Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Jordan Becoming Palestine?

Jordan flag[/caption]
Jordan is facing imminent changes. For the past two years, King Abdullah of Jordan has been struggling to keep his throne. With the Arab Spring sweeping over Middle-Eastern regimes, many Jordanians are questioning the integrity and validity of King Abdullah’s rule.

Jordan’s Origins

The control over Jordan (Transjordan) was given to Emir Abdullah, a Bedouin ally to the British during WWI (at a “tea party” with Winston Churchill in 1918), in order to prevent his forces from attacking the French army that captured Damascus from his brother.

image: flickr, patrikneckman, cc by sa

He became King Abdullah I, grandfather of Hussein, King Abdullah’s father. Originally from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he held the position of deputy for Mecca in the Turkish parliament, he was not a native to the Transjordan. He built his tribal army into what was known as the Arab Legion (using massive British training and support), which he used to impose his rule on the local Palestinian population (they were named Palestinian by the British so as not to alienate them during WWI as a result of the British Balfour Declaration, which recognized the Zionist movement’s claims to the land).

Winds of Change

The local population never accepted him or his siblings as legitimate rulers. Using the Bedouin army, they continuously oppressed the Palestinians. In 1970, during Black September, the Palestinians were on the verge of overthrowing King Hussein, who was saved by the skin of his teeth by the Israeli air force, pushed to action by an anxious President Nixon.

King Abdullah II does not have the political whit or charisma of his father, and did not maintain good relations with external parties or with the local Bedouins. Becoming more vocal over the past few months, the Jordanian people are blaming his family for corruption, similar claims to those made against toppled dictators Mubarak and Gaddafi.

Recently, the Shura Council of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood decided to bring the constitutional disputes with the king to a head. King Abdullah II has no acceptable options, and he will have to abdicate, whether peacefully (like Tunisia’s Bin Ali) or by war (Assad). With or without Obama’s support, the days of the Hashemite lineage rule in Jordan are numbered.

With the fall of the minority Bedouin rule over Jordan and the election of a Palestinian government, major changes will affect the Middle East. But the magnitude of the change cannot be comprehended without understanding the role of the Israeli Arabs.

King Abdullah II. image: flickr, World Economic Forum, cc by sa

The Original Palestinians Taking a Surprising Step

In complete contrast to what the media reports, Israeli Arabs are well integrated into Israeli society. Having MPs, Supreme Court judges and former ministers from their communities, Israeli Arabs are the first instance of complete and organic Arab communities that have undergone Western cultural changes without losing their Arab or Muslim identities, or pride. Unlike Arab communities in other Western countries, Israeli Arabs have retained their heritage, language and religion, all being recognized by the Israeli government (e.g. Arabic is a formal language in Israel) and the vast majority of the Israeli public.

The Israeli Arabs have effectively assimilated in the Israeli job market during the last ten years. For example, they comprise approximately 20% of the medical positions, and a quarter of Israeli pharmacists (in Superpharm, the largest pharmaceutical retailer in Israel, 57% of the pharmacists are Arab). They are financially successful, and on average own more cars than Jewish Israelis. The picture is not perfect of course; there is a great deal of friction between Jews and Arabs (e.g. culture, economic, religion), but these are akin to difficulties and tensions between different communities in other countries, and are far less severe than those between the Christians and Muslims in Europe.

The Israeli Arabs were the first to be referred to as Palestinians, and the PLO, Hamas and other similar groups and their auxiliary NGOs have claimed that there will not be peace until the Israeli Arabs are given their own separate state – Palestine. This is ironic, because the majority of Israeli Arabs today are not willing to identify themselves as Palestinians, and do not wish to live in an Arab country. Furthermore, even though most of them are Muslim, those who are not orthodox are not interested in replacing the current legal system with Sharia. In a drastically different approach than other Western countries, the Israeli justice system operates Sharia courts (which plaintiffs elect by choice) that are subordinate to the Israeli Supreme Court. Thus, Israel enables the Muslim community to live by their own rules and beliefs, as long as they do not clash with Israel’s basic laws.

The Arab Spring was a wakeup call and a turning point, as Israeli Arabs were confronted with the substantial differences between life in Arab countries and their life in Israel. With the disintegration of Arab nationality and the rise of specific ethnic and religious factions, together with their continuous assimilation, Israeli Arabs are choosing to join rather than resist.

Material Consequences, Dramatic Effect

With the rise of the Palestinian state in Jordan, the foundations of the Middle East are quavering. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict used to be the scapegoat and the strongest binding force at the Arab dictators’ disposal to continue the oppression of their people. With the fairly abrupt and undeniable upcoming resolution of this conflict, Arab leaders will have to look elsewhere for excuses, far from being a simple task. They will no longer be able to blame Israel for all hardships, as Israeli-Palestinian issues will become regular inter-country conflicts that the Middle East is riddled with.

However, others will face dire straits as well. There are numerous NGOs, newspapers (including Israeli ones) and UN organizations that partially or completely owe their existence to the Palestinian problem. With its resolution, they will need to frantically look for other missions, or lose their funding.

With Middle East politics being rewritten and borders redrawn, the Arab countries are bound to have different relations and conduct with Israel. Pulled out of Middle-Eastern isolation, Israel is likely to take a considerable part in the region’s future. What will it be?
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