King Abdullah Goes on the Attack, Brings Annexation Fight to the Heart of Washington

Disappointed by the White House, Jordan’s leader, a popular figure on Capitol Hill, is seeking allies to prevent annexation

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Jordanian King Abdullah II (C) walking with an honor guard, Amman, Jordan, May 25, 2020.
Jordanian King Abdullah II (C) walking with an honor guard, Amman, Jordan, May 25, 2020. Credit: AFP PHOTO / JORDANIAN ROYAL PALACE / YOUSEF ALLAN
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Over the past 36 hours, Jordanian King Abdullah II has held at least five briefings with senior members of Congress from both parties, in an attempt to recruit them to the anti-annexation cause.

The briefings were all conducted through video link, and included conversations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the full membership of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee. Abdullah spent, all in all, a full workday on the conversations with the lawmakers.

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The Royal Hashemite Court released an official statement summarizing the king’s first round of briefings on Tuesday. The statements emphasized the bottom line: Abdullah “warned that any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable and undermines the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the region.”

Two sources on Capitol Hill who heard the king make his arguments told Haaretz that he expressed alarm and concern about the timeline for potential Israeli annexation, which could begin in early July. The coalition government agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz allows Netanyahu to bring the issue to a vote after July 1.

“The king stressed again and again that this is an urgent issue, and that even with COVID and other sources of instability around the world, it’s critical to pay attention to what Netanyahu is planning,” said one of the sources. The official statement, added the second source, was “mild” compared to the actual contents of the briefings.

Jordan has been the most outspoken Arab country so far in its opposition to Israel’s annexation plans. Others have also expressed opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but not as vocally and persistently as Jordan, a country where a large part of the population is of Palestinian origin, or has close family ties to Palestinians.

Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and others march with Jordanian flags and other banners as they chant slogans during a protest marking the Land Day in the Jordanian capital Amman, March 29, 2Credit: AFP

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Haaretz that some Israelis wrongly assume that Jordan isn’t truly concerned about annexation. “It’s not clear that Israelis understand how annexation is viewed in Amman,” he said. “Many Jordanians view it as a big step in the process of trying to turn Jordan into Palestine, the idea of an ‘alternative homeland.’”

Satloff published a memo on annexation last week in which he described conversations with “one of the architects of the annexation concept.” This unnamed individual told Satloff that Abdullah “is just play-acting with apocalyptic warnings of a ‘massive conflict’ triggered by annexation, given that Jordanians would much prefer Israel Defense Forces troops along the border rather than Palestinian security forces.”

Satloff told Haaretz that in his view, this is a misconception. “When annexation advocates suggest that Jordan secretly prefers Israel to keep the Jordan Valley, they miss one important point: the optimum Jordanian outcome is one in which, as part of a peace agreement, the Palestinians give a stamp of approval to some form of Israeli presence along the border. But unilateral Israeli annexation that disregards the Palestinians is different, and is much more problematic for the Jordanians.”

According to Satloff, “some of the most reasonable and pragmatic people in Amman are truly worried about this, and the king’s efforts on Capitol Hill reflect how serious this is for them.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Haaretz that the king’s decision to speak directly to members of Congress is a smart move. “Recognition of Israeli annexation is a decision the White House will have to make, but Congress also has an important role to play, and the time for Congress to get involved is now,” she explained.

“Congress has made significant investments in Jordan’s stability over the years,” she said, referring to billions of dollars in U.S. aid to the kingdom that have been appropriated by lawmakers. “They have a stake here. If the annexation move goes forward, and the consequences are like what the king is warning about, then Congress will be one of the first places where he will seek support and assistance.

“The Jordanians have very good relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” Cofman Wittes added. “The partnership with Jordan is seen as very valuable by both Democrats and Republicans. They know the contribution Jordan has made on intelligence cooperation, fighting ISIS, taking in refugees from Syria and other regional issues.”

Satloff explained that Abdullah “is one of the most popular and respected international leaders on Capitol Hill, and one can even make the argument that today, the bipartisan consensus around supporting Jordan is as strong in Washington as the bipartisan consensus around supporting Israel.”

Jordanian troops ride their military vehicles holding a picture of Jordan's King Abdullah during a parade at a ceremony to celebrate the country's 74th Independence Day, Amman, Jordan May 25, 2020. Credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/ REUTERS

Satloff said that Abdullah particularly wants “to get Republicans on board” and convince them to oppose annexation. “Even if they won’t comment on the issue publicly, it would advance Jordan’s interests for them to express concerns about annexation to the White House through private channels.

“The swiftest way to change the dynamic and kill the momentum for annexation is to change U.S. policy on the subject, and that’s why the king is talking to members of Congress and presenting the Jordanian position to them,” Satloff said. “If he succeeds in getting influential senators and members of the House to call the White House and share his concerns and ask questions about the wisdom of such a move, that could perhaps make a difference.”

In contrast to Abdullah’s excellent relationships in Congress, Satloff said, “with the current administration it’s been difficult for him at times. His advice on issues like the embassy move and the contents of the “deal of the century” was not accepted; in fact, the Jordanians say they weren’t even asked about aspects of the role allowed to them in the Trump peace plan.”

For Jordan, Satloff concluded, “annexation is an essential national security issue. It’s more important to them than it is to every other Arab country.”

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