Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was involved in a Saudi and U.S. pressure campaign on Jordan over the past three years, which among other things attempted to lower the standing of the country's King Abdullah II, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The account is based on columnist David Ignatius' discussions with current and former officials with knowledge of former U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East policy. He cites one U.S. source with close ties to Jordan's king, who said that Trump's "Deal of the Century" Middle East peace plan involved trying to undermine Abdullah's prized role as custodian of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, with the support of Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump's plan was led by his advisor, Jared Kushner, who had forged ties to Prince Mohammed. According to Ignatius, Kushner's dream that the plan would be championed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states may have been bolstered by an op-ed in Haaretz, written by London-based Saudi lawyer Malik Dahlan.
In "A Saudi's advice for Kushner: How your peace plan can still avoid catastrophic failure," published in July 2019, Dahlan wrote that if Kushner's plan does fail, "it is likely to bring down the [Saudi-sponsored] Arab Peace Initiative with it and end all newfound regional momentum towards peace. That would be a catastrophe.”
But how can the Trump administration's plan succeed? "I propose beginning with an agreement on the governance of Jerusalem," Dahlan writes. "This 'center-out' approach would seek to use a solution to the dispute’s central problem as the foundations of a durable peace throughout the region. This Jerusalem-first approach would involve the idea of 'integrative internationalization,' which incidentally, I also prescribe for Makkah and Medina.
According to a former CIA official, Abdullah fell out of favor with Kushner, and Trump began to believe that the king was impeding the peace process. The U.S. president, the Saudi crown prince and Netanyahu did not try to oust Abdullah from the throne, but rather tried to weaken his standing and bolster his foes, Ignatius writes.
For instance, the April arrest of the king's half-brother, Prince Hamza, following an alleged coup attempt, was connected to Washington and Riyadh's pressure campaign on Amman. Hamza was arrested along with two of his associates – Bassem Awadallah, a Jordanian with close ties to Prince Mohammed who had served as minister of planning and chief of the royal court, and the king's cousin, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid.
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The report cited a Jordanian intelligence document, provided by a former Western intelligence official, which says that the three men who were arrested were not technically planning on overthrowing the king, but rather "an attempt to threaten Jordan's stability and incite sedition," the official said.
The intelligence report adds that Awadallah "was working to promote the ‘Deal of the Century’ and weaken Jordan’s position and the King’s position on Palestine and the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.”
Ignatius writes that Mossad and Shin Bet security service representatives personally contacted King Abdullah to tell him that the organizations were not involved in the plot. A U.S. intelligence official who read the private messages said that they communicate that it was "not us," but rather someone above the organizations – which Ignatius says hints at Netanyahu.
Trump's peace deal led to the signing of the Abraham Accords – Israel's normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Trump and Kushner sought to achieve a similar deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In order to do so, they pressured the king of Jordan, a country that had long been a U.S. ally.
When Trump became president in 2017, Abdullah began to fear that the power of Saudi Arabia, helmed by Prince Mohammed since 2015, would undermine Jordan's influence, Ignatius writes. That May, Trump announced that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Jordanian king protested, and the move contributed to anti-government protests that broke out a month later in Amman, as the kingdom's economy worsened. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states volunteered to help the king, and pledged $2.5 billion in emergency aid. Jordan claims that most of that money has still not made its way to the country.
That economic aid, Kushner hoped, would convince Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to support the administration's Middle East plan. A year later, in June 2019, he presented the administration's Middle East economic proposals at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Bahrain.
In March that year, Abdullah had traveled to the White House and was briefed on the Middle East plan. That month, he made scathing remarks about it, and emphasized that he would never give up Jordan's authority over Jerusalem's holy sites.
King Abdullah is expected to travel to Washington and meet President Joe Biden at the end of the month.