorely disrupted and turbulent lands.

King Hussein referred to the peace treaty with Israel, signed in October 1994, as a building-block in the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbours. The treaty was conceived as a cornerstone on which a regional structure of constituent states, including Palestine, could be built. Within that structure there will be a place for all the peoples of the region on the basis of political reciprocity, respect for cultural diversity, and facilitating the development of supranational structures such as a regional community for water and energy, premised on its contribution to the human environment and dedicated to the preservation of human dignity

Jordan cannot and will not interfere with the wishes of the Palestinian people, but it will support their right to self-determination. A comprehensive search for peace is everyone's business. Israelis, Palestinians and all Arabs must recognise that they are part of the problem, and not simply spectators.

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