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Why Jordan Is Worried About Trump's Peace Plan

Any change to Jordan’s custodianship over the holy sites in Jerusalem could undermine King Abdullah

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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File photo: King Abdullah II of Jordan listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 5, 2017.
File photo: King Abdullah II of Jordan listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 5, 2017. Credit: Bloomberg
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Earlier this week, Israel and Jordan made an unusual announcement – that Netanyahu would meet in Amman with King Abdullah. Just a year ago, there was a major, public crisis between the two countries over the stationing of metal detectors on the Temple Mount and an incident in which an Israeli security guard shot two Jordanians to death in Amman.

Relations have been repaired since then, and security coordination continued throughout that time. But the king’s decision to host Netanyahu is no trivial matter considering the anti-Israel mood in the kingdom, and especially the widespread demonstrations against Abdullah’s government.

Nevertheless, what hung in the balance was simply too important: Israel and Jordan have a shared interest in getting the Iranians out of southern Syria and preparing for the fallout of U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned peace initiative.

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The president’s special envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and his adviser son-in-law, Jared Kushner, conducted an intensive campaign in regional capitals this week. The target date for unveiling the initiative is uncertain, and all previous speculation about the matter has proven wrong. Gradually, however, details about what the plan is expected to include, which seem to be fairly credible, are beginning to pile up.

The Americans are indeed planning to offer the Palestinians Abu Dis rather than East Jerusalem as the capital of their state. In exchange, Israel will withdraw from three to five Arab villages and neighborhoods east and north of Jerusalem. The Old City will remain in Israel’s hands.

Trump’s proposal also apparently won’t include the evacuation of isolated Israeli settlements, and certainly not a compromise on the settlement blocs. The Jordan Valley will remain under full Israeli control, and the Palestinian state will be demilitarized, with no army or heavy weaponry.

If this is indeed the final offer, it will be seen as a “state-minus,” which is very far from what the Palestinians are demanding. Therefore, Ramallah will apparently view it as a nonstarter. The sweeteners the administration will offer the Palestinians are mainly economic – a huge package of incentives, undoubtedly partly funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The Jordanians are worried about the possibility of another provision being included in the plan – one that would give the Saudis and the Gulf states a foothold on the Temple Mount, for instance, by managing the entrances to the Mount. That would be a blow to the king’s status as defender of Jerusalem’s holy places. This status is one of the cornerstones of his rule’s legitimacy at home, which is constantly being challenged (and Jordan is far from being a democratic exemplar for the region, contrary to what was claimed in one recent Haaretz op-ed).

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While in the Gulf, Greenblatt and Kushner also discussed financing for projects to improve infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. But approval of those projects – of which the most urgent is strengthening Gaza’s power supply – is proceeding lackadaisically, even as Israel and Hamas trade blows and slide continually toward another major military conflict.

Hamas has evidently erred in evaluating Israel’s considerations. Netanyahu, in diametric contrast to the left’s claims, has demonstrated considerable caution in recent months and refrained from warmongering. Even now, due to his assessment of the nation’s priorities, he would prefer not to escalate in Gaza so as not to disrupt efforts against Iran, especially in Syria.

But the incessant friction along the border – the demonstrations with their mass Palestinian causalities, the incendiary kites and, recently, heavy rocket and mortar barrages as well – reduce his political room to maneuver. Ministers in the security cabinet, like Gilad Erdan (on Thursday), are already speaking openly about the possibility of a large-scale military operation in Gaza in the near future.

When the area near Gaza is burning, Netanyahu’s patience – which is seconded by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and senior IDF officers – will eventually come to an end. This likelihood is bolstered by the information that the kite launchings have switched from being the private start-up of some young men in Gaza to an organized operation by Hamas’ military wing. Operatives from the organization’s brigades and battalions have set up manufacturing and distribution systems for the incendiary kites and the booby-trapped helium balloons, which are delivered regularly to the people who actually put them in the air.

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, has what he views as pretty good negotiating cards in his hand: two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers. But instead of starting negotiations that would exploit this advantage to obtain a deal that would ease Gaza’s humanitarian distress, he has insisted on playing with fire, which is liable to bring another disaster down upon the territory.

No minor matter

This week’s pre-trial hearing (known in Hebrew as a “minor trial”) over the admissibility of confessions in the 2015 murder of three members of the Dawabshe family in Duma ended in something of a tie. The Central District Court deemed two confessions by the main suspect, Amiram Ben-Uliel, inadmissible, saying they had been extracted under torture. It also disqualified a confession by a minor accused of abetting the murder.

Nevertheless, it deemed a third confession by Ben-Uliel, which was given later, to be admissible. This will also affect the minor, in conjunction with other significant evidence, so prosecutors and investigators are still optimistic about the outcome of the trial.

The investigation of these two and other suspects was conducted using the justification of “necessity,” meaning extraordinary measures were necessary due to fears that the murderers would commit additional attacks on Palestinians. Right-wing militants from the hilltops south of Nablus (who were later dubbed “the rebellion gang”) were under surveillance by the Shin Bet security service and the police, but before the murder, some of the agencies’ recommendations for administrative restrictions on these violent extremists weren’t adopted due to the prosecution’s reservations.

After the murder, Netanyahu told the Shin Bet that solving it was top priority. The Shin Bet’s then-director, Yoram Cohen, with backing from then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, ordered the use of measures that were highly unusual for an investigation into Jewish terrorism. These included aggressive interrogation of the suspects and the massive use of investigative tricks, including staging an incident in prison, as Chaim Levinson reported in Haaretz two years ago.

In addition, for the first time approval was given to a series of administrative detention orders and orders requiring some of the extremists to stay away from certain areas. This halted the momentum of attacks on Palestinians.

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