Recent weeks have seen the beginnings of a new explosion of democracy in the part of the world that needs it the most, the Middle East. Not only are the Lebanese out in force to protest their Prime Minister, a Syrian puppet, but in Egypt Hosni Mubarak is now allowing some limited democratic reforms, a day after Condoleeza Rice pointedly snubbed him. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
For Israel, obviously, this is a wonderful development. In Lebanon, Hizbullah has effectively been pinned down, halting their terror attacks for fear of bringing down the Marines on their heads. And Egypt, though technically at peace, is force-fed a diet of vicious anti-Semetic propoganda from the state media; presumably this would be toned down in a democracy. More generally, Natan Sharansky argues in his book, The Case For Democracy, that only democracies can make true peace with the West.
Conspicuously absent in all of the euphoria is Jordan. The trouble with Jordan is that the population is about 85% Palestinian. (Or to be perfectly accurate, 85% are from the same population as modern-day Palestinians, namely inhabitants of the Ottoman province of Syria, which encompassed part of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, part of Jordan, and Israel.) They despise the Hashemite monarchy of King Abdullah II, whose family was transplanted from Saudi Arabia by the British. There were a number of Palestinian attempts to overthrow the monarchy, the most infamous being the Black September uprising, ruthlessly crushed by King Hussain.
Israeli policy has historically been to support the monarchy against the people, and against outside invaders. (When Saddam threatened to invade some decades ago, he was warned that his invasion force would be obliterated by the IDF.) Whether this policy is sound or not is open to debate. Regardless, it is quite possible that in the present climate of growing democracy, the Palestinians of Jordan will agitate for a democracy of their own, and succeed in replacing the monarchy.
Nobody can be sure what effect such a development would have on the Israeli-Palestinian front. I can think of a few scenarios:
1. The Jordanians make common cause with their cousins in Israel and the territories, and effectively annex the West Bank by cooperating with the Palestinian Authority. They then instigate the Israeli Arab population to riot and rebellion, and gain
effective control over the Galilee. After that, it gets ugly.
(This, the worst-case scenario, is the justification for the present Israeli policy. Is it likely? I wonder; Jordan has been at peace with Israel for a long time, and has reasonably strong economic ties. The Jordanians are sympathetic to the Palestinians, but I doubt their sympathies are deep enough to justify a knock-down war with Israel.)
2. Jordan turns the West Bank into a satellite state, having no desire to see the situation spiral out of control. They use their influence to keep terror groups relatively quiet, at least in the West Bank. At the same time, they push Israel to make all the territorial concessions they can get to the new Palestinian state.
3. Jordan changes its name to Palestine, and tries to forge a new national identity free of the Hashemite legacy. In time, they come into conflict with the PLO leadership, who naturally want to keep control of the Palestinian cause. Nastiness ensues.
4. As #3, but additionally the new Palestine encourages the "old" Palestinians to move to the new, economically robust country. They tacitly acknowledge that the British partition of 1922 is the way to go, and that the history of Arab-Israeli relations since then has been a regrettable historical mistake. Eventually, Israel annexes the West Bank and forms an official border at the Jordan River. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)
(In all seriousness, the Jordan River is the obvious natural border for the region, and has been for thousands of years. Any attempt to expand from one side to the other, by Canaanites, Romans, Jews, or anyone else was short-lived. If everyone could just acknowledge the fact and move on, the world would be a much happier place. End of rant.)
Will a democratic Jordan be good for Israel? God knows. Should Israel be complicit in suppressing the Jordanian population? I believe the answer is no. The history of the entire region has been nothing so much as a warning against "stability" and realpolitik. Support for dictators has always, always, come back to hurt both America and Israel in the long run, and I see no reason why Jordan will be any different. Indeed, I think that America should be pressuring King Abdullah to introduce more democracy, and that Israel should let it happen. Better that the change occur on our terms, than by violent revolution.