According to Palestinian-Jordanian Mudar Zahran, Jordan is both the problem and the solution.
Time and again the “Peace Process” falls apart despite all efforts to revive it • For Mudar Zahran – activist, researcher and political exile – this isn’t surprising in the least • A unique perspective on the Jordanian monarchy, relations with Israel and the balance of power in the region
Mudar, please tell us about your life story: your family, your background, how it is you wound up seeking asylum in the UK and what it is you do these days.
I’m a Palestinian Arab, both my parents are refugees from Jerusalem, and I am first and foremost a Jordanian. I grew up in a family of stature, with a much better lifestyle than most Palestinians. The family is very well-established politically, and was very wealthy until recently, to the point where the most affluent neighborhood in Amman is named after it: “Zahran Neighborhood.” That is where all the embassies and the royal palaces are located.
That being the case, after a lengthy education in the US, I returned to my country to assume [control of] the family business and ended up as a senior strategist at the US Embassy in Amman, up until 2010. I was very active in seeking political and civil rights for Jordanians in general and for the 88% [of Jordan’s population] of the so-called Palestinians in Jordan. This has put me at loggerheads with the regime. They have tried all possible means to either attract me or scare me away, and both did not work. Eventually, when I realized my life was actually in danger, I had to flee to the UK, where I was granted political asylum.
My assistance has not stopped, and currently several respectable media outlets have described me as the leader of the Palestinians in Jordan. While some might argue against that, I claim there is enough substantial evidence to prove that I am actually able to influence the public opinion and movements of my people in Jordan. That’s why the King of Jordan recently sentenced me to life in prison in a military court.
Recently, you’ve written a number of articles on Islamic radicalism, the charges of “Islamophobia,” the effects of political correctness and even gender apartheid in the UK. Could you elaborate upon these issues?
The last few years, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, have separated the world into two different camps. The first camp is that of Islamism and its sympathizers, and the second is that of those who would stand against it. The second camp is not only comprised of people, but also of full-fledged governments.
Few people realize that today, Saudi Arabia is one of the main global fighters against Islamist regimes, Islamist governments and the Muslim Brotherhood. You might have issues with Saudi laws, but Saudi Arabia is against an Islamist regime in any Arab or other country. So, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Western governments that are against Islamism are in one camp, while the other camp includes Qatar, in particular, Jordan and Jordan’s king, Iran, Iraq and, believe it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood – they are all in one camp.
I am from the anti-Islamist camp, and I can say that thank God, we recently witnessed a very positive development when Prime Minister Cameron ordered a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood’s garrisons in the UK. There have been investigations, police have raided homes, and I think it’s moving down the right track. Unfortunately, the West, including the US, has turned into a safe haven for Islamism in the name of free speech. I think you can allow Islamists and Islamism to have freedom of speech to the same extent you would for Nazis. If you study them, you will see there is not much of a difference and their values are very similar. So, I believe it is my duty to take a stand against them, and if it costs me dearly, so be it.
Back to our region. The US has all but given up on the prospect of reviving the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the PA has already signed 15 international treaties, in violation of the Oslo Accords, and threatened to take legal action against Israel in international forums. What is your take on the prospects of the continuation of the process?
These peace talks were stillborn. Everyone knows that, including Israel, the PA and the Americans, who know they are beating a dead horse and won’t be able to resurrect it. The idea for the current peace talks came to Obama’s attention in a proposal made by the king of Jordan back in 2013, at their meeting. This was confirmed by Yediot Aharonot: he told the US administration that the only insurmountable problem was that of the refugees, whom he would absorb in exchange for 55 billion dollars, and thus bring about a breakthrough in the process. Unfortunately, what is probably the least experienced US administration in our time accepted the proposal.
This idea would only benefit two parties: the king of Jordan and the PA, who are very close allies at the moment. It’s not useful for anyone, it’s not what the Palestinians [in the West Bank] want. They are not passionate about the PA ruling them – I spoke to many Palestinians in the PA areas last summer who confirmed it – and Palestinians everywhere do not want to be under the rule of the king of Jordan. The proposal offers nothing to Israel and nothing to the average Palestinian.
I must say that Israel is now paying dearly for its sins. The first sin was the Oslo Accords, or the Oslo crime, I might say, for which it has been paying for the last 15-20 years. The king of Jordan has been wrestling with a full-scale revolution, an intifada, in the past three years, which the media has not been reporting. I have inside sources that told me that the Americans gave up on him and told him, officially, that if he were to fall they would not support him.
The Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia are not happy with the king of Jordan and his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and that is why they are not providing him with money or other aid. The only country that is helping the king stay in power now is Israel. That is why he hasn’t fallen. If Israel withdraws its support, the king will get on the next plane to London and leave Jordan.
This support is Israel’s second great sin. It’s true that the king of Jordan might be the best wrong answer for Israel. It’s true that he and his family have protected Israel’s border with Jordan for the past 40 years. Nonetheless, if there were no king of Jordan but rather a Palestinian president in Amman, and even if he were against Israel, a Hamas member, then, for the first time, the Palestinians would have a state, and you wouldn’t be negotiating giving back parts of Jerusalem or removing settlements – they would not be up for discussion anymore.
Let me put it this way: a Palestinian state in Jordan, even if hostile, is a problem on Israel’s borders, while a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is a problem inside Israel. There is a huge difference. The Israeli government and its security and intelligence agencies have enough information to show that the king of Jordan is working against them, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Israeli rhetoric. The Israelis know all of that, but they still want him to remain in power.
I think it’s about time they consider alternative actions. We’re not asking them to do anything, we’re not asking them for their support. All we’re asking is to just let things happen in Jordan, and see what happens. I would ask them how long they intend on supporting the Jordanian regime which is too expensive to maintain. The Israeli establishment still perceives Jordan using the same standards of fifty years ago, which is very unfortunate.
You mentioned that the crux of King Abdullah’s idea was absorbing the Palestinian refugees in exchange for 55 billion dollars. Wouldn’t that increase vastly the percentage of Palestinians in Jordan to quite a ways over 90% and present a problem for the king, money or not?
No, it wouldn’t present a problem for him, as he already has them, 88% of the population, isolated from government jobs – with nothing. A Hamas member has more rights to Israel, inside Israel, than we [Palestinians] have in Jordan. It is just like apartheid South Africa, it doesn’t matter that the minority rule is a monarchy.
Eight years ago I sat with one of the king’s closest friends, who was also in the capacity of Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, who told me that the king’s doctrine was to fashion Jordan after the North Korean model: a vast, poor majority ruled by a wealthy and powerful minority. He used the term North Korea, and when I suggested it was archaic, he said that it didn’t matter because North Korea is one of the most stable regimes on earth. There will never be a revolution there. You are thinking like an Israeli, but the Arab style is that the more oppressed the majority is, the more powerful you are.
You spoke of the Israeli bulwark, the Israeli support for the king constituting the main factor that keeps him in power. How is that support manifested? Can you be specific?
The Israeli Mossad basically walks the king’s intelligence the way you walk a trainee dog, and not only for fighting terrorism. Even if there is a regime change in Jordan, we will have to keep up our cooperation with Israel in fighting terrorism in the region. But as far as internal affairs are concerned, they use Israeli support and advice 24/7. There are hotlines between the Mossad and Shin Bet and the Royal Palace and Intelligence. The king does not have qualified people around him, unlike his father, who had some of the smartest people around him, including Palestinians.
This king brought his friends, his baseball buddies, and he needs Israel’s support. In addition to advice, the Israelis provide him with advance intelligence, not particularly helpful for Israel, on how to keep himself in power. So let me ask: if Israel is spending this much money, this much effort on keeping the king in power, wouldn’t it be easier to support the seculars when the king falls?
This goes for the lobbying as well: Israel invests heavily in lobbying for the king in the West, and, trust me, the Israeli establishment knows that the king is not pro-Israel. It knows that he has caused an incredible amount of damage which is tangible, and not just anti-Israeli rhetoric in the media, such as when he said North Korea had better international relations than Israel.
He has played the demographic card with Israel. After the Palestinians felt at home under King Hussein, he began, ten years ago, calling on them to return to Palestine, isolating them, stripping them of their citizenship, and confiscating their passports. Most Palestinians in Jordan have never crossed the River Jordan into the West Bank, and, for the past eight years, this king has been forcing them to make a trip to the West Bank and renew their residency status there. Anyone who does not do that has his passport confiscated.
This presents a great demographic annoyance to Israel, but he is still doing it and the Israelis are still supporting him. I would like to address the Israeli establishment: you have been able to keep the king in power for the past three years, but are you confident you’ll be able to keep it up for the next fifteen, twenty years? Can you keep it up forever? If Israel is seen as intervening in the Arab Spring, it will cause it more trouble. Israel has done the right thing by not interfering, and not reacting to what is happening around it. Nonetheless, the Israeli establishment should act as it did with the rest of the Arab Spring – it stood by and did nothing to protect Mubarak or Bin Ali, who used to be a great friend of Israel. Why can’t they do the same thing, nothing, with Jordan?
It seems increasingly clear, even at this late stage in the game, that the PA, and obviously Hamas, do not accept the fundamental premise of the two-state solution. That is, two states for two peoples. Do you see any way around this non-starter?
Yes. We have a 95 year-old agreement, the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement that partitioned the British Mandate for Palestine into two parts: Arab and Jewish. We got 73%, the Jews barely got 23%. That being the case, the moment there is a regime change in Jordan and a Palestinian president comes to power in Amman, all of the so-called two-state solution proposals will become null and void.
The second most important reason for the existence of the PA and Abbas today is the Hashemite regime, which is their main supporter – Abbas himself is a Jordanian citizen. Once the Hashemite regime is gone, the PA itself would become very easy to dissolve, and there would be a much stronger case for the Israelis to abrogate the Oslo Accords. They cannot do it now, even though they have the legal basis to do it – the PA went to the UN to obtain recognition from 15 international bodies – as there is international pressure against that. Once you have a Palestinian president in Amman, you can tell Abbas to go home to Amman!
OK, so once there is a secular, Palestinian-majority state in Jordan, how would that affect the fate of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, or Gaza, for that matter?
My people in Judea, Samaria and Gaza would never compromise their right to exist on that soil. Nonetheless, there is a huge difference between residency in Israel and citizenship of Israel. That means that all of areas C and B could go back under Israeli control, and there would not be any controversy over Israeli construction on their soil. The seven large cities – Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, etc. – which Israel does not want, could have a municipality run by Palestinians (issuing birth certificates, for example) but the security and the police force should be Israeli.
Those Palestinians should be welcomed in Jordan if they wish to relocate. If they wish to stay, Jordan would then become a prosperous country. The minute we get rid of an extremely costly king, all the international aid money will make a difference to the people themselves. At the moment, the Palestinians are not allowed to move to Jordan, but once we allow them, I understand that 40% of the Palestinian youngsters in Judea and Samaria would like to move somewhere else. So, we would be realizing softly the right of return [to Jordan] of those people. In addition, if they wished to vote for government, for parliament members, they would vote for their parliament members in Amman. The cities in the Judea and Samaria would become, for Israel, something like the Chinatowns in London or New York.
Finally, as a politically active member of civil society, what is your advice for the Israeli peace camp – both civil society and political parties – how should they go about fomenting grassroots peace and normalization with Palestinians in the West Bank and Jordan?
As far as the Israeli peace camp is concerned, Shalom Achshav and others, do they really believe themselves anymore? It’s not about us believing them. I respect and admire much the desire for peace, but we live in the real world, we live in the toughest neighborhood in the world – the Middle East. And any of this peace rhetoric based on handing over the West Bank is not going to work. I’m not concerned for Israelis so much as I’m concerned for my people, the Palestinians. Each time Israel gives away land, be it to the PA or Hamas, we end up with more trouble. So, I think it’s about time everyone wakes up and smells the blood that will flow as a result of this so-called peace process, and I think it’s time the Israeli establishment starts making meaningful decisions.