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Can the Cold Peace Between Israel and Jordan Last?

Can the Cold Peace Between Israel and Jordan Last?
What the Ramadan violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque means for the two countries.
By Joseph Puder

Jordanian Prime Minister Bishar Khasawneh angered Israelis with his irresponsible statements in a session of the Jordanian Parliament last month (April 18, 2022). In an unusually hostile language for a high government official, he called Israel the “occupation government,” and Israelis, “Zionist sympathizers.” He said, “I salute every Palestinian, and all the employees of the Jordanian Waqf, who proudly stand like minarets, hurling stones in a volley of clay at the Zionist sympathizers defiling the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli occupation.”

In his inflammatory address, al-Khasawneh encouraged the Palestinian rioters on Temple Mount, who in advance of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan gathered rocks and stored them in the holy sanctuary of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They then threw rocks at Israeli buses en route to the Western Wall, as well as on Jewish worshippers below at the Western Wall. On Temple Mount, (al-Haram al-Sharif for Muslims) the Palestinians clashed with Israeli police who were trying to protect the Jewish worshippers below, at the Western Wall (also called the Kotel).

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to respond to the Jordanian Prime Minister’s incitement. He stated, “The remarks accusing Israel of violence directed against us…there are those who are encouraging rock-throwing and the use of violence against the citizens of the State of Israel.” Bennett added, “This is unacceptable, this is a reward for inciters, especially Hamas, which is trying to ignite violence in Jerusalem. We will not allow it to happen.”

Gideon Sa’ar, Israel’s Justice Minister, responding directly to the Jordanian PM remarks, tweeted that, “Statements made by senior officials in the Kingdom of Jordan are grave and unacceptable.”

What seemed to be only days earlier as a winter honeymoon between senior Israeli officials and King Abdullah II of Jordan became a crisis of sorts during Ramadan. The relations between Amman and Jerusalem deteriorated sharply, with senior Jordanian officials competing among themselves as to which one would be more hostile to Israel.

On March 29, 2022, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, made the first ever Israeli state visit to Jordan, and he was received with “pomp and circumstance,” following 28-years of formal peace between Jordan and Israel. Herzog implored King Abdullah to help prevent Palestinian rioters from repeating the violence they unleashed the previous Ramadan.

Israel’s PM Bennett, Foreign Minister Lapid, and Defense Minister Gantz also visited Jordan in recent months. All of them went with the message that called for strengthening ties between Jordan and Israel, which were on the cool side during former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s time in office.

Jordan is much more dependent on Israel economically than the reverse. To help the strapped Jordanian economy, Israel permits Jordanians to work in Israel, and Israeli tourists in Jordan bring significant tourism revenue to the Kingdom. Israel provides water and gas to Jordan, and allows it to export goods to the West Bank. Hostility toward Israel comes from a major part of the Jordanian public, primarily from its Palestinian population, who comprise at least 60% of Jordan’s population. Queen Rania, King Abdullah II wife, is of Palestinian parentage as well. And yet, the Jordanian monarchy, while grappling with a beleaguered economy, influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria, and Islamist opponents has long recognized the value of its relationship with Israel, in a volatile region that is the Middle East.

“Jordan is Palestine,” a slogan popularly attributed to Israel’s late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ignores the actual originator: King Abdullah I, the grandfather of the current King and namesake. After annexing the West Bank on April 24, 1950, he declared that there are no Palestinians or Palestine, and henceforth all are Jordanians. Arafat latched onto the same concept, but in the reverse. Twenty years later, he claimed Jordan as part of Palestine. Abdullah’s annexation of the West Bank was considered illegal by the international community, with only The United Kingdom and Pakistan approving it.

Israel is committed to safeguard the territorial integrity of the monarchy, and in 1970, during the Black September bloodletting between Arafat’s Palestinian forces and King Hussein’s Jordanian army; Syrian tanks were poised to cross into Jordan to aid Arafat’s Palestinians. Israel sent a warning to Damascus, that should its forces cross into Jordan, Israel would bomb them. The Syrians withdrew, and Israel saved the day for King Hussein. Jordan serves as Israel’s strategic depth on its eastern frontier, and cooperation between Amman and Jerusalem is a key factor in the US defense strategy in the Middle East.

The relationship between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Israel has seen many fluctuations, hence, the current “crisis” surrounding the Ramadan violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque need not be too worrisome. Jordan is divided on Israel. On one hand there is the media, which feeds the populace with hostility toward Israel, along with Jordanian politicians who compete with each other on expressing their hate for Israel: together they have impacted on public opinion in the monarchy. On the other hand, there are the Jordanian security services and the army, who are the only partners Israel has in Jordan.

King Abdullah II has maintained diplomatic and security ties with Israel throughout his 22-year reign, irrespective of who Israel’s head of government happens to be. Jordan has prioritized national interest over personality-based calculation. Abdullah is cognizant of his large Palestinian constituency, and having had a mother who was an English Christian woman who converted to Islam in order to marry his father – the late King Hussein, making him especially cautious about angering them. He is therefore unable to foster a warm peace with Israel. The US annual aid to Jordan in the amount of $1.5 billion is crucial to the Hashemite Kingdom, and it compels Abdullah and his ministers to keep Jordan’s relationship with Israel on a relatively continuous track.

Jordan’s current Prime Minister al-Khasawneh seems to have a history of hostility toward Israel. He declined to accept the ambassadorship to Israel, and he wrote his doctoral thesis in 2007, as an appraisal of the right of return and compensation of Jordanian nationals of Palestinian refugee origins. Fortunately, it is Abdullah, not al-Khasawneh, who determines Jordan’s policy toward Israel. And while Israel’s peace with Jordan will likely remain cold, the security coordination between the two countries will continue to be vital and strong. One thing appears to be certain, should an Islamist revolution end the monarchy, Jordan will indeed become Palestine.

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