Jordan and the 'last chance conference
by Daily Star
Of all the countries in the region, Jordan has been the most enthusiastic and active in the course of the past two years in calling to exploit what could be considered "the last chance for peace in the region."
This position gained additional momentum following US President George W. Bush's speech last July in which he expressed his desire to host an "international meeting" for peace this autumn.
The Jordanian perspective, which supports the Bush initiative, is based on a number of considerations of which two are particularly important. First, solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its various aspects and establishing a viable Palestinian state is a goal in and of itself that will positively impact both Jordan's and the region's security and stability. And second, solving this conflict will contribute to enhancing the position of the Arab moderate camp and lessening the influence of extremist forces in the region - Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and radical fundamentalist movements - that are considered by decision-making institutions in Jordan as threats to both Jordanian national security and regional stability.
Like the Palestinian Authority and some Arab countries, Jordan believes that the conference should come up with a document that outlines a clear plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and sets out a series of steps necessary to establish a viable Palestinian state and ensure Israel's security.
But Jordan's great enthusiasm for the conference is accompanied by caution and wariness regarding the consequences of once again missing an opportunity for peace. Recently it was noticed that official Jordanian statements accompanying the faltering preliminary negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis tend to lower expectations and repeatedly warn of the risks arising from the failure of the Annapolis conference, which would affect the entire region and not only Palestinians and Israelis.
Some Jordanian newspapers have recently expressed surprise at the optimistic climate generated by certain Palestinian officials concerning Annapolis. They wonder whether the Palestinians are planning to present the Jordanian leadership with an "Oslo-2-like" surprise that could jeopardize Jordan's interests in final settlement negotiations. This has prompted some journalists and newspapers to talk about "coldness" in relations between Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, and the Jordanian leadership.
Jordanian political sources identify Jordan's basic interests in final settlement negotiations as the refugee issue, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and the future of economic cooperation. Jordan hosts 40 percent of all Palestinian refugees, who account for more than half its population. It is committed to guard religious and holy sites in East Jerusalem under the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. It is interested in the water issue due to its financial deficit, and in economic cooperation and financial assistance that would enable it to rehabilitate a large portion of Palestinian refugees. This is in addition of course to issues of common security in light of the dangers resulting from the growing role of fundamentalist forces and Islamic movements in Jordan, Palestine and the rest of the region.
Given all these considerations, there is a growing interest in Jordan in the preliminary negotiations now in progress between Palestinians and Israelis, accompanied by growing concern over their possible failure. There are also warnings of the consequences of ignoring Jordan's interests in the final settlement, accompanied by calls to engage Jordan in the negotiations at an early stage so that it can explain its position, present its demands and defend its interests.