Analysis

As West Bank Annexation Looms, What Are Jordan's Options?

The 'Judaization' of Jerusalem and the status of Jordan in the holy sites are still at stake, but the international struggle will now revolve around stopping the annexation

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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King Abdullah speaks in Amman, Jordan November 10, 2019.
King Abdullah speaks in Amman, Jordan November 10, 2019. Credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

King Abdullah II has made it very clear that those who want to cooperate with Jordan on all levels cannot at the same time realize their vision of annexation. In an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Abdullah said that annexation would lead to a “major clash” with the kingdom and that Jordan is considering all options.

“Leaders who advocate a one-state solution do not understand what that would mean. What would happen if the Palestinian Authority collapsed? There would be more chaos and extremism in the region. If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan … I don't want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options. We agree with many countries in Europe and the international community that the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East,” said the Jordanian king.

What are Jordan’s options? At the end of April, the king announced that farmers in Tzofar in the southern Arava region would no longer be able to cultivate land that Israel had previously leased from Jordan in the framework of the peace treaty. This is an “unfriendly” decision, but legitimate, expected and does not breach the treaty. It does however reveal the harsh atmosphere in Jordan where signs of normalization, beyond security cooperation, are not considered legitimate.

The annexation policy that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long ago proposed and recently solidified in his coalition agreement with Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz dwarfs all other pretexts for tension between the countries. The “Judaization” of Jerusalem and Jordan’s status in the holy sites, two hot button issues in Jordan that have even led to verbal disputes between the kingdom and Saudi Arabia, are still on the agenda, but the international struggle will from now on revolve around stopping the annexation.

Jordan held talks last week with European Union foreign ministers to inform them of the danger annexation poses. A European diplomatic source told Haaretz that “Jordan is in a real panic not only because of the breach of international law this move provokes, but also from the public response that could arise in Jordan, not to mention in the West Bank and Gaza, if Israel decides on annexation by the beginning of July.”

The source added that “Jordan is in a deep economic crisis that began even before the coronavirus, a crisis that has greatly deepened as a result of the economic damage done by the pandemic. If in previous demonstrations protesters were demanding employment and economic assistance, mentioning almost on the margins their opposition to normalization with Israel, this time the rage could be directed mainly against Israel.”

King Abdullah of Jordan standing to attention with army troops under a Jordanian national flag during a ceremony at the Jordan Valley site of Naharayim on November 11, 2019.
King Abdullah of Jordan standing to attention with army troops under a Jordanian national flag during a ceremony at the Jordan Valley site of Naharayim on November 11, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu

On the other hand, the working assumption of Israel and the United States is that Jordan can’t allow itself to damage the foundations of the peace treaty, not to mention with U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House. Jordan is dependent not only on American assistance, which amounts to about $1.5 billion a year, but also and mainly on Jordan’s ability to obtain funding with American guarantees and support. It’s also doubtful that the king can rely on Arab support, especially Saudi Arabia’s, for a significant move against annexation.

Saudi Arabia’s ties to the White House are strained in the context of the oil war and with the status of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Congress which is at the nadir. In Jordan it is believed that the annulment of the peace treaty would give Israel free rein to fulfill the dreams of the right wing on the Temple Mount and revive the idea of the alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

In February, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman stirred a public storm when he said that a few weeks before, “Netanyahu had made the rounds of residents of the Jordan valley and talked about annexation. I don’t understand why he hasn’t brought this to a vote, because he has a clear majority with our support.” But then, Lieberman said "I found out a few days ago that, during all the talk about annexing the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu sent a message to the King of Jordan saying, 'don't worry, it's just election talk, there won't be annexation.'" Likud was quick to issue a denial, but Jordan did not confirm nor deny Lieberman’s statement.

But meanwhile, senior U.S. officials have also commented on the matter, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who said that Washington would be ready for annexation within a few weeks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made a lightning visit to Israel on Wednesday, did not continue with a visit to Amman nor did he say anything publicly that could calm King Abdullah. Moreover, Pompeo said that the question of annexation should be “between Israel and the Palestinians,” and State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus recited the mantra that “it’s important to turn back to President’s Trump’s Vision for Peace and to bring all parties to the table to work toward this peace plan.”

Jordan isn’t mentioned at all as an interested party. The conclusion in Jordan is that Israel is rushing, with full American backing, toward annexation, and there is great frustration there over the inability to do much except warn and threaten. Dr. Hassan Barari, a lecturer on international relations at the University of Jordan, who is well acquainted with the political and public reality in Israel, explained in an article for the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad, that even those who call for dialogue with Israelis to persuade the Israeli public to change its positions, is very mistaken. “Such involvement will only play into the hands of the Israeli right wing… and will legitimize Israel’s expansion policy.”

Jordan probably cannot rely on Kahol Lavan’s lawmakers to stop the deterioration, especially Gantz or newly appointed Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, although for months they had been saying that they would oppose unilateral moves and that annexation “must be done with international consent.” That is a hollow statement that offers no alternative, rational or realistic position.