Last Wednesday, there was supposed to be another one of those almost routine visits by King Abdullah of Jordan to Washington. The White House was all ready to welcome the king, embrace him, and add him to the list of supporters of Sharon's disengagement plan. But the king surprised the administration. For the first time since he ascended to the throne, he refused to meet with Bush and decided to postpone a meeting until he receives clarifications about the plan from the White House. Something must have made the king very angry for him to take such a drastic step.
Eleven months ago, Abdullah hosted the Aqaba summit. President Bush was there with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice; Ariel Sharon was there with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The festival was in honor of a joint agreement - after months of deliberations and evasions, reservations and conditions - to adopt Bush's road map.
There was at least one article on which there was full agreement - "we accept the principle that any unilateral step by any side cannot determine the results of the negotiations." That was the formula that was supposed to calm the Palestinians - and Jordan - about the separation fence.
The road map has meanwhile been put into a coma. The fence continues to be built, and now Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan has been added to the brew. King Abdullah understood not much would come from the speeches at Aqaba and that the road map was going to go into the mausoleum of other important agreements like the Mitchell Report and Tenet recommendations. More critically, as far as Jordan understands things, the corral Israel began to build around the Palestinians leaves them only one way out - to Jordan.
The king began to take effective action to torpedo the plan and warn of the danger it posed to Jordan. That enraged Sharon, who went so far as to threaten Jordan it would pay dearly "for its behavior." As far as Israel is concerned, the fence and the disengagement plan are an Israeli-Palestinian matter, and Jordan or any other Arab state, Egypt for example, should not get involved.
That's not how the White House saw things. The king received a promise from Bush and Powell that they won't let the fence cause any demographic upheaval in Jordan. He was calmed. But 10 days ago, when he heard Bush's praise for the disengagement plan, and when it became clear to him that the fence continues to win U.S. support he became anxious again and sent a "clarification" message of his own to the White House, demanding the Americans keep their prior commitments. The urgency arose when it became obvious to the Jordanians that the disengagement plan is not taking Jordan's concerns into consideration. And Abdullah reckoned that if he went to Washington, he would be forced to join the chorus of White House support for the plan. He could not agree to that.
There's no disputing that the disengagement and fence plans could have far-reaching ramifications for Jordan. Nor is there any dispute that Jordan will end up in the process as part of the solution, at least with regard to the economic hinterland for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian state. Therefore, those who want the disengagement plan to succeed cannot treat Jordan as if it were just anther Arab state that needs to nod its approval for the plan. Jordan, which itself disengaged from a political partnership with the Palestinians, does not want to get them back through a back door as they try to escape Israel, and Israel does not need to strive for that if it wants Jordan to continue being an ally.
Israel's anger and threats to Jordan won't help if Jordan decides to close its gates to Palestinians and, like Egypt, leaves Israel to solve its problems on its own. Considering that Israel wants to conduct a unilateral step without know who will take the keys to Gaza and later the West Bank, it would be wisest for it to consult with understanding friends. King Abdullah is one.
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