Jordan is once again seeking political asylum. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz will hear the details of the “deal of the century” in Washington this week, King Abdullah will apparently only be able to guess at the nature of the ambush U.S. President Donald Trump is laying for him.
Based on the statements of senior Jordanian officials, the kingdom is still officially in the dark, and speculation relies mainly on leaks to the Israeli media. But their greatest fear is that Jordan will become the alternative Palestinian homeland.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58
“What does annexing the Jordan Valley mean, after Trump has already recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, given it permission to annex the Golan Heights and recognized the legitimacy of some of the settlements?” a senior Jordanian pundit said in an interview with Haaretz. “All of this means Jordan has ceased to be an important element of the peace process.
“Moreover, the deal of the century abolishes the two-state solution. It undermines the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which was always a cornerstone of every proposed solution. It rejects the Palestinians’ right of return and demands that Jordan absorb additional hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, or even millions.”
Jordan expressed these fears publicly after last year’s Bahrain conference, which detailed the billions of dollars in aid that Trump’s plan envisions for Palestine and Jordan. In exchange, Jordan would be asked to serve as a home for Palestinian refugees and effectively become a Palestinian state.
Jordan now faces three threats that it defines as existential. The first is the expected American pressure to adopt Trump’s peace plan. This could include cutting American economic aid and military support, thwarting the king’s efforts to raise money from international financial institutions and even promoting Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to become the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
The second threat, which is even more dangerous, is a scenario in which the Jordanian public launches protests against the deal and demands that the kingdom sever ties with Israel, or even cancel the peace agreement. And the third threat will come to pass if Israel adopts the U.S. deal, annexes the Jordan Valley and other settlements assigned it under the plan and thereby severs Jordan from the West Bank.
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Jordan’s options for opposing the deal are limited. It has no substitute for its alliances with the United States and Saudi Arabia. Despite its efforts to draw closer to Russia by thawing relations with Syria, Russia provides neither a diplomatic nor an economic alternative to American support.
Jordan’s ties with Saudi Arabia have been tense for quite some time, at first due to its refusal to let its territory be used as a base for attacks on Syria four years ago, and later because of Riyadh’s hints that it wants to become the guardian of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continue to be a vital source of economic support. In 2018, they gave Jordan $2.5 billion to help it rehabilitate its economy and calm the stormy demonstrations that broke out at the start of that year.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also viewed as key supporters of the U.S. proposal, and as countries that have already almost completed normalization with Israel. Thus facing off with them over their backing for the deal would be dangerous.
The worrying question is whether Jordan might cancel or threaten to cancel the peace treaty as a way of exerting pressure against the deal. For now, Amman’s diplomatic reasoning is that scrapping the treaty wouldn’t eliminate the threats the deal poses to Jordan.
It wouldn’t deter Israel from annexing the Jordan Valley, because the annexation proposal isn’t related solely to the valley’s strategic importance, but also to Israel’s domestic political battles, which generally override strategic considerations. For the same reason, it also wouldn’t prevent annexation of the settlements. And it would end Jordan’s influence over the holy sites in Jerusalem, while also turning the kingdom into an enemy state.
More than a year ago, when senior government and military officials held discussions about the likely effects of canceling an agreement that let Israel lease Jordanian land in the Jordan Valley and the Arava, questions arose about its impact on the peace treaty. According to Jordanian sources, the unequivocal conclusion was that canceling the peace treaty wasn’t an option and shouldn’t even be considered, because it would play into Israel’s hands more than it would help Jordan.
But now, circumstances could change. Even though Amman considers the peace treaty vital, or even existential, it’s hard to know how it would respond if there were widespread violent demonstrations because Jordanians saw the “deal of the century” as an opportunity to clash with the government over issues unrelated to the deal.
Cairo, meanwhile, is treating the planned Netanyahu-Trump meeting as if it were solely an Israeli-Palestinian issue, or even an Israeli-American one, that has nothing to do with Egypt. To date, there have been no official statements by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi or senior officials in his administration about the upcoming meeting in Washington.
Judging by its past statements about the American proposal, Egypt still supports a two-state solution and opposes Israeli annexations of territory or other unilateral steps. But it’s apparently relying on the political divisions within Israel to thwart the deal without it having to publicly oppose it.
Egypt is more interested in developments in the Gaza Strip, and specifically in how Hamas and Gaza residents respond to the American proposal, than in the proposal’s content. Unlike Jordan, it isn’t threatened by what is known of the deal so far. And if the proposal grants it billions of dollars to develop joint Egyptian-Palestinian industrial parks, it certainly won’t refuse the money.
Hamas will remain dependent on Egypt whether or not anything comes of the deal. And Israel will similarly remain dependent on Egypt to mediate any violence that might erupt due to Trump’s proposal.
But even countries that aren’t likely to be harmed by the deal, like Egypt and the Gulf states, aren’t free of the fear of how their publics will respond. If the Palestinian issue reenters the Arab public conversation and reappears on the Arab diplomatic agenda, this could spark protests whose official pretexts would be the deal, but whose roots would be years of accumulated frustration and bitterness against Arab regimes.
In contrast to the impotence of public opinion prior to the Arab Spring revolutions, today, public opinion carries weight. It has the power to topple governments or dictate political moves.
Trump’s deal is already viewed in the Arab media as an idiotic one meant to make the Palestinian problem disappear and allow Israel to annex territory. Now, it’s being portrayed as an American gift meant to help Netanyahu cling to power, at the Palestinians’ expense.
If fears that the deal will give Israel a free hand to annex territory prove accurate, and all the more so if territory is actually annexed, protests could develop into a pan-Arab movement that would force Arab governments to respond. Marketing the deal to Arab countries would then become mission impossible. And that’s without even mentioning the damage that America’s standing in the region would suffer.