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'Things are getting worse': Trump plan met with disgust across Jordan

Jordanians take part in a protest in Amman in protest at Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
Jordanians take part in a protest in Amman in protest at Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Media

“Can you believe it?” asked Layla Abu Kishk, beneath a woven portrait of pre-partition Palestine in her living room. She leafed through yellow, frayed papers showing her family’s deed to land in Jaffa, the coastal city she fled 72 years ago but still insists is home. “After everything we’ve been through, he just wants to take it away.”

Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan this week was met with disgust inside the Jordanian camps where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians continue to reside, safekeeping property papers and nurturing old traditions until they can return.

The proposal, which granted Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, has received tepid backing from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, where the prominence of the Palestinian issue has given way to strategic concerns they share with the Jewish state, especially over Iran.

Donald Trump has unveiled his much-touted Middle East peace plan, tweeting a map showing his vision for an even further depleted Palestinian state than that envisioned by the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.

The key points of the proposed plan are:

  • Establish Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, with a potential Palestinian capital to the east and north of the city.
  • Recognise the vast majority of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as part of the country. A Palestinian state would receive territory, mostly desert, near Gaza to compensate for the loss of about 30% of the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank would be linked by high speed rail.
  • Recognise the Jordan valley, which makes up about a third of the occupied West Bank, as part of Israel.
  • Offer a path to some form of Palestinian statehood but with no army, and overarching Israeli security control in some areas, including over the sea. The plan also sets a series of conditions the Palestinians have to meet before receiving independence including the “complete dismantling of Hamas”, which governs Gaza.
  • The possibility of stripping Israeli citizenship from tens of thousands of Arab Israelis who live in 10 border towns, with those towns and their residents being included into any future state of Palestine.
  • Recognise sections of the desert bordering Egypt as part of any future Palestinian state.
  • Refuse Palestinian refugees the “right of return” to homes lost to Israel in previous conflicts.

But for many in Jordan, whose destiny is uniquely tied to the Palestinians, the end of the two-state solution is considered an existential threat.

“Our position [on the Trump plan] is well-known,” King Abdullah II, the country’s ruler, said in brief remarks before the deal was announced. “No. It is obvious to everyone.”

Palestinian flags are a frequent sight across the Jordanian capital, Amman, where many residents still introduce themselves as hailing from cities and villages across the border that they have never seen.

“Even now, I teach my five-year-old son to chant Palestinian slogans once a week, so he knows he has a country, that it’s out there and he’ll go back,” said Salah Abu Atwea, 31, a lifelong resident of the Baqa’a camp set up for refugees from the 1967 six-day war.

Conflict between Israel and Arab states over the past 70 years has tipped hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Jordan, where they are now thought to make up more the half the population. The majority of Palestinians have been granted Jordanian citizenship and integrated into the kingdom, but tensions still occasionally simmer between native “east bankers” and those who came from west of the Jordan River.

New waves of refugees from Iraq, Syria and parts of Africa have also arrived in recent years. This, coupled with a stagnant economy, is cultivating a sense of demographic insecurity among some Jordanians.

“Nobody is seriously thinking of sending Palestinians back, but we want to prevent more from coming to Jordan,” said Hassan Barari, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Jordan.

The country’s leadership is haunted by the “Jordanian option”, an idea popular on the Israeli right that proposes fusing Jordan and Palestine into a single state. Some in the country mutter that it has been the long-term goal of settlement-building and other Israeli policies that damaged, perhaps fatally, the prospects of the two-state solution.

“They fear it is a soft, gradual transfer of Palestinians to Jordan – by making Palestinian lives unbearable, so those people will come to Jordan and outnumber the native Jordanians,” Barari said.

The Trump plan, along with recent proposals by Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger for the Israeli prime ministership, Benny Gantz, to annex most of the West Bank, are ringing alarm bells in Jordan, according to Curtis Ryan, who studies the country’s politics at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

“The Jordanian state still sees the two-state model as the only viable alternative to more draconian policies that might not only disenfranchise Palestinians further, but also threaten Jordan’s independent existence,” he said.

Resentment over Israel’s abandonment of the two-state solution is heaping pressure on Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with its neighbour. Abdullah said in an interview in December that he considered the two countries’ relationship to be at an all-time low.

Seven in 10 Jordanians now want to limit ties with Israel, according to a survey last year, and a commercial agreement to begin importing Israeli gas to the country this month drew protests and a rare, unanimous rebuke from the country’s parliament, ordinarily regarded as a rubber-stamp body.

In one of the low-slung concrete homes of the Baqa’a refugee camp, Layla Abu Kishk channelled her grief and anger into a rendition of the song she said her family sang as they left Jaffa in 1948. “My kids and their kids have all memorised it,” she said.

Her grandson, Rached, 17, listened impassively to the mournful tune. The Trump proposal made him “mad and sad”, he sad. “I don’t feel we will get to go back. Things are getting worse.”

But he admitted: “I only see Palestine on the news. It’s a part of me, but I’ve been here all my life.”

He occasionally Googles images of Palestine, “just to see how it looks”, he said. But his more immediate goal is to qualify for a place at a European university to study medicine.

“Then I’ll come back here and develop my country,” Rached said, clarifying: “Jordan.”

Additional reporting by Asmahan Bkerat

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