Israel’s radicalization train is out of control

Daoud Kuttab

One of the most worrisome issues for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been the threats by right-wing Israeli extremists to deport a large number of Palestinians to the country. The slogan “Jordan is Palestine” was perhaps the biggest source of concern to many. The “Jordan is Palestine” argument was a source of concern that Israel planned to further expel Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to the east of the Jordan river and thus de-establish Jordan to the degree that it would become a Palestinian state. The strongest response to this argument comes from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has often said that “Palestine is Palestine and Jordan is Jordan.”
Never did the Jordanians expect that this issue would reflect the opinion of a senior Israeli minister, especially since the signing of the 1994 peace agreement between the two countries. However, on Sunday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich gave a speech in France from a podium that was adorned with a map based on the logo of the former Irgun militia, which was considered a terrorist organization by the British. This has correctly caused uproar in Jordan. The map (minus the gun that appears on the original Irgun logo) shows Israel expanding into Jordan, south Lebanon and southern Syria, and even a small part of what is now Saudi Arabia. The map was noticed coincidentally after reports emerged of what Smotrich said at the event regarding the Palestinians. Smotrich has previously said his last name was derived from the Ukrainian town of Smotrych, where his ancestors lived. His attempts at negating the very existence of Palestinians and adopting the claim of being the original Palestinian is an almost verbatim echo of what another former Ukrainian, Golda Meir, said in 1969. The then-Israeli prime minister said in an interview with Frank Giles, deputy editor of The Sunday Times, “There was no such thing as Palestinians.”
This quote has been frequently used to illustrate Israel’s denial of Palestinian history and is considered to sum up the Palestinians’ sense of victimization by Israel. It is considered to be a successor to the early Christian Zionist phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land,” and a predecessor to the academically discredited 1984 book “From Time Immemorial” and the 2017 satire “A History of the Palestinian People.”
Edward Said described it as Meir’s “most celebrated remark,” adding that her “jingoistic comments concerning Palestinians remain one of her defining – and most damning – legacies.” At the Rabat Arab League Summit in 1974, Jordan gave up representing Palestinians and recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” In 1988, Amman severed all ties with the West Bank and, since then, all maps of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have excluded the areas west of the river.
The PLO received a boost of sorts when the First Intifada erupted in 1987 and the local intifada leadership insisted on the organization representing them. The PLO even received official Israeli acceptance when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged letters of recognition with it in 1993. Rabin’s letter was addressed to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and it stated: “Mr. Chairman, In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.” Now, nearly 30 years later, we are back to below square one. A senior Israeli minister has negated the existence of the Palestinian people and indirectly denied everything that happened not only at that White House signing ceremony in 1993 but also in 1994, when Israel and Jordan signed the Wadi Araba treaty, making Jordan the second sovereign Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel.
Many in Palestine and Jordan still remember the fact that the Herut party, which formed the nucleus of what is now the Likud, had a saying that the Jordan river “has two banks, this one is ours and the other one too.” Smotrich’s statement and the map provoked immediate and angry responses from Palestinians and Jordanians. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that Smotrich’s statement was perfect evidence of the “extremist, racist, Zionist ideology that governs the current Israeli government.” In Jordan, Prince Hassan bin Talal slammed the Israeli minister and called what he said and the map he stood in front of “a violation of laws and morals.”
Jordanian Sen. Mohammed Momani, a former deputy prime minister and the secretary-general of the Mithaq party, called on the government to immediately denounce the statements and the map that Smotrich stood behind. “The statement must be condemned and diplomatic as well as political action must be taken against this radical Israeli government,” he told AmmanNet. On the eve of Ramadan and amid the worries of King Abdullah and others that things could get worse, the map and the statements by a senior Israeli Cabinet minister – which have not been (so far) condemned by the prime minister of Israel – put the Jordanian government, King Abdullah and the Palestinians in a very difficult position, as they are unable to get the Israelis to stop their radicalization train that is out of control.