Event Reports

Jordanian and Palestinian Political Analysts Dialogue

by Layan Ounis, Alexander Reiffenstuel

Taking Stock and Rethinking Future Relations

KAS-Jordan Office and KAS Palestine Office organized a dialogue seminar for young Jordanian and Palestinian political analysts. The participants discussed current developments in the Middle East conflict as well as the shift in regional power relations and how it affects them both domestically. The decision-making processes of both governments were also examined, as well as possible future energy and water cooperation. Finally, issues of identity in both Jordan and Palestine were explored.

In an effort to strengthen regional cooperation and dialogue among young political analysts, the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation (KAS) Jordan Office and KAS Palestine Office organized the "Jordan-Palestine Dialogue for Political Analysts" on March 11th-12th in Amman. The Jordanian and Palestinian participants were provided with a platform for discussion, exchange of experience, thus setting foundation for future bilateral and regional cooperation. 

Jordan and Palestine have always been closely linked - by history, culture, demographics and politics. While their context is, of course, very different, the two neighbors share common challenges, both on the domestic and international level. The Middle East conflict and the protracted occupation are daily realities for Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, but it also has repercussions in the Hashemite Kingdom. To shed light on these issues, the dialogue focused on discussing where both countries stand and how future collaboration could provide opportunities in the current geopolitical reshuffling in the Middle East and in light of international trends. Participants explored the role of civil society in public diplomacy and areas of bilateral cooperation, such as water, trade, or energy. Likewise, the event tackled questions concerning the decision-making processes, governance structures, leadership renewal, and youth political participation. Finally, participants explored and debated issues of identity in Jordan and Palestine. Throughout the seminar, participants challenged and overcame misconceptions and introduced critical political analysis and foresight for the region and future Jordanian-Palestinian relations. 

Session 1: The Middle East Conflict and the Regional and International Diplomatic Arena

The opening session focused on Jordanian-Palestinian relations within a changing regional and international diplomatic arena. Among others, the U.S. reducing its footprint in the Middle East and the growing Iranian influence and military involvement has reshaped regional priorities and alliances. The implementation of the Abraham Accords between the Gulf States and Israel signified that political and economic normalization is possible without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or preventing further annexation of the West Bank. Participants expressed fear that these developments indicate that Arab unity concerning the conflict has come to an end, potentially reducing it to a purely Palestinian one. 

While Jordan's stance towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always been firm, its gradual marginalization as the region's mediator and its increasing financial dependency on both the U.S. and Gulf states reduce its capabilities to use its diplomatic leverage. Some participants reasoned that reduced Arab unity and the shrinking international community's attention must result in increased Palestinian public diplomacy efforts. However, the lack of internal unity within Palestine concerning vision and goals, legitimate representation, agency, military, political and economic prowess reduces Palestinian capabilities to alter power dynamics. Some speakers emphasized that the Abraham Accords undermined any incentive to encourage Israel to engage in peace developments. In addition, participants criticized Palestine's lack of a representative entity or an international body to turn to. So the following questions remain: Who do Palestinians engage with?; if the 2-state solution, which Jordan has been advocating for, crumbles, which policy must be pursued? 

Session 2: The Middle East Conflict and Jerusalem

Jerusalem has always been a battleground for mobilizing protests in Palestine and Jordan, as witnessed in in the protests of May 2021 and the Gaza War. However, some participants perceived the May 2021 events as an indication of Jerusalem's reductionism on the international stage as regional and global actors shifted attention to Russia and China. Nevertheless, Jerusalem remains significant. For instance, the U.S. embassy's move to Jerusalem cemented its stance on Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. Not to mention that settler expansionism in East Jerusalem (as witnessed in Sheikh Jarrah) and the resulting settler violence emboldened by lax accountability prompted public protest. Participants accused Israel of deliberately triggering these protests, thereby making it difficult for Palestinians to reclaim their righteous space by peaceful means. One participant considered the constant detainment of youth activists and protestors as a 'modern weapon of war' made to instill a defeatist attitude in Palestinians and rob them of any prospects of hope. Some stated that recent events allowed Hamas to strengthen its standing in Jordan and improved its reputation among different parts of the pubilc. After all, Hamas is desperate to obtain international legitimacy and may use Jordan to help gain it. Regardless of this, the Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem is being challenged by both Hamas and Saudi Arabia.

On a similar note, the critical question posed by participants during the seminar was, what if new violence erupts in the upcoming Ramadan in 2022? Especially as international actors are focusing on the war in Ukraine, which has global implications, including on the Israel-Palestine conflict. With Ukrainian refugees being relocated to Israel, which could result in increased expansionist policies. Furthermore, participants argued that the war risks triggering new regional dynamics and alliances, given that it will further exacerbate the existing threat to food security, supply chain markets, and the inevitable global economic recession. Specifically, as national interests are prioritized at the cost of Arab unity in condemning Russia's invasion and countering regional economic impacts, the Palestinian cause risks being isolated while suffering from the global repercussions. Also Jordan is balancing national interests and its stance on Palestine with limited political weight and skyrocketing prices, jeopardizing its domestic stability. On the other hand, as the world is witnessing international condemnation of Russia violating international law, Palestinians should push for the recognition of their own state and the Israeli violations they are being subjected to, several participants argued.

Session 3: Economy, Energy, and Trade - New Opportunities

The third session witnessed a debate concerning the economic challenges both Jordan and Palestine are facing. Participants highlighted the limited integration into the global market and the high energy prices (especially in Palestine) with negative consequences on economic growth. Thereby, Palestinian participants pointed toward the trade restrictions and high energy prices in Palestine, which Israel determines. In addition, participants underscored the possibility of synthesizing the high-tech potential of Palestine's youth and the geographic virtue and high-level skill of Jordan as a high-tech competitor in the region. Furthermore, several participants voiced the possibility of increasing economic cooperation between Jordan and Palestine to enhance their integration into the global market. In particular, the technological potential of Palestinians and Jordanians was viewed as an opportunity to develop digital- and cryptocurrency capacities, provide alternative income sources, and increase the economic significance of Palestinians. Given the high energy prices in Palestine, Jordan was regarded as a prime location to enhance the capacities and act as a bridge between Palestine and the global market.  

Session 4: Democracy and Youth Participation

The second day of the event commenced with discussions about the ongoing decentralization efforts in Jordan and the experienced decrease of youth participation in politics. While Jordanian participants shared their perspective toward the recent political reform as seen in the constitutional amendments and municipal elections of March 2022, Palestinians articulated their growing dissatisfaction with party politics and the numerous restrictions. Participants on both sides shared their discontent with bureaucratic restrictions undermining youth involvement in party politics. Moreover, it was mentioned that Palestinian youth had been increasingly driven out of politics and discouraged from becoming involved with political institutions in Palestine due to harassment by Israeli security officials. Additionally, some participants stated their indifference towards joining the 'oppressive' political institutions within Palestine.

Throughout the session, Jordanian participants were surprised when hearing from Palestinian participants about the absence of criminal due process and the prosecution of activists, lawmakers, and more in military courts. According to some participants, this has resulted in Palestinians being arrested, detained, and trialed if discussing politics in groups of three or more. Lastly, it was agreed that recent developments in Palestine and Jordan undermined or did little in integrating the youth into politics in the long term. Thus, the challenge remains on how to organize youth movements and enhance their participation in political parties, civil society, or other relevant groups.

Session 5: Examining Identity Issues in Jordan and Palestine

Jordanians' and Palestinians' identities are intertwined. A controversial discussion emerged in how far this represents a collective entity covering people on both sides of the Jordan river especially since the question of identity between the two has always been extremely complex and entwined with geopolitics, history, and socio-cultural elements. Jordanians have always expressed solidarity and support towards the Palestinian plight. However, some participants felt that the Jordanian role in the Palestinian struggle remains ambiguous as Jordanians are reluctant to completely reduce their foreign policy to merely being "Pro-Palestine". One speaker recalled the events of Black September in 1970 when PLO forces aligned with Nasser and attempted to overthrow the Jordanian government. More recently, the term 'inclusive national identity' was introduced during the ongoing efforts to modernize Jordan's political system, seeking to pave the path for a parliamentary and partisan life, as seen in the Royal Committee, constitutional amendments, and political parties law. This term has sparked a debate that sheds light on the identity crisis Jordanians face. Several participating analysts expressed that some Jordanians feel threatened by the idea of Jordan being the 'alternative homeland'. This is asserted by certain policies, such as Jordan's controversial electoral law, which gerrymanders Palestinian and Islamic strongholds in parliamentary elections. Several participants agreed that there are inequalities in Palestinian employment in the public sector and Jordan's security apparatus, as Jordanian tribes fear power-sharing within Jordan's state entities. Some also highlighted that their connection to Jordan remains ambiguous with the Palestinian legal right of return. This has been abused by some Jordanian politicians who formerly questioned the loyalty of Jordanians of Palestinian origin. Unfortunately, with Jordan's economic and energy dependency, Jordan political leverage to argue for Palestinian statehood has been reduced. So the question remains, is Jordan capable of resolving its identity crisis if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not settled?

There are apparent identity crises between Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and the diaspora. As several participants recalled, the events of May 2021 served as a unifying factor and allowed Palestinians in Israel to reclaim their identity and narrative. However, their identity is still indirectly dependent on the cultural component that comprises this identity as a unifying element for statehood since neither an actual state nor borders exist to unify them, nor do Palestinians have a political entity to pledge to. Additionally, participants contended that the Palestinian identity crisis is accordingly exacerbated by Israel, as it attempts to erase Palestinian identity and replace it with an Arab one. Participants exemplified this through the gradual criminalization of identity landmarks (i.e., food, language, art, clothing, etc.) that unify the Palestinian identity. In conclusion, the general consensus among participants was that identity possesses a rich potential instead of being instrumentalized as a source of division. As such, it is imperative to establish a transboundary dialogue between Jordanians and Palestinians as well as internal dialogue in Jordan and Palestine.

Closing Remarks 

In conclusion, this dialogue provided an opportunity for young analysts to share experiences and ideas on Jordanian and Palestinian relations. Throughout the sessions, it became evident that despite its reduced significance on the international stage, Jerusalem remains a symbol for Arabs and of the Palestinian plight, liberation, and connection to statehood. As young Palestinians reclaim their narrative against a backdrop of the ongoing identity crisis, the absence of a legitimate national and international representative body undermines their efforts to self-determination. The historical and demographic ties between Palestinians and Jordanians place Jordan in a delicate position as it attempts to define its identity and navigate its national interests. While Jordan has been a historical mediator, recent geopolitical developments gradually relegated its position, challenging Jordan's historical balance between governmental priorities and public opinions.

To develop solutions to these challenges and provide long-term opportunities in the current geopolitical reshuffling in the Middle East, KAS will continue to provide platforms for transboundary dialogue to foster a network of policy analysts and develop recommendations for future economic cooperation, digitalization, and knowledge production to counter misconceptions.  

Contact

Layan Ounis

Layan Ounis

Project Assistant / Research Fellow

layan.ounis@kas.de +962 6 5929777 ext.: 218