Ideas can be seductive. The so-called ‘Jordan Option’ as a strategy for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one of those ideas. It is especially seductive for a few very bright—and very right-wing—Israelis who are enamored with a UK-based fugitive, Mudar Zahran. From his home in Britain, Zahran pledges to overthrow Jordanian King Abdullah II, bring all Palestinians under his rule, surrender the entirety of Judea and Samaria to Israel, and so, without negotiations, bring peace to the Middle East.
The only thing Zahran wants in return, and in the interim, is Jewish political and financial support.
Some have signed up, but there is one who has all but sold his soul: 82-year-old Ted Belman.
Belman, a retired Canadian attorney, now an Israeli living in Jerusalem, is the editor of IsraPundit, a news blog website.
He is also a self-proclaimed partner with Zahran to overthrow the current monarch of Jordan, King Abdullah II.
In fact, there are variations of the ‘Jordan Option’ that, on their face, are compelling. The essence of the idea is that, in large part or en masse, Palestinians should become citizens of Jordan. Some would move there, while others would stay in West Bank areas conceded as cantons to the administration of a newly confederated Palestinian State of Jordan.
Indeed, for several months there has been speculation that some variation of the ‘Jordan Option’ is part of US President Trump’s much-anticipated ‘Deal of the Century’ peace plan.
Two obstacles have presented themselves, however. King Abudllah II adamantly opposes the idea, and a key architect of Trump’s plan, US Envoy Jason Greenblatt, recently and emphatically tweeted it is not part of it.
Is the idea dead?
In the wake of Greenblatt’s 24 April tweet, the ‘Jordan Option’ might be off the table in Washington D.C., but it is very much under the gavel in Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court.
For about two years, Mudar Zahran, the would-be sovereign of the Hashemite Kingdom, has pursued a nemesis he claims is a paid agent of Jordan’s king, hired to undermine the State of Israel—and Zahran’s credibility as rightful leader of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
That nemesis is Khaled Abu Toameh.
Toameh, 55, an Israeli Arab, is one of Israel’s leading journalists. Winner of several Israeli journalism awards, including the Daniel Pearl Award in 2014 and an Israel Media Watch award in 2010, he also received the Hudson Institute Award for Courage in 2011. Today Toameh is the speaker of choice for government and military delegations to Israel seeking to better understand the Palestinian conflict.
His career has included NBC News where, for 26 years, he was a producer, and journalism jobs with US News and World Report, The Jerusalem Report, Times of Israel and consultations with many more. Today he is the Jerusalem Post’s reporter for Palestinian Affairs and a senior fellow with the New York-based think-tank, Gatestone Institute.
(Celebrating his success, Toameh purchased a used Hummer in 2009. Although a personal matter, its relevance is quickly evident in charges Zahran makes against Toameh. In several postings on Twitter, Zahran has claimed that the head of Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate paid for the Hummer with a credit card, thus implying that Toameh is a Jordanian agent. More on this below.)
As for Gatestone Institute and the Jerusalem Post, both have removed everything that Zahran, the would-be king of Jordan, has written for them in the past.
The content was removed not only because of Zahran’s campaign against Toameh; it was also removed because claims made by Zahran were deemed to be extreme exaggerations or patently false. Among them are claims that Zahran’s mother is Jewish although she is an Arab citizen of Jordan; and that he is a licensed pilot for F-16 fighter jets.
Caroline Glick, Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote in 2017: “I was contacted by three knowledgeable sources with whom I have long standing relations.They did not coordinate their calls. Each one told me independently that Zahran is not a credible source. He is not a leader of an opposition movement. He doesn't have an organization. He has multiple websites.”
Zahran also says he fled Jordan because agents of its king were trying to kill him. In fact, evidence emerged that the reason he fled was to escape a debt of 47,000 dinars (roughly $66,000 US).
After he ran from creditors in Amman—and apparently fed up with his son’s fictional narratives—Zahran’s father publicly renounced his son in Arabic media.
Regardless these reports, the seeds of Zahran’s blossoming stories spread on certain winds of Israeli patriotism, finding fertile ground to grow in Jerusalem. Researching his methods for spreading those narratives, Varda Meyers Eptstein concluded there is reason to believe that Zahran operates numerous false identity social media accounts, using them as an echo chamber to endorse the claim that Zahran is Israel’s savior for peace in the Middle East.
Based on these misrepresentations, and in an apparent attempt to shift focus from them, Zahran engaged in a public campaign against Toameh in 2017. Toameh says the smear campaign actually began in 2013, when Zahran contacted several Jewish journalists, writers and bloggers in Israel and the US, Canada and Australia to convince them to publish articles questioning Toameh’s integrity.
The essential argument Zahran made, and continues to make, is that Toameh is a paid agent of Jordan’s current sovereign, King Abdullah II.
According to Zahran and as noted above, Abdullah’s government allegedly purchased a Hummer for Toameh’s personal use and paid him a large amount of money to operate as a kind of fifth columnist infiltrated among the cadre of pro-Israel journalist living in Israel.
Why these and other charges like them? Zahran’s apparent goal is to distract attention from his own credibility problems by attacking Toameh, implicitly arguing to right-wing Jews that, unlike himself, Toameh is not a devout Zionist.
Pursuing this apparent objective, Zahran has even gone so far as to create a photoshopped photo of Toameh, portraying him as a fork-tongued, double-minded traitor against the State of Israel and an enemy of all Jews.
Little wonder that, with full support from Gatestone Institute and his colleagues at the Jerusalem Post, Toameh finally said enough and filed a suit in Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court for defamation of character.
Zahran, the source of accusations against Toameh, is not named in the suit. Because Zahran is living in exile in the UK, it names 82-year-old Ted Belman as the primary perpetrator of Zahran’s accusations inside the Jewish State. (Toameh’s lawyers say they are planning to file a defamation suit against Zahran in the UK once the proceedings against Belman are completed.)
On Belman’s blog site, Israpundit-com and on a Facebook Page he co-administered, he has, in fact, parroted virtually everything Zahran has been saying about Toameh from the UK.
Belman, who describes Zahran as his partner, was the only person to publish Zahran’s charges against Toameh. He argues that he decided to do so after Zahran told him that King Abdullah II had ordered Toameh to foil a conference to promote the “Jordan is Palestine” solution. Organized by Belman, the one-day confab was held in Jerusalem on 17 October 2017. Belman defended his decision to publish allegations against Toameh by arguing that he did so because of an “intelligence report” he received from Mudar Zahran, implicating Toameh.
Notably, Toameh did not publish any article or make any statement against the conference before it was held.
On the one hand, Belman has portrayed Toameh as a fork-tongued agent of Jordan, supporting Israel in English, but undermining it in Arabic. He has endorsed indicting ‘questions’ published by a mysterious Zahran Facebook account, ‘Yonit Gefen.’
Belman has also published statements like...
...“We believe that Khaled is taking his marching orders from the king”;
...As per the wishes of “King Abdullah” to “shut down” a Jordan Option conference Belman sponsored in 2017, “Khaled Abu Toameh is the leader of the pack and he has enlisted a half of dozen and more journalist and academics to be his echo chamber”;
...”Khaled Abu Toameh: Saint or Sinner,” a 3,000 word indictment of Toameh in which he alleges Toameh is “a paid agent of King Abdullah and one who is acting under the instructions of the king.” (Belman has since removed the article from his blog site);
...“Fork tongue Khaled Abu Toameh says one thing in English and another in Arabic”; and
...a Facebook post that stated, “Khaled Abu Toameh pimped his [relative] to Jordan’s intelligence chief.”
(In keeping with the legal process in Israel, it is fair to assume that Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court is requiring Belman to provide evidence of allegations made against Toameh.)
On the other hand, denying his views are racist, Belman openly advocates things like segregated beaches and communities, separating Arabs from Jews.
Apparently, it is a view inherited from his endorsement of Meir Kahane, an ultra-rightwing rabbi who, from the 1970s until his assassination in 1990, argued that all Arabs are enemies of Israel who should be evicted from it, leaving a Jewish-only State governed by religious Jewish law. After immigrating to Israel in 1971, he was arrested by Israeli authorities no less than 62 times in ten years. Almost all the arrests charged him with plans for armed attacks against Palestinians.
“Kahane Was Right,” Belman announced in a post linked to a YouTube video with the same title.
“Kahane and His Writings,” Belman wrote, “surely” deserve their place “in the library of outstanding Jewish literature.”
And in an article written by a third-party on 27 February 2019, re-published by Belman, he implicitly endorsed its assertion, “Kahane was not a racist.”
Notably, the overwhelming view among most Israelis is that, in fact, Kahane was a racist. Indeed, Kahane’s teachings remain fodder for anti-Israel Palestinianists who conflate his views to represent those of all Jewish Israelis.
For his part, Zahran has made personal appeals to prospective donors by saying things like, “We both share the same values, Kahane, etc.”
As for the idea of the ‘Jordon Option,’ it is always possible that some variation of it will be reflected in Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Greenblatt’s denial notwithstanding.
If it is, however, three things are certain: Mudar Zahran will not be governing Jordan.
He will be deflecting, however, blaming Khaled Abu Toameh for his downfall from the dream palace Mudar Zahran built for himself and his unfortunate Jewish devotees.
Even so, those devotees, desperate to believe, will continue to fawn.
Brian Schrauger is Editor-In-Chief of The Jerusalem Journal and its primary publication, ChaimReport.com