Hugh Fitzgerald: Jordan: Peace As An Option


Here is a television interview on Jordan Today, by former Jordanian PM Abdelsalam Al-Majali, defending the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that he helped negotiate.

The interview aired on August 18, 2018. The transcript below is supplied by that indispensable guide to Muslim media, MEMRI:

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“We Are Interested In Five Fundamental Issues: The Land, The Water, The Economy, The Possibility Of [Jordan] Becoming The Alternative Palestine… And Security”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “My mentality is a mentality of peace. I believe that peace is the best thing for our nation in its current… or rather, at the time of the peace process, as well as today. It is the best solution for us, as Arabs, and I still believe in it. As long as you do not have force of another kind, peace is your only option.”

This is not exactly a full-throated endorsement of peace. Rather, it recognizes that if you are not strong enough, you will need to obtain what you can through non-military means, including, of course, a peace treaty. That’s what “peace is your only option” means.

“We are interested in five fundamental issues: The land, the water, the economy, the possibility of [Jordan] becoming the alternative Palestine – we are the only ones threatened by this – and security. These are the things Jordan accomplished [in the peace accord with Israel]. What did Jordan want? Its land? It got it back. Jordan wanted its water? We got it back. The economy? We restored it. And on top of all of this, we gained the respect of the world. Am I supposed to liberate Palestine? Is it my job?”

Host: “Some believe that this accord did not accomplish anything.”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “How can you say that? Didn’t you get your water? Your land?”

Jordan did get a commitment by Israel to share with Jordan the waters of the Yarmouk River, which, until the treaty, went exclusively to Israel. Israel agreed to receive 25 million cubic meters of water, with the rest going to Jordan.

As to land, by the peace treaty Israel recognized the sovereignty of Jordan over two areas that had until then been in dispute as to ownership; the Naharayim/Baqura area (including Peace Island) and the Zofar/Al-Ghamr area.

Host: “Israel did not comply with its commitments regarding the water quotas it must give Jordan.”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “That’s not true! Absolutely not! Israel continues to give us more water than we are due.”

Israel had agreed to supply Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of water, as well as 75% of the waters supplied by the Yarmouk River. Al-Majali is absolutely correct; Israel does “continue to give [Jordan] more water than it is required to.”

Host: “Didn’t Israel divert rivers in the area into its [territory]?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “Sir, you have not read the history books, I’m sad to say. Israel diverted the Jordan River a long time ago.”

Al-Majali is right. Israel began diverting water from the Jordan River as early as 1955.

Host: “And we didn’t get it back!”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “Our quota does not come from the Jordan River. When the water was divided [in the peace accord], we got our quota from the Yarmouk River. The Jews get 25 million cubic meters, and the rest is ours. But since we don’t have a dam to store the winter precipitation, they took the water.”

Host: “What, they took it, and now it’s gone forever?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “No, they have been giving it all back – and more – to us. They have been giving us more than our due. But as for the Palestinian quota – we don’t intervene. The Palestinians get their quota from the Jordan River.”

In order to justify — as a good deal — the peace treaty that he helped negotiate, Abdelsalaj Al-Majali admits that Israel not only was fulfilling what was required of it under the treaty provisions, but was doing far more than was required of it. This is an unusual admission for any Arab political figure to make.

“There are millions of Jordanian Palestinians who have property in Israel. They have the right to get it back or get compensation for it.”

Host: “They will only get compensation?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “I’m not getting into this. It’s return or compensation: They will either give them back their land or compensate them. Some people go and collect… in Haifa, Jaffa, and elsewhere beyond the West Bank.”

So apparently, there have been “Palestinians” who have collected money from the Israelis, compensation for land they left in what is now Israel. This is done quietly, since there are many “Palestinians” who regard such settlements with the Israeli enemies as treasonous. According to this view, no “Palestinian” should ever accept payment for land “stolen by the Jews,” but keep the grievance ever fresh, and remain willing only to accept the land itself.

Host: “Does this serve the Palestinian cause?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “Why not?”

Host: “What, to sell their land for a price?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “[The Israelis] own that land. They live and build there, while you are not there, and you don’t have an army or anything...”

Al-Majali offers a recognition of reality: the Israelis are on that land, they “live and build there,” and there is nothing that the Arabs can do, for now, so the “Palestinians” might as well enter into a formal agreement, sell the land, and accept compensation.

Host: “In my view, if they don’t sell it and the land remains occupied, it is better for the Palestinian cause.”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “Is it better for them to remain hungry?”

Host: “And selling their land is better?”

Abdelsalam Al-Majali: “Well, what can you do? You lost the land to a military force. You do not have any power. All you do is talk. The Arabs do not have any power. If we ever have military power, will we let them keep Haifa? We’ll take it. If tomorrow, we become stronger and can take Haifa by force, will we really decline just because we have an agreement?”

Here, at the very end, is the most important part of the interview. Abdelsalam Al-Majali, who had seemed to be a man of peace, and well-disposed toward Israel, in the course of the interview gradually shows that he is simply a realist, recognizing that the Arabs are too weak to take by force the land now held by the Jews. He might have ended on another note. He might have summed up what he had already said to his interviewer in earlier replies, that the Israelis had fully honored the terms of their peace treaty with Jordan, had not only fulfilled their every commitment under the agreement, but had done more than was required of them. He might have said that the “Palestinians” ought to do as Jordan had done, make a real peace, and then they would see that they need not suffer deprivations any longer, but could receive their due in compensation for lands proven to have been lost or, in a few cases, receive back those same lands.

Instead, Al-Majali chose to emphasize at the end that if the Arabs ever became strong enough, then of course they would not need to honor any peace treaty they may have made with Israel: “if we ever have more power, will we let them keep Haifa? We’ll take it. If tomorrow, we become stronger, and can take Haifa by force, will we really decline just because we have an agreement?”

This is, of course, merely emulating the example of the treaty Muhammad agreed to with the Quraysh tribe of Mecca in 628 AD at Al-Hudaibiyyah. This was a “truce treaty,” meant to last ten years, by which the Meccans would allow Muhammad and his followers into the city to perform the lesser pilgrimage. The details of the treaty do not need to be set out here. What is important is that after 18 months, convinced that his side had grown stronger, Muhammad found a pretext to attack the Quraysh and conquer Mecca. The treaty, then, represents for Muslims the supreme example of the principle that promises made to a non-believer need not be kept.

And Abdelsalam Al-Majali fully accepts, as a good Muslim, this model of treaty making-and-breaking. For all his comments in praise of the peace treaty with Israel, and all that Jordan gained from it, he ends by insisting that “if we [the Arabs] have more power, will we let them keep [even] Haifa/ We’ll take it….Will we really decline just because we have an agreement?

In the Western world, the principle of treaty-making is “pacta sunt servanda” — treaties are to be obeyed. Indeed, in the West, we don’t see how it is possible for treaties to make any sense without the assurance that both sides will uphold their promises. But Muslims find that view puzzling. For them, the supreme guide to treaty-making is Muhammad, when he made the agreement with the Quraysh at Al-Hudaibiyya. He made the agreement for ten years but was prepared to, and did, break the treaty just as soon as his side had grown stronger.

The interview with Al-Majali, recorded for an Arab audience, shows how deep is this principle that justifies, that even requires, Muslims to violate a treaty with Infidels as soon as they are able.

The next time you are told that the Israelis need to “make peace” with their Arab neighbors by signing a treaty, you can point out Israel already has the only “peace” that it can count on. This is the “peace” that is enforced by deterrence, that is, by the power of the IDF. The alternative to deterrence that some think, wrongly, is superior to it, is a peace treaty, necessarily on the model provided by Muhammed himself at Al-Hudaibiyya. And Abdelsalam Al-Majali offers a good example of how the the making and breaking of that agreement remains a model for Muslims: for he says that “if we [the Arabs] have more power, will we let them keep [even] Haifa/ We’ll take it….Will we really decline just because we have an agreement?”

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