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Israeli proposal: Make Jordan the official Palestinian homeland

The controversial idea – though not new – could still undermine Netanyahu and erode Israel's relations with moderate Arab countries.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 1, 2009

Amman, Jordan; and Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior members of his cabinet have pushed back hard against a renewed US demand to end settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories. Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Sunday that it amounted to "expulsion."

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But 53 Israeli parliamentarians have moved to explore another kind of expulsion: Under a proposal to be reviewed this week, Jordan would become the official homeland for Palestinians now living in the West Bank.

Among the challenges facing the proposal is this: nobody asked Jordan if it would support such a plan.

Not surprisingly, it doesn't.

Nearly half of the Knesset's 120 members moved last Wednesday to pass the "two states for two peoples on the two banks of the River Jordan" proposal on to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for further discussion.

Israeli officials say the Knesset's vote does not represent the government's position and is unlikely to become official policy, while analysts dismiss it as a bid from the far right to undermine Mr. Netanyahu. But for many in Jordan, the bill personifies concerns about Israel's new, conservative government and its lack of commitment to the peace process.

"It has done big damage," says Mamdouh Abbadi, a member of the Jordanian parliament who has been among the most vocal in calling for government action against the proposal. "Even if it's not passed, when 53 members of the parliament [Knesset] accept this law in the first reading, this is very important. We can't think it's just for show; it's the real thinking of the Israeli parliament and they represent the people."

Last week, Jordan's foreign minister summoned the Israeli ambassador to deliver an official letter rejecting the idea and calling for the Israelis to stop the bill last week. In parliament, a group of at least 36 lawmakers are working to encourage their government to take strong action against Israel.

Right-wing idea, but some support from left

The proposal, put on the Knesset's agenda by Aryeh Eldad of the National Union party, holds that Palestinians in the West Bank should either become residents of Israel or be offered Jordanian citizenship, since – in the view of its authors – it is already the de facto Palestinian state. Already, more than half of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, many the descendants of refugees who fled or were expelled when Israel declared independence in 1948.

The idea of Jordan as a Palestinian homeland has existed for years in Israel, but has never gained much support. This most recent bill, however, found a handful of supporters among Israel's liberal Labor Party.