AIPAC Shapes Priorities

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his views known at this year’s AIPAC conference. (© Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his views known at this year’s AIPAC conference.
(© Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)

Coming off of what many observers characterized as an off year in terms of getting its agenda implemented in Washington, D.C., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will be welcoming upward of 14,000 attendees at the March 1-4 annual policy conference that will set the pro-Israel organization’s 2014 initiatives.

Chief among the organization’s priority items likely will be the United States’ continued negotiations aimed at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and the emerging contours of a possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry. But in a midterm election year that could prove pivotal for the powerful, secretive and much-maligned lobbying organization, the policy wonks, politicians, students and supporters who are descending on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will surely keep in mind the fact that of the ambitious legislative and foreign policy agenda set at the 2013 policy conference, the push for increased Iranian sanctions was ultimately stymied by the White House and a call for U.S. military intervention in Syria apparently failed to move Congress.

If last year’s conference focused primarily on legislation, one former AIPAC staff observed, this year should be more about solidifying AIPAC’s position and reinvigorating the grassroots campaigning that made the organization into the most visible, pro-Israel group in Washington. But it will also serve as an essential venue for the administration — through the voice of invited speakers Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pitch their respective positions, both having butted heads with each other and AIPAC lobbying last year.

Although AIPAC did not make a complete schedule available to the news media, other confirmed speakers include House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), Knesset Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and former Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.

In the presidential election year of 2012, the AIPAC policy conference set a record with 13,000 attendees. Both President Barack Obama and the GOP frontrunner that year, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, addressed the body.

AIPAC’s lost battles in 2013 prompted reports of waning influence from media outlets such as The New York Times, which in early February termed AIPAC’s momentum as “blunted.” But in a phone call with the Washington Jewish Week, Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the group, brushed off the rumors of a weakened AIPAC. He said that while AIPAC had indeed publicly backed off from its campaign on behalf of the Menendez-Kirk Nuclear Free Iran bill in order to remain bipartisan, the appearance of waffling on Iran should instead be seen as a longtime commitment in building common ground on Capitol Hill.

“AIPAC always had very strong representation on major initiatives from both parties. They didn’t have enough Democrats because the White House put intense pressure on them not to sign on,” Amitay said of the push for increased Iranian sanctions. “When I was at AIPAC, every Senate initiative we did started off with five democrats and five republicans — whether Republicans or Democrats were in the White House.

“This president is a disaster with regard to his foreign policy,” continued Amitay. “The reality is, [the Iran issue] had to be a bipartisan effort, and through the administration’s blandishments, threats and promises, they kept a lot of Democrats off.”

If one were to consider a Feb. 21 op-ed co-written by AIPAC president Michael Kassen and chairman of the board Lee Rosenberg in The Times as a sign, AIPAC’s agenda will still be focused on the negotiations with Iran.

AIPAC and its supporters could focus on the loopholes in the current multilateral framework with Iran known as the Joint Plan of Action, which even the State Department concedes leaves room for Iran to continue a limited nuclear program — something unacceptable to Israel, AIPAC and many members of Congress. Without calling for a direct congressional vote, AIPAC could reaffirm the need for sanctions and a military option on the table as a credible threat in case negotiations fail.

“Some opponents of such a policy crudely characterize its proponents as warmongers and fret that Tehran will walk away from the table. But the critics have it backward,” Kassen and Rosenberg wrote.

“The approach we outline offers the best chance to avoid military conflict with Iran. In fact, diplomacy that is not backed by the threat of clear consequences poses the greatest threat to negotiations — and increases prospects for war — because it tells the Iranians they have nothing to lose by embracing an uncompromising position.”

The Obama administration will also have to set out its goals in a year where control of Congress is up for grabs, even if the White House’s positions are in opposition to AIPAC’s new lobbying agenda. The administration is expected to encourage AIPAC to back off its efforts in Congress for bills on Iran, while Kerry likely will lay out what he sees as progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Netanyahu should also have a more urgent appeal this year, as only months remain before an expected peace agreement. Netanyahu will try to persuade AIPAC that the extent of Palestinian unwillingness to make tough concessions, such as recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state, acquiescing to security concerns along the Jordan Valley and the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on a the “right of return” of refugees.

Like many in the Israeli government, Amitay shares a grim outlook on the peace process.

“They’ve been peace processing since the 1967 war, but you have one side — mainly the Palestinians — who cannot accept minimal security arrangements,” said Amitay. “And then who’s speaking for Gaza? What’s ridiculous is that they talk about Israeli and Palestinian peace while a big chunk of the Palestinians who live in Gaza say ‘no way.’ “

Fred Zeidman, vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former member of the executive committee of AIPAC, says that the precariousness of AIPAC’s position is nothing new.

“AIPAC has taken unpopular positions before,” he said. “There’s been a good reason why they’ve done it, and I would never second guess them. In the long run, they’ve certainly survived them.

“I think they have done the most remarkable job at keeping the American Jewish community attached to Israel, and I think they ought to be highly commended,” he continued. “The numbers [of attendees] they’re talking about this time certainly speaks to that.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com / JNS.org contributed to this story.

Hadassah’s Woes Continue

022814_Hadassahs-Woes-ContinueThe dust may have settled at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, but the underlying financial troubles that caused workers to go on strike earlier this month remain, as an organization that predates the State of Israel struggles to move on.

Staffers at the two Hadassah hospitals in the Jerusalem enclaves of Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus returned to work on Feb. 19 following a two-week strike protesting unpaid wages and the financial disarray of the Hadassah Medical Organization. One of Israel’s largest private hospital managers, the group, according to Haaretz, currently is running a $360 million deficit.

Despite the workers’ return — who ended their strike after hospital administrators and the workers’ union agreed to gradual reductions in pay for higher-paid staff and a delay until mid-April of any requisite layoffs — the medical organization and the American institution that founded and owns both hospitals find themselves playing a prominent role in an Israeli reassessment of privatized health care and corporate mismanagement.

Standing as somewhat of an anomaly amid an otherwise socialist health care system, HMO is managed by an executive board, most of whose seats are held by Hadassah International, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The president of the international body, Marcie Natan, admits that the hospitals made critical management mistakes but that Hadassah has long been engaged in a process of reform.

“We brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers about 10 or 11 months ago to do a study using a team of experts from the U.S. and Israel working together,” Natan, who represents an estimated 330,000 members around the world, offered in a phone conversation with Washington Jewish Week from Israel. They “looked at the structure here at the hospital and made recommendations to put it on the road to a full recovery.”

The team recommended that HMO cut 550 members of the hospitals’ staff, of which 250 have already been cut; salary reductions for highly paid doctors; reforming private visitation contracts; renegotiating union contracts; and increasing more lucrative services such as maternity care.

The group made clear that none of the reforms would end HMO’s deficit problems without renegotiating contracts with the state-supported health insurance funds. Such contracts make up the greatest part of an Israeli hospital’s operating budget.

Natan said that every hospital negotiates a three-year contract with health funds and that when HMO negotiated its last set of contracts, they provided deeper discounts for services offered at Hadassah Medical Center — 25 to 26 percent — instead of the usual 18 percent at other private hospitals in the hope of capturing a larger market share of patients.

“In retrospect, that was not a good decision on the part of HMO’s management because it actually cost the hospital money to service the patients,” said Natan, adding that negotiators agreed to the concession knowing that they could renegotiate three years later.

According to Natan, since then, the government put a freeze on all contract negotiations to stem the rising cost of benefits, leaving HMO with an unsustainable discount.

David Chinitz, professor of health policy and management at the school of public health at Hebrew University-Hadassah, said that part of the problem is the lack of accountability in the Israeli financial system.

“The Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Budget Department is known for being neo-liberal, and that means they want to constrain the public budget,” explained Chinitz. “But on the other hand, their style is very centralist and I would say almost Bolshevik. They want to keep control so they negotiate the wages, they set the prices, and these things that they do create different kinds of strains and stresses on the health funds and on the hospitals.”

Similar to the insurance exchanges brought about by health care reform in the United States, Israeli health funds came out of the country’s 1995 reforms dependent upon yearly government allotments meant to cover their expected costs.

“Israel has actually implemented the model that America has been after for more than 20 years, and it’s done it quite well,” said Chinitz. “The problem is the overall political economy structure and public administration in Israel — and in particular, the centralized control of the ministry of finance over wages, over prices; it doesn’t let this nicely designed system work in a smooth fashion.”

Another criticism of HMO’s management results from the higher-than-average salaries paid to doctors. Natan described this decision as necessary to establish the quality of health care Hadassah members envisioned.

“Jerusalem is not the city that attracts young up-and-coming doctors; they’re much more comfortable and much happier in the Tel Aviv area,” argued Natan. Hadassah, “understanding that we wanted a hospital that would be the leading institution here in Israel, was comfortable with management making agreements with the doctors that did give them more than they would have gotten if they’d gone somewhere in Tel Aviv.”

Though a private institution, Hadassah Medical Center prides itself for serving everyone like a public hospital — no matter how critical patients’ conditions or where they are from — as envisioned by Hadassah pioneers. Natan said that the hospital often sees the most critical conditions, despite health funds paying the same rate no matter how long the patient stays in the hospital or how many staff members are needed to provide care.

Hadassah donors and members are the largest single funding source for the hospitals, with a total yearly contribution averaging around $85 million for capital, operational and research expenses.

“If the [Israeli] government isn’t prepared to help in some significant way, no matter what this hospital does, we cannot continue to maintain it as a state-of-the-art research and clinical care facility,” said Natan, highlighting how Hadassah’s hospitals serve as the Hebrew University’s medical school.

Chinitz agreed.

“If the government decides to raise the wages of physicians in their hospital, it’s no skin off their nose because the Ministry of Finance is going to pay, but for Hadassah, where’s the money going to come from?” he said. “Hadassah has it worse because it doesn’t have the safety net either of the government or a health fund.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com /JNS.org contributed to this story.

Ukraine’s Jews Hunker Down

An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee worker, pictured above  in a white helmet, enters the tense Independence Square area of Kiev on Feb. 22. (JDC)

An American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee worker, pictured above in
a white helmet, enters the tense
Independence Square area of Kiev
on Feb. 22.
(JDC)

The turmoil in Ukraine has left one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities on edge.

After an outbreak of violence in Kiev last week that left dozens of protesters and policemen dead, President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital, and parliament installed an interim leader to take the still-contested reins of power.

Like their compatriots, Ukraine’s Jews are waiting to see what the future holds for their country but with the added fear that they could become targets amid the chaos. There have been a few isolated anti-Semitic incidents over the past few months of civil strife. On Sunday night in the eastern city of Zaporizhia, a synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails, causing minor damage.

While Kiev has been relatively calm since Yanukovych fled the capital, the situation in the country’s eastern and southern regions, where he has his base of support, is more volatile. Tensions between the local governments and revolutionaries continue to rise in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has a relatively sizable Jewish community.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” said Mark Levin, chairman of the NCSJ, an American organization that advocates for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. “The big concern, I think, is ensuring that there’s adequate security for Jewish institutions throughout the country, but particularly in the large cities.”

Levin also expressed concern that with elections slated for May 25, a fut-ure government could result in ultranationalists gaining power in Ukraine. Svoboda, a right-wing nationalist party, was prominent in the protest movement, and party officials have expressed virulently anti-Semitic sentiments.

Thus far, though, the conflict has not been marked by incitement against Ukraine’s multiple national minorities, Oksana Galkevich, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said from Kharkiv last Friday.

“The overall situation in relation to the Jewish community in Ukraine is tolerant and peaceful,” said Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, in a statement issued this past Monday.

Estimates of the size of Ukraine’s Jewish community vary widely between 70,000 Jews to 400,000.

Over the past few months, many Jewish institutions have simply gone into hibernation, suspending activity during the turmoil. But others have carried on their work under heavy security.

The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, which runs the Orach Chaim Day School in Kiev and several other institutions, has been paying $1,000 a day for round-the-clock security, according to Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, the confederation’s president and a Ukrainian chief rabbi.

“Nobody goes alone at night, so we have three people doing escorts from the synagogue and back,” he said last week.

The guards have chased off a few trespassers but encountered no serious threats in Kiev. But the cost — 10 times what the community used to pay for security before the violence erupted — means the community cannot afford this level of security for much longer.

The Joint Distribution Committee also has promoted security measures to protect staff and volunteers. After the firebombing of the Zaporizhia synagogue, JDC reinforced security measures for its charity organization in the city.

The JDC has been continuing to provide assistance to elderly and homebound Jews living in areas of Ukraine that have been affected by the unrest.

Bleich’s community has launched an online campaign on religious websites in the United States aimed at collecting additional funds. The Lauder Foundation is providing payment for security in three community-run schools.

“Most communities don’t do any act-ivity that involves congregating,” said Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

Rabbi Moshe Azman of Kiev, who is another claimant to the title of chief rabbi of Ukraine, advised Jews in media interviews to keep a low profile until the situation calms down.

Not Losing Sleep

Psagot Winery, located in an Israeli West Bank settlement, exported 16,000 bottles of wine to Europe in 2013.  (Courtesy Psagot Winery)

Psagot Winery, located in an Israeli West Bank settlement, exported 16,000 bottles of wine to Europe in 2013. (Courtesy Psagot Winery)

TEL AVIV — Of the 200,000 wine bottles Yakov Burg produced last year, 16,000 went to Europe.

The possibility of a boycott and repeated rumblings that Europe is planning to label goods produced in the settlements could decrease that number, but Burg isn’t worried.

The CEO of Psagot Winery, which is located in a settlement of the same name in the hills of the central West Bank, Burg prides himself on running a Jewish-owned business in the West Bank, even welcoming groups of Christian Zionists who want to volunteer during the harvest.

The winery’s location, though, also makes it a prime target for boycotts aimed at goods produced in the settlements.

“There are a lot of places that won’t buy the wine, so of course there’s damage,” admitted Burg. “It doesn’t scare me. We need to fight the boycott, not just do what they want.”

The effort to boycott goods produced in the West Bank, long an objective of anti-Israel activists and some Jewish critics of the Israeli occupation, has achieved some notable victories in recent weeks.

Last month, PGGM, the largest Dutch pension fund, announced it was divesting from five Israeli banks because of their involvement in financing Israeli settlements. That was followed by an announcement that Denmark’s Danske Bank was blacklisting Israel’s Bank Hapoalim over its settlement activity. Sweden’s Nordea Bank has asked two other Israeli banks for more information about their activities in the settlements.

In the United States, settlement goods were in the news recently after actress Scarlett Johansson came under fire for representing SodaStream, an Israeli company that produces home soda machines at a factory in the West Bank.

And in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands already label goods made in the settlements, and the European Union has threatened repeatedly to take the labeling continentwide. Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week that Israel could face even greater boycott pressure if peace talks with the Palestinians collapse.

But several CEOs of companies that operate factories in the settlements acknowledged that while boycotts could hurt sales, they don’t yet represent a serious threat to business.

Yehuda Cohen, CEO of the plastics company Lipski, which has a factory in the northern West Bank Barkan industrial park, says sales dropped 17 percent in 2010 when local Palestinians started boycotting his products. His company has since recovered, growing by 18 percent last year.

Though only a fraction of Lipski’s products are shipped abroad — 18 percent of total sales are for export, of which a majority goes to Europe — Cohen acknowledges that the EU move to label settlement products is a real threat. Labeling settlement products, Cohen says, could hamper relations with retailers.

“I don’t think we’ve come to the level of a boycott, but labeling is half a boycott,” said Cohen. “The retailer will say, ‘I don’t want problems. Israel is not acting well.’ ”

A European boycott could have a much larger impact on SodaStream, which, according to a 2012 Bloomberg News report, looks to Europe for a majority of sales. CEO Daniel Birnbaum subsequently told The Jewish Daily Forward that having a factory in a settlement was a “pain in the ass.”

The impact of a boycott, though hardly irrelevant, would be more limited for Psagot and Lipski, neither of which are as reliant on European business.

But neither Burg nor Cohen share Birnbaum’s sentiments about the virtues of operating a business in the West Bank. Nor does Rami Levy, the head of the budget supermarket chain Rami Levy Hashikma Market, which operates three locations in the West Bank.

For Burg, his vineyard’s location is in part an ideological statement of opposition to a Palestinian state. Cohen said he supports Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the goal of a two-state solution. Like other CEOs of companies with West Bank operations, he believes his company furthers the cause of peace by giving jobs to Palestinians.

“Not only does it not do damage, it provides an example of how to live together, how we can do business together,” said Levy. “When you open businesses, you create more jobs. Just don’t discriminate based on religion, race and nationality.”

Levy, whose chain employs about 2,000 Palestinians, was part of a delegation of 100 Israeli businessmen to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month aimed at encouraging a peace agreement. More than half of the 90 employees of Lipski’s West Bank factory are Palestinians. Cohen employs four Palestinians out of 20 total employees.

Hilik Bar, who chairs the Knesset Caucus for Furthering Relations Between Israel and Europe, said Levy’s argument won’t convince Europeans in the absence of a peace agreement. Bar strongly opposes boycotts, but the Labor Party lawmaker believes the government needs to pursue peace more aggressively.

“It’s not just the two [Scandinavian] banks; it is spreading everywhere,” said Bar, who also chairs the Caucus for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict. “Israel has an image as a state worthy to isolate. It’s a whole world we’re giving up on economically as long as we don’t come to a two-state solution.”

Second of ‘Cuban Five’ expected to be released

A second of five Cuban spies whose release from prison is seen as critical to the freedom of Alan Gross will likely soon be in Cuba.

Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five convicted of spying offenses in 2001, will be transferred to immigration lockup at the end of February to await deportation, the Miami Herald reported. Gonzalez was sentenced to 19 years, but his sentence was reduced to 15 years.

Gross, 64, a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. The Maryland resident is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”

Cuban authorities have made clear that his release could come in an exchange for the Cuban Five.
— JTA

Friendly fire kills Israeli officer

An Israeli army officer commanding a unit during an operation near the Gaza security fence was killed by friendly fire.

According to a preliminary investigation, the officer, identified as Capt. Tal Nachman, 21, of Nes Tziona, was shot and killed early Tuesday morning by a soldier from another unit operating in the area, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The unit of the shooter was relatively new to the area. The soldier did not have instructions to open fire, according to Haaretz.

— JTA

Dead Sea Scrolls website upgraded

The Israel Antiquities Authority has launched a newly upgraded version of its Dead Sea Scrolls digital library that includes more than 10,000 new photos of the famous ancient biblical texts.

Visitors to the deadseascrolls.org.il website will soon be able to view and explore the images, which the IAA classified as of “unprecedented quality.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls are hailed as one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century. Since the scrolls went digital last year, more than a half-million people have visited the website, the IAA said. The upgraded website now features content available in Russian and German as well as a faster search engine, additional manuscript descriptions and social media links.

“The website also offers accompanying explanations pertaining to a variety of manuscripts such as the Book of Exodus written in paleo-Hebrew script, the Books of Samuel, the Temple Scroll, Songs of Shabbat Sacrifice and New Jerusalem,” the IAA said.

 — JNS.org

Chief Palestinian negotiator: We were in Israel before the Jews

The Palestinians cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state because they lived in the region long before the Jews, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said last weekend, Israel Hayom reported.

Speaking with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the Munich Security Conference, Erekat rejected the Israeli request that the Palestinians recognize it as the Jewish homeland.

“When you say, ‘Accept Israel as a Jewish state,’ you are asking me to change my narrative,” he said.

Erekat justified his claim by saying his ancestors were the real descendants of the Canaanites and lived in the area for “5,500 years before Joshua Bin-Nun came and burned my hometown, Jericho.”

JNS.org

Portugal’s oldest synagogue to become a museum

A Portuguese municipality launched a restoration project of the country’s oldest intact synagogue.

A Feb. 3 ceremony kicking off the restoration of the Sabar Hassamain synagogue on the island of Sao Miguel was conducted by Jose Manuel Bolieiro, the mayor of Ponta Delgada. Ponta Delgada is the capital of the Azores archipelago, a region of Portugal located 900 miles west of Lisbon on an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The restoration of the synagogue, founded in the early 19th century, will cost approximately $290,000 and be completed in eight months, RTP television reported. European Union bodies devoted to the preservation of historical monuments will provide the funding.

At the end of the restoration, the synagogue will become a museum.
— JTA

Jordanian Goals

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90.)

The U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations have yet to yield any tangible results. Serious disagreements remain over key issues such as borders, refugees, security and the status of Jerusalem. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a surprise visit to Jordan’s King Abdullah II to discuss these issues. While Jordan officially supports a two-state solution, Jordan’s leaders have also quietly expressed serious concerns over the parameters of a
future Palestinian state.

Does Jordan truly want an independent Palestinian state?

“The Jordanians want a solution that doesn’t undermine the domestic stability of the Hashemite kingdom, [one that] creates a relatively secure border and protects their interests in Jerusalem,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Mideast adviser and negotiator who now serves as a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank. “The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations touch upon their national security.”

One of the major issues to arise in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has been the status of the Jordan Valley, a narrow rift valley between the Judean Mountains and the Jordan River that forms the border with Jordan. Both Israel and Jordan are deeply concerned that the West Bank could turn into a haven for terrorists, like the Gaza Strip did after an Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

Thus far, Israel has made it clear that it wants to hold on to the Jordan Valley and to maintain the current Jewish communities there as well.

“I do not intend to evacuate any settlements or uproot a single Israeli,” Netanyahu recently said in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos, Switzerland.

In the meeting between Netanyahu and Abdullah, the Israeli premier briefed the Jordanian leader on the “recent developments in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” and emphasized that Israel “places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan’s interests, in any future agreement,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

According to Israeli media reports, Jordan is in favor of some type of Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley.

“They are desperately concerned about a Gaza-like situation on their border,” said Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Presumably that is why they wouldn’t mind some type of Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, but that doesn’t mean they think that Israel should annex the Jordan Valley.”

An official at the American Embassy in Jordan said there are “no grounds” to reports suggesting that Jordan favors Israeli control of the Jordan Valley.

“Because of the secretive nature of these talks, there has been a lot of false and exaggerated information in the media,” said Dana Daoud, an official at the Embassy of Jordan in Washington.

According to Daoud, Jordan’s position has remained the same throughout the negotiations.

“Our position hasn’t changed. We believe that the only way to a comprehensive peace is through a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a fully independent Palestinian state,” said Daoud.

Nevertheless, the Jordanians and the Palestinians have a unique and intertwined history that dates back nearly a century, creating a complicated relationship between the two sides.

Originally, in its infancy the area known as modern Jordan was part of the original British mandate of Palestine. In 1922, the British partitioned the mandate, setting aside all the land east of the Jordan River to become an Arab state. But Jordan’s Hashemite kingdom still believed that areas west of the Jordan River, especially Jerusalem, should be under its control. As such, during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Jordanian forces occupied what is known today as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, controlling it until 1967 and granting citizenship to many of the Palestinian Arabs living there.

When Israel took control of these areas as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Jordan’s King Hussein still laid claim to the region and control over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Further complicating matters, many Palestinians fled to Jordan in 1967; when combined with their 1948 influx into the country, Palestinians now constitute a majority of Jordan’s population.

“On the Jordanian side, there is an understanding of the intimate relations between the Jordanians and Palestinians and the historical connections between the two sides of the river,” said Susser.

Yet, Jordan’s original inhabitants, Bedouin tribes living there before 1948, view the Palestinian situation as a difficult problem that has plagued the country for decades.

Known as East Bankers, these tribes control many of Jordan’s important state institutions, including the military and domestic security forces and therefore have considerable influence on King Abdullah. These native Jordanians have long opposed the presence of Jordan’s Palestinians, often treating them as second-class citizens.

“Jordan thinks that if there is no real settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, there will be another conflict between them in which Israel would crush the Palestinians,” explained Susser. “Then Jordan will be faced with another few hundred thousand refugees. That’s the last thing they want.” For Jordan, other core issues, such as Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem, are also extremely important.

“The problem is there is a nationalist trend in Jordan that is rather anti-Palestinian and very adamant on the right of return of Palestinians. Not because they are devoted to the Palestinian cause, but [because] they want the Palestinians in Jordan, as many as possible, to leave,” said Susser.

On Jerusalem, Israel has vowed to never again divide the city, as it was between 1948 and 1967. Jordan, on the other hand, supports the Palestinians’ proposal of having their capital in eastern Jerusalem.

Modern Jordan has taken steps to separate itself from the situation to its east. In 1988, Jordan’s late King Hussein formally renounced ties to the West Bank and endorsed Palestinian statehood there. In 1994, Jordan also signed a peace treaty with Israel, paving the way for recognition and cooperation.

As such, modern Jordan prefers a more passive role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“I think Jordan is a significant player and remains a big player in the broader regional framework,” said Miller. “But it just does not have the street credibility or influence to adopt independent positions on the Palestinian issue or to pressure the Palestinians to accept positions they don’t want.”