Dr. Muasher: calls for granting equal rights to Israelis and Palestinians as a solution to the issue
Translated by Matthew Petti
Marwan Muasher, who served as the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel and foreign minister in the early 2000s, has called for Jordan to stop working with Israel “diplomatically and flexibly,” and warned that Israel may expel Palestinians to Jordanian soil en masse.
“We are dealing with a religiously and ethnically extremist Israeli government…which is impossible to be flexible and adaptive to,” said Muasher, who now works as vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The old tools that Jordan used to deal with the Israeli government no longer work on this government.”
Muasher called for the official Arab and international position to shift the conversation from a two-state solution to one state with “equal political and civil rights for Palestinians and Israelis as the basis of any future solution.”
He brought up the danger of “transfer,” a phrase often used in Hebrew and English to refer to the mass expulsion of Palestinians.
“There is a real danger. Israel does not want a Palestinian state to stand in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and it does not want there to be a Palestinian majority in the lands it controls,” Muasher said. “It is clear that this government does not recognize the right of Palestinians to exist on their land. So there is only one solution left: transfer, which directly affects Jordanian national security. We are incredibly concerned with this issue, because it is not only a Palestinian-Israeli issue but also a Jordanian issue par excellence.”
Below are selected portions of the interview:
What is happening in Al-Aqsa these days is unprecedented. What is your read of the situation?
What is happening in the Aqsa Mosque today is difference from what has happened in the past. The difference is that we are dealing with an ethnically and religiously extreme Israeli government that violates the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque because it wants to seize the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, albeit gradually.
However, what is happening not is not even gradual, but accelerated. Because of that we have to realize that we are dealing with a government which is impossible to be flexible and adaptive to.
Does this mean that it is necessary to change the tools that Jordan uses to deal with this extremist government?
The old tools that Jordan used to deal with the Israeli government no longer work on this government. When extremism is the byword of the government, diplomatic tools do not work on it. This government does not give any weight to diplomatic tools. And if the government is extremist from two angles, ethnically extremist and religiously extremist? Never before in the history of Israel has there been such a government, in which some of its members openly believe that Palestinians have no right to exist, and define the Land of Israel as including Jordan and Palestine.
Why did the Dead Sea and Sharm el-Sheikh conferences fail to impose calm during Ramadan?
Israel did not give any weight to these meetings from the beginning. The minister Ben Gvir explained hours after these meetings that “what happens in Aqaba stays in Aqaba,” and that they have nothing to do with him.
Secondly, the Palestinian Authority has greatly lost its credibility, and has no authority over the younger Palestinian generation. This generation is carrying out a Third Intifada (uprising) in the occupied Palestinian territories, but it differs from the first and second intifadas in that it is armed and leaderless.
The new Palestinian generation has lost all hope in its leadership, in the international community, and in the possibility of ending the Israeli occupation. We are all responsible for the situation in Palestine, because we promised the Palestinian people an end to the occupation and establishment of a Palestinian state. This promise has not been realized since the Madrid Conference thirty years ago. Today the new Palestinian generation says, “I will take matters into my own hands, and I will not wait for either my leadership or the international community to end the occupation.”
What are the cards that Jordan holds in light of the general weakness that Arab states live with?
It is true that the Arab side in a position of weakness, and Jordan alone cannot confront everything that is happening. But we have cards, and I do not like to say that Jordan does not have cards. We can speak officially about the need to give Palestinians equal rights within the territories controlled by Israel.
What prevents the official Jordanian diplomatic discourse from including those words? What prevents stopping the gas and water agreements that put part of our vital sectors in Israel’s hands? I understand that cancelling the peace treaty is not possible in light of international conditions, but I do not understand maximizing cooperation with Israel.
We went with the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty for one main reason, which is defining Jordan’s borders, and giving Palestinians their independent state on their national territory, thus putting the issue of an “alternative homeland” [on Jordanian soil] to rest. It is clear that the “alternative homeland” was not put to rest.
Therefore, the Jordanian-Israeli treaty needs to be reviewed. The national task is for everyone to sit at the table — both pro-government and pro-opposition — to look at all the cards in our hands and take stock of our accounts. We are still acting within the Oslo Accords that ended thirty years ago, and it is clear that the Palestinian state is not in the process of being established. Hence there is a national need to review Jordan’s accounts.
But there are fears that this may affect Jordan’s relationship with America, and its so-called useful role.
I reject this characterization, that we call Jordan a “useful” state. I remember completely that when the Israelis tried to kill [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal [in Amman], His Majesty King Hussein threatened to cancel the peace treaties, not just issue a statement or expel the ambassador.
It is not true that we are a state that cannot take independent decisions, while the United States itself has problems with Israel today and rejects hosting Netanyahu. Additionally, there is not only a division among internal elements of Israeli society. There is also a division between Israel and the United States and the Jewish diaspora there. In light of all these developments, we can play cards, and we must not call ourselves a weak state that can only respond to U.S. pressure.
Jordan still adheres to the two-state solution as a just solution to the Palestinian issue, and you propose a one-state solution. Why?
The two-state solution, is it feasible? In my opinion, the two-state solution ended a long time ago, even before the arrival of this extremist right-wing government. With the arrival of this government, the situation is getting worse.
The two-state solution was built on the basis of separation on the ground between the two sides. Today, separation is not possible. There are 750,000 settlers in the West Bank, including 250,000 in East Jerusalem. There is no Israeli, international, or U.S. political will to resolve the conflict.
Dragging out the two-state solution without backing it up and planning to translate it into reality gives Israel more time to built settlements and bury this solution that we all support. Today, many say that the one-state solution is not possible in these circumstances. This is true, but my belief is that the approach should change from talking about the form of the solution to talking about equal political and civil rights for Palestinians and Israelis as the basis to any future solution, whether it is one-state or two-state.
This is an internationally accepted principle. Who will tell us that it is forbidden to talk about giving Palestinians equal rights? The issue of equal rights has become a major cause not in official international circles, but in Palestinian popular circles.
The international community chooses the easiest solution, talking about the two-state solution without any effort to translate it. This is only in Israel’s interests. In my opinion, we must end slogans that we know will not translate into reality. Let’s focus on rights. Where does that take us? Whether that is within one state or a two-state solution is not important.
But is one state accepted in Palestinian or Israeli circles?
The one-state solution is very much present among the younger Palestinian generation, not because they do not want a two-state solution, but because they believe that there is no choice. The two-state solution is no longer realistic. A number of scenarios have been proposed for a one-state solution, such as a binational state or a single federal state.
The Palestinian side also wants a solution that guarantees the survival of Palestinian national identity and guarantees that the settlements are not legalized. There are several problematic aspects to the one-state solution. We all have to pay attention to them. However, the problem is that we start from a one-state reality today. Not a solution but a racist reality. The question has become, how do we translate this racially discriminatory reality into a democratic reality?
Are there similarities between the one-state solution and what happened in South Africa during the end of Apartheid?
Without a doubt, but the similarities may not be total. However, there are numerous similarities. The most important is that Israel today, as I said, applies two separate legal regimes to Israeli citizens. That is the legal definition of an apartheid state.
There is great similarity between what happened in South Africa and what is happening today in Israel, which indicates that, after Palestinians become a clear majority in the lands that Israel controls, the world will not long accept an apartheid system. We as Arabs do not discuss these subjects, only approaches whose time has come to an end, the two-state solution.
Will matters worsen in Jerusalem and the West Bank and extend to the Palestinian lands in the Interior [Israel proper]?
Today, the synergy between Palestinians in the Interior and in the West Bank is at its peak, because Israel deals with Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship like Palestinians under occupation, with racist discrimination. There are laws in Israel that discriminate between Palestinians and Jews who hold citizenship, and there are laws that distinguish between Palestinians under occupation and settlers in the West Bank. This is the legal definition of an apartheid state. We saw what happened two years ago in Gaza when all the Palestinian components united. I believe that the coming days will witness more of this unification.
What is happening in Al-Aqsa? Is it a religious war?
A national-religious war. Zionism when it arose, and until today, has been an extremist nationalist idea, an idea rejected by many Jews in the world. But today religious extremism been added to ethnic extremism. So yes, today there are members of the Israeli government who want this religious extremism to prevail. They do not even recognize [other] Jewish components. Others are less religious, by their definition of religiosity.
Is there a danger to Jordan from this right-wing Israeli government?
I think yes, there is a real danger. Why? Israel does not want a Palestinian state to stand in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and it does not want there to be a Palestinian majority in the lands it controls. It is clear that this government does not recognize the right of Palestinians to exist on their land. So there is only one solution left: transfer, which directly affects Jordanian national security. We are incredibly concerned with this issue, because it is not only a Palestinian-Israeli issue but also a Jordanian issue par excellence.
Do you mean classic transfer as it happened in 1948?
We cannot say that it will not be repeated, especially after what happened in Ukraine and Syria. But even if it is not in its classic form, it can come in an administrative form, such as Israel withdrawing to the areas in the Jordan Valley and the settlements it wants to keep, and leaving Jordan to manage the densely-populated Palestinian cities. The transfer scenario can take more than one form.
How can Jordan face this danger?
Real Jordanian stability stems from maintaining a coherent internal front, clear pluralism in the field of freedom of opinion and party formation, Jordan’s transition to democratic life, and the people’s feeling that their voices are heard. That is what will make Jordan’s stability sustainable. Nothing foreign can protect stability. No American bases and nothing else will help our stability if we do not help ourselves through real political reform.
What is your read of the divisions within Israeli society and its effects on the Palestinian field?
Even as there are divisions between Jews today, Palestinians are not part of the equation. The protests do not include the Palestinians of the Interior. They are one Jewish component against another Jewish component. But they are serious divisions, perhaps the most dangerous in the history of Israel.
Israel marketed itself to the world and to itself as a democratic state, with separation of powers and balance of powers, which does not allow one power to dominate the other. But today Israel is trying to weaken the judiciary through executive and legislative control of the judicial branch. This negates the basis any state has to call itself a democratic regime. Israel cannot say that it is a state with a democratic regime anymore. The United States cannot say that Israel is a democratic state anymore. However, as I said, this division does not include Palestinians yet. The Israeli protesters chanted the slogan of “democracy for everyone,” but this “everyone” for them is the Jewish “everyone” and not all citizens of Israel.
Have we, as Arabs, neglected to exploit this Israeli division for the benefit of the Palestinian cause?
I ask who in the Arab world or in Jordanian official circles talked about the division in Israel. There are no political or diplomatic positions they can build on, such as the issue of [equal Palestinian-Israeli] rights, which enjoys wide international acceptance.
Today, we do not take advantage of [the situation] at all, not Jordanians and not Arabs. We do not focus on it in any way. We have in the Arab world today, in official circles, a policy called “adaptability,” which means “adapt to someone who does not want you and does not believe in your existence.” We have a problem with that equation.