OpinionMiddle East

Abdullah in the middle

Why Jordan has not joined the Abraham Accords.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2022. Source: Youtube.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2022. Source: Youtube.
Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

Some years ago, a colleague and I were in Israel, in the home of a former member of the intelligence community. Before going into his kitchen to make coffee, he opened a fancy tin of dates that, he said, had been given to him the day before, in Amman, by King Abdullah II of Jordan.

On the table next to the dates was a novel by Daniel Silva, who had written an inscription on the title page (which I took the liberty to read). The author’s wife, Jamie Gangel, is a television reporter with whom I happen to be acquainted, so I emailed her, mentioning the book and the dates. “Whatever you do,” she replied, “don’t be the first to eat one.”

I ate and survived (as you may have surmised) but the exchange served as a reminder that while Jordan and Israel peacefully coexist, just below the surface tensions remain.

Jonathan Schanzer, my colleague at FDD, the author of four books and hundreds of articles on the Middle East, has produced a revealing new report on Jordanian-Israeli relations at what is now a critical juncture: “Neither Here Nor There: Jordan and the Abraham Accords.”

A major achievement of the Trump administration, the 2020 Abraham Accords formalized normal—even cordial—relations between Israel and two of its Arab/Muslim neighbors: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Morocco joined three months later, followed by Sudan. Last year, Muslim-majority Kosovo established diplomatic relations with Israel as well.

The peace Jordan made with Israel in 1994 was once considered warm—relative to the peace with Egypt. But following the Abraham Accords, Jordan’s peace has chilled.

For years, foreign policy mandarins such as John Kerry insisted there could be “no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world” until and unless the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians was resolved.

While the Abraham Accord signatories sympathize with the Palestinians, they understand that those leading them are not prepared to negotiate a “two state solution” or even begin a process of “normalization.”

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is openly committed to jihad and genocide. Once upon a time, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank, was seen as a peacemaker, but that turned out to be a fairy tale.

King Abdullah is savvy enough to get all that, too, but he faces unique challenges. Believed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he is a Hashemite, a member of the dynasty that for centuries ruled the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. When the Saudis came to power in Arabia, they decided the country wasn’t big enough for both royal families.

In 1921, with the backing of the British Empire, the current monarch’s great-grandfather, Abdullah I, founded the Emirate of Transjordan on the three-quarters of Mandatory Palestine east of the Jordan River. That entity evolved into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Millions of Jordanian citizens descend from families who lived in eastern Palestine when it was ruled by the British Empire or, before that, the Ottoman Empire. Others moved to Jordan, fleeing wars launched by Israel’s Arab neighbors—Jordan among them—in 1948 and 1967. In other words, millions of Jordanians identify as Palestinians.

“While Jordanian officials may not say so explicitly,” Dr. Schanzer writes, “the animosity harbored by Jordan’s Palestinian population toward Israel has a significant influence on the kingdom’s foreign policies.”

A chapter of history Israeli leaders seldom discuss publicly: When the first Arab-Israeli war came to a halt in 1949, Jordanian forces had conquered the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria (quickly renamed “the West Bank”), from which they expelled the Jewish population. Even Jews living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem were driven out, and their homes and synagogues destroyed.

Upon taking east Jerusalem in the defensive war of 1967, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided to award a Jordanian waqf (a government-controlled religious entity) authority over the two important Muslim sites—Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—that stand atop the Temple Mount, the holiest of all Jewish sites. This profound gesture of conciliation has never been fully appreciated, much less reciprocated.

Nor do Jordanians express gratitude for the essential goods Israel currently provides, for example, water (Israel is a world leader in desalination technology) and energy (40 percent of Jordan’s electricity comes from Israeli gas). Israel also cooperates closely with Jordan on “a wide range of security-related issues.”

Dr. Schanzer notes that King Abdullah, in a conversation with former U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster last May, “voiced concerns that Iranian forces in Syria could soon destabilize his country…Jordan also faces a threat from Iran-backed militias in Iraq to the north. Additional threats loom in the south, with Iranian assets reportedly operating in the Red Sea.”

Though the enemy of Jordan’s enemy should be Jordan’s friend, Dr. Schanzer expects relations with Israel to deteriorate further. He notes the king’s “unabashed distaste” for Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now forming a new government.

Netanyahu, for his part, is undoubtedly reading with distress “reports that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has been spending more time in Jordan with the approval of the Hashemite Kingdom.”

The king of Jordan is a moderate, modern and savvy sovereign. But without Israeli support, his future and that of his country will be precarious.

And if there is to be peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Jordan will need to join the pragmatic Arab states advocating for a new regional order, one based on stability and prosperity.

For King Abdullah to explain all this to his subjects—penetrating the fog of Palestinian irredentism and rejectionism—will not be easy. But that is his job.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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