Last October marked the 25th anniversary (October 26, 1994) of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, signed by Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and King Hussein, witnessed by President Bill Clinton. Since then, Jordan has experienced the death of King Hussein in 1999, and the ascent of King Abdullah II to the throne (his mother was an English-born Christian who converted to Islam). In Israel, Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a religious zealot, and in 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister.
The relationship between Abdullah and Netanyahu have had nothing of the warmth that existed between Hussein and Rabin. The strained relationship deteriorated dramatically when an Israeli guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman shot two Jordanians in what amounted to self-defense in July, 2017. There is however, more to the different set of players occupying power today in Jordan and Israel respectively. Unlike his father, who was a pure Arab, and a direct descendant of the prophet’s family, Abdullah’s mother was English, and his entire demeanor is more British than Arab. As a result, Abdullah feels far more insecure about his throne, and much more sensitive to his Palestinian public, who number at least 70% of Jordan’s population. Hence, he needs to be far more of an advocate for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria than his father was. Moreover, his wife is Palestinian.
One issue that is causing disagreement in Israel between Benny Gantz and PM Netanyahu in the on-and-off negotiations over the establishment of a unity coalition government between Likud and the Blue and White party, is the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements therein. Gantz and Ashkenazi want to give Jordan a veto power over the annexation. They are fearful that such a move might endanger the special relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom, and upset the quiet eastern border.
Netanyahu has pledged during the recent election campaigns that his government would annex the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlement into Israel. On his part, U.S. President Donald Trump, and his “Peace and Prosperity” plan unveiled last January, has endorsed such Israeli annexation. Netanyahu, however, has avoided thus far actions that might endanger Israel’s treaty with Jordan. He has not taken any steps that would trigger unrest in Jordan. Suffice it to say that his narrow Right-of-Center coalition partners want him to move more decisively on annexation.
Abdullah, like his father King Hussein, knows that Jordan’s prosperity and stability requires peace with Israel. Netanyahu too, is cognizant of the fact that the Hashemite Kingdom is an indispensable bulwark against a possible threat to Israel from east of the Jordan River. The collapse of Jordan’s monarchy would allow Israel’s enemies to use its long border with Israel as a base to attack the Jewish state.
There is a huge gap between the rhetorical positions Jordan takes in public, which at times amounts to anti-Israel incitement, and its fundamental interests to be at peace with Israel. The Jordanian government declarative statements are meant primarily to appease its Palestinian majority. Quietly, and “behind the curtains,” Jordan maintains a longstanding and close military, economic, and intelligence sharing with Israel. Israel also provides Jordan with the privilege of being in control of Jerusalem’s holy mosques (Al-Aqsa and Omar) on Temple Mount. It gives the monarchy immense prestige among its people and beyond. It is therefore unlikely that Jordan would want to jeopardize this status symbol. At the same time, in 2018, the Trump administration had agreed to provide Jordan with $6.3 billion in military and economic aid over five years. Should Jordan break the peace treaty with Israel, it would endanger this critical aid. A resourceless and poor nation such as Jordan, which is burdened by over 700,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, desperately needs this aid.
The Jordan Times (September 25, 2019) published the transcript of Andrea Mitchell’s (NBC-TV) interview with King Abdullah. Mitchell asked, “When you hear talk of Israel annexing the West Bank, what is your reaction?” This very question exposes Mitchell’s anti-Trump, and anti-Netanyahu bias. The talk in Israel is about annexing the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements, not the entire West Bank.
King Abdullah responded, saying, “I do take a pinch of salt in electioneering. But a statement like this that does not help at all because what you do is then hand over the narrative to the worst people in the neighborhood. And we want peace, want to be able to move forward, tend to be more isolated.
“If the policy is to annex the West Bank, then that is going to have a major impact on the Israeli Jordanian relationship, and also on the Egyptian-Israeli relationship because we are the two only Arab countries that have peace with Israel. But if there’s a box that’s being ticked on a certain government getting everything that it wants, without giving anything in return, what is the future? Where are we going to go unless we can get Israelis and Palestinians to come together, to live together, to be sort of the message for the future? And at the moment, that’s at jeopardy.
“So, if we’re talking about an apartheid Israel, with a law that’s different for Jews and different for Christians and Muslims, that’s going to continue to add fuel to disruption in the Middle East. And it sort of – the mind boggles when that statement came up.”
Jordan however, managed to maintain its peace with Israel despite many of the so-called “outrageous” acts Israel has committed, including the unification of Jerusalem and Jewish-Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, as well as the moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the Trump administration. The Jordanian government might express its outrage at a possible Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements, but it is unlikely to sever its relationship with the Jewish state. In fact, Abdullah would rather live with Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) managing the border, than have an unstable and radical Palestinian state bordering Jordan. The monarchy has good reason to fear a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. Such an entity is likely to seek unification with their Palestinian brethren in Jordan, which might spell the end for the Hashemite monarchy.
Jordan severed its control over the West Bank in 1988, when it transferred responsibility for the future of these territories to Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The Palestinians have consistently refused to come to terms with the reality and existence of the Jewish state, in spite of almost 30 years of negotiations with Israel. It therefore requires, once again, unilateral Israeli action. This means extending Israeli law and sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements. The time has come to end the Arab-Palestinian dream of eradicating the Jewish national state. This may be the necessary condition for any future peace settlement.