Analysis

Jordan May Be the Weakest Link in Trump’s Peace Initiative

A report by a former Israeli ambassador in Amman points to the taboo issue of the kingdom’s very stability

Jordan's King Abdullah takes part in a military drill with Jordanian special forces
\ Yousef Allan/ REUTERS

Sometimes it takes someone on the outside, a graduate of the Israeli political or military scene, to say what the establishment can’t bring itself to say out loud. The question of the Jordanian regime’s stability has been taboo for years in the Israeli intelligence community. It’s not discussed in the open or in press briefings. When an Israeli leader blurts something out — as Central Command chief Yair Naveh did in 2006 when he expressed concerns about the future of King Abdullah’s regime — the response from the monarchy is caustic and Israel has to atone for the sin with innumerable apologies.

Oded Eran was Israel’s ambassador to Jordan in the second half of the ‘90s. As a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, he’s deeply familiar with Israel’s latest political analyses and intelligence appraisals on the monarchy. In a Hebrew-language article on the institute’s website, he paints a pretty grim picture.

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For years the Hashemite Kingdom withstood the pressures stemming from the upheavals in the Arab world it, but Eran writes that “this picture of stability has cracked, and increasing signs indicate that the pressures and events in the country could seriously destabilize the regime, which would have long-term implications.”

As my Haaretz colleague Zvi Bar’el noted this week, Washington’s “deal of the century” is also at stake. On Sunday, the White House announced that an economic summit would take place in Bahrain next month; on the agenda would be cash infusions for the Palestinians as the first stage of a future political package.

In contrast to the relatively positive — if cautious — initial reactions from some of the Gulf states, Jordan’s king has good reason to sweat.

A rift between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration over Palestinian objections to the pro-Israel package Washington is forging could affect the Palestinians living in Jordan, especially if the PA decides to reignite the protests at the Temple Mount and elsewhere in Jerusalem.

People chant slogans during a protest marking the Land Day in Amman, Jordan, March 29, 2019
\ MUHAMMAD HAMED/ REUTERS

Going by the preliminary leaks, the Americans have no intention of even approaching the Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem, not even in the political segment of the plan, if the Americans ever present it. There is therefore a scenario in which Jordan turns out to be the weakest link in the U.S. peace plan, both because of the king’s refusal to push the deal and possible unrest in Jordan after the plan is unveiled.

Back to Eran’s article. He warns that instability could ensue following protracted mass protests, some of which could be violent. The security forces could lose control, or the monarchy could lose control over parliament. “The royal house’s standing has not been questioned since the establishment of the kingdom,” Eran writes.

“But when the Arab Spring began, there were calls for the king’s powers to be constrained, and for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. The king had the good sense to absorb the claims by adopting some of them, mainly by changing the electoral system. But in the last two years, criticism has mounted about his handling of the kingdom’s basic problems, and about the conduct of the king and Queen Rania themselves.”

In late April, Abdullah replaced seven ministers and ousted the head of Jordanian intelligence, Adnan Al-Jundi, as well as other senior intelligence people and advisers. There were whispers about a plot to damage the king. The announcement on behalf of the king mentioned an attempt to target national security.

According to Eran, at the start of this month, when Abdullah named Ahmad Husni new intelligence chief, the Jordanian media published the king’s letter to Husni. He praised the security services that had identified “desperate attempts against the nation” and wrote that some people “exploit the difficult conditions Jordan faces …. It is a complicated time for the region, involving challenges. Jordan faces regional instability and a tense international climate.”

There are other difficulties too, as Eran lists in his piece: the parlous state of the Jordanian economy including soaring unemployment and the problems handling the roughly 1.5 million refugees who have fled to Jordan during Syria’s eight-year civil war. Given the economic conditions and corruption allegations developing in the king’s circle, weekly protests have begun in Amman and sometimes in other cities, too. It isn’t clear whether the countries providing aid to Jordan will give it enough to ward off an economic collapse.

Eran also warns about tensions between Israel and Jordan based on the Trump initiative, and the crisis that erupted at the Temple Mount a few months ago at the Golden Gate, also known as the Bab-al-Rahma. For the time being things have been calmed by the agreement to close the site for renovations.

But if the new Israeli government that’s about to be formed lets the Knesset pursue annexations to Israel, and/or imposes Israeli law on parts of the West Bank, Jordan would spearhead the Arab camp’s call to the world not to recognize these steps, to condemn Israel, and possibly impose sanctions on it, Eran writes.

He believes that when the Trump plan finally is disclosed, the king will have to oppose it loudly, to stifle murmurs in Amman that American generosity would dampen the king’s reaction.

Meanwhile, Israel and Jordan have other difficulties, including Jordan’s announcement about terminating the agricultural lease agreement at Naharayim in the north and Moshav Tzofar in the south. Also, there are divisions over the Dead Sea-Red Sea pipeline, and incessant criticism in Jordan about the deal to buy gas natural from Israel.

“Each item on this list threatens the substance and content of the relations,” Eran writes, adding that this is why it’s crucial for the two countries to maintain a dialogue and avoid provocative actions.

Eran’s analysis is probably not far from forecasts delivered to the cabinet by defense officials. Israelis who talk with past and present senior Jordanian officials hear about their apprehension regarding the Trump initiative. American and Israeli reliance on money from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to finance the American deal is likely to end in disappointment.

Jordanian officials are saying that the Gulf states don’t really grasp the Palestinians’ situation, and that they’ve been cultivating false hopes among the Americans that an arrangement can be reached without resolving the Jerusalem problem. These pessimistic assessments add to the older Jordanian grudge against Saudi Arabia and the United States for failing to meet the kingdom’s expectations of more aid to help cope with the refugees and Jordan’s own profound economic crisis.