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A homeland ... in Jordan?

Some Israeli lawmakers support a bill declaring an official Palestinian homeland in Jordan.

A man sells watermelons at the al-Hussein Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, May 12, 2009. More than 50 percent of the people living in Jordan are of Palestinian origin. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

AMMAN — Israel took cursory steps last week toward declaring Jordan the official Palestinian homeland but, in a backward step for the Arab-Israeli peace process, neglected to discuss the plan with Jordan.

The plan — introduced as a bill in the Knesset and supported by 53 of its 120 members — has led some lawmakers here to push for a severance of diplomatic ties with Israel. Shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to unveil a new peace plan in a speech in Cairo, the lawmakers have also called for a withdrawal from a 1994 peace treaty.

The bill is now being discussed by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. However, crucially, it lacks the support of many top Israeli officials, and because of the way the Israeli legislature works, it is unlikely to proceed further.

In fact, the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, in an interview on Israel Radio last Wednesday, strongly criticized the proposal, calling it a "baseless hallucination” that would interfere with Jordan’s internal affairs.

Despite this, many in Jordan say just consideration of such a bill sends the wrong message to Amman, which has been pushing to restart the peace progress.

“I don’t believe that the Israeli people want peace,” said Mamdouh Abbadi, a member of the Jordanian parliament. “If it was only extremists [who supported this bill], it would stop after three, or five or 10 members of parliament, not 53."

The idea of making Jordan into a Palestinian homeland is not new for Israel, but similar measures in the past have usually garnered only a limited number of supporters and the idea had remained largely on the fringes among Israel’s far right.

More than 50 percent of those living in Jordan are of Palestinian origin, and some Israelis argue that Jordan already serves as the de facto Palestinian state.

For Israel, designating Jordan as the Palestinian homeland would help alleviate the problem of dealing with West Bank Palestinians.

Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, director of the Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management and Resolution at Hebrew University, said that the recent support for the bill in the Knesset may not indicate support for the idea of Jordan as a Palestinian homeland so much as it reveals Israeli concerns about the viability of a Palestinian state. While the majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, most are also concerned about a potential Palestinian state’s stability, especially amid the split between the Fatah and Hamas governments.

“The idea is that even if there is a Palestinian state it will not be a viable state and one of the options for the future is the question of some kind of consideration between the Palestinian state and Jordan,” said Bar-Siman-Tov.