Response

Why Jordan Will Not Reannex the West Bank

An FP essay provoked a strong response because it brought international attention to a controversial issue that has historically only been debated internally.

By , an associate professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies.
King Abdullah of Jordan arrives for his meeting with Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Oct. 25 in Vienna, Austria.
King Abdullah of Jordan arrives for his meeting with Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Oct. 25 in Vienna, Austria. Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

In October, Hasan Ismaik, a Jordanian businessman living in the United Arab Emirates, published an essay in Foreign Policy recommending that Jordan reannex the West Bank.

Ismaik promoted reuniting the West Bank with Jordan as it existed from 1950 until 1967. This action would involve restoring Jordanian citizenship to around 3 million West Bank Palestinians as well as offering Jordanian citizenship to a substantial number of Israeli Jews choosing to remain in the West Bank.

Ismaik’s article assumed that: first, Jordan is willing and able to reannex the West Bank and reunite both banks of the Jordan River in a political merger as it existed from 1950-1967; second, Palestinians would support a reunification with Jordan, agree to live under Hashemite sovereignty, accept Jordanian citizenship, and give up the goal of an independent Palestinian state; and third, Israel would cede sovereignty over the West Bank to Jordan, and those Israeli settlers remaining would accept living under Hashemite rule.

In October, Hasan Ismaik, a Jordanian businessman living in the United Arab Emirates, published an essay in Foreign Policy recommending that Jordan reannex the West Bank.

Ismaik promoted reuniting the West Bank with Jordan as it existed from 1950 until 1967. This action would involve restoring Jordanian citizenship to around 3 million West Bank Palestinians as well as offering Jordanian citizenship to a substantial number of Israeli Jews choosing to remain in the West Bank.

Ismaik’s article assumed that: first, Jordan is willing and able to reannex the West Bank and reunite both banks of the Jordan River in a political merger as it existed from 1950-1967; second, Palestinians would support a reunification with Jordan, agree to live under Hashemite sovereignty, accept Jordanian citizenship, and give up the goal of an independent Palestinian state; and third, Israel would cede sovereignty over the West Bank to Jordan, and those Israeli settlers remaining would accept living under Hashemite rule.

Ismaik’s proposal faced a mostly negative backlash, because it is a radical proposition and does not enjoy broad support among the three target constituencies: Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis—but it is notable for taking a mostly domestic debate that tends to occur internally in Arabic onto the international stage.

Jordanians, including several prominent officials, reacted quickly and negatively to Ismaik’s proposal. For instance, former Jordanian Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai repudiated the proposal for violating King Abdullah II’s three redlines: “No to abandoning the guardianship of Jerusalem and the holy sites, no to the one-state solution, and no for Jordan to be an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.” Many Jordanians believe that the “alternative homeland conspiracy” (al-watan al-badil) is an Israeli plot to bury the Palestinian cause, transform Jordan into a Palestinian state, and destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom.

The Jordanian scholar Hassan Barari also posted a rejection of Ismaik’s proposal on Twitter, arguing it represented an elitist and marginal trend in Jordan that receives support from inside and outside the kingdom. Annexing the West Bank, Barari said, would satisfy a “Zionist idea resembling the Jordanian option that was rejected by King Hussein.”

Ismaik’s proposal faced a mostly negative backlash, because it is a radical proposition and does not enjoy broad support among the three target constituencies.

Amjad al-Maslamani, a former Jordanian member of parliament, denounced Ismaik’s calls to annex the West Bank as a betrayal of Jordanian and Palestinian principles. “Jordan is for the Jordanians and Palestine is for the Palestinians,” he wrote.

The veteran Jordanian Palestinian writer Lamis Andoni argued that renewing Jordan’s former role in Palestine would create new demographic realities that would exacerbate strife inside the kingdom.

Absorbing an additional 3 million Palestinians from the West Bank would, in her view, undermine Jordanian national identity and fuel competition between the various sub-identities—in particular, Jordanians of Palestinian origin and Transjordanians, or the so-called East Bankers.


Jordan’s lengthy and complicated relationship with the West Bank may shed light on why these debates have struck such a nerve. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it annexed these lands in 1950. Jordan offered citizenship to the Palestinians living there, including refugees, and ruled the West Bank until losing it to Israel during the 1967 war. Although the West Bank had been formally incorporated inside the kingdom, the 1950 annexation agreement conditioned Jordanian rule as a temporary arrangement held in trust until a final resolution of the Palestinian issue.

After the 1967 war, Jordan attempted to recover the West Bank through private diplomatic channels and international venues like the United Nations. In 1972, Jordan’s King Hussein advocated a federation between the West Bank and Jordan called the United Arab Kingdom, which would have granted Palestinians autonomy. The plan failed; at the time, Palestinian memories of Jordanian rule were still fresh—and the PLO only became designated by the Arab League as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. Israelis and Palestinians both rejected the plan, yet efforts by Jordan to restore the West Bank persisted until Hussein severed all legal and administrative ties to the land in 1988.

Renouncing sovereignty claims in the West Bank in favor of the PLO in 1988 intended to pave the way for the Palestinians to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jordan’s disengagement from the West Bank also sought to stress that Jordan was not Palestine and that the kingdom would not accept becoming an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

Jordanians view the absence of progress on the Palestinian issue as a threat to their national security. Without serious momentum toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Jordanians fear that Israel may annex the West Bank and permanently prevent a two-state solution, force Palestinians in the West Bank to flee to the East Bank, and convince the international community that Jordan be recognized as the homeland for the Palestinians and the legitimate Palestinian state. That explains why, from time to time, some Jordanians—including prominent officials—have floated plans about a renewed role in the West Bank.

For example, in 2012, former Crown Prince Hassan bin Talal delivered a speech in the West Bank city of Nablus and argued that the West Bank legally belonged to Jordan, because the kingdom never formally abandoned sovereignty claims. Hassan referenced the Jordanian Constitution’s Article 1, which has not been amended since its inception in 1952 and states that “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an independent sovereign Arab State. It is indivisible and inalienable and no part of it may be ceded.” This clause could provide justification for Jordan remaining legally responsible for the fate of the West Bank.


The future political status of the West Bank is a sensitive subject, because many Jordanians fear that Israel seeks to impose a solution to the Palestinian issue at Jordan’s expense. Persuading Jordan to resume responsibility of the West Bank prior to Palestinian self-determination and independence is perceived as dangerous. For this reason, Jordanian government officials oppose even broaching the topic. “Discussing the idea of a confederation with the regions of the West Bank is not possible,” government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said in 2018. The following year, Abdullah emphasized: “the future of Jerusalem and Palestine is a red line for Jordan” and the kingdom rejects efforts to create an alternative homeland for Palestinians.

Given the right to decide their political fate, Palestinians, for their part, show little interest to confederate or reestablish links with Jordan. A 2018 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research revealed that two-thirds of Palestinians reject a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Despite Abdullah’s popularity among Palestinians, a 2019 survey found that less than 10 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem support a union or confederation with Jordan.

Israelis appear equally unsupportive of handing the West Bank back to Jordan. In 2020, an opinion poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank that surveyed 771 Jewish and Arab Israelis found roughly half of Israelis support annexing part of the West Bank. Although 20 percent of those surveyed were undecided, the concept of Israel allowing Jordan to reannex the West Bank and of Israelis agreeing to live under Hashemite sovereignty is a nonstarter. Simply put, while Israelis may be divided over whether to formally incorporate the West Bank into Israel proper, maintain the occupation, or grant part of the West Bank to a future Palestinian state, there is no grassroots support for returning the land to Jordan in any future peace deal.

Still, although the Hashemite crown rejects reannexing the West Bank, Jordanian attitudes toward how the West Bank should be liberated from Israeli rule are not monolithic. Nearly 30 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, some Jordanians have become increasingly concerned that the Palestinians cannot, at least by themselves, end Israeli rule of the West Bank and establish an independent state.

Recent declarations by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of plans to annex part of the West Bank, as well as former U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, have exacerbated Jordanian concerns that Israel will retain permanent control over the West Bank and a solution to the Palestine cause will be imposed on Jordan, which undermines its security. Jordanians also view the willingness of some Arab and Muslim states to normalize relations with Israel without progress on the Palestinian issue as a threat to the long-term stability of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Against this political backdrop, Jordanians have periodically debated whether the Jordanian regime—which is one of the staunchest advocates of a two-state solution and views an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a vital national security interest—should reevaluate its official stance toward the Palestine issue.

The responses to Jordanians who call for a renewed role in the West Bank matter less than the fact that such views are being aired in the first place.

Indeed, some prominent Jordanians challenge official policy by arguing that Jordan should be entrusted, under international and legal auspices, to recover the West Bank. They claim that the Jordanian Constitution, along with U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, provides the kingdom with the legitimacy and authority to recover the West Bank from Israeli rule. They say the PLO, which has proved incapable of achieving self-determination for the Palestinians, should acknowledge this right and delegate responsibility to Jordan.

These debates, while sensitive and often controversial, occur inside the kingdom and are normally held only in Arabic. Ismaik’s Foreign Policy piece was unique because discussion of Jordan’s relationship with the West Bank spilled over into a major U.S. publication and was debated in English. As a result, the conversation has evolved from what was once traditionally a private and domestic Jordanian political issue to a mainstream conversation playing out in front of an international audience.

Even if Ismaik’s opinions are rejected by the government and unpopular among Jordanians, they are significant, because they follow a pattern of Jordanian voices debating and challenging the wisdom of a decision made 33 years ago by Hussein to disengage from the West Bank. In a sense, the responses to Ismaik and other Jordanians who call for a renewed role in the West Bank matter less than the fact that such views are being aired in the first place.

While these discussions are unlikely to influence a change in official Hashemite policy toward the West Bank, they unintentionally reorient the discourse away from the dominant Israeli and Palestinian narratives toward the conflict. They also highlight that while Jordan may have abandoned sovereignty claims over the West Bank, Jordanian attitudes and perceptions toward this land are nuanced, fluid, and dynamic.

Michael Sharnoff is an associate professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Nasser’s Peace: Egypt’s Response to the 1967 War with Israel. These opinions are his own. Twitter: @MichaelSharnoff

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