Friday, September 24, 2010

Ambivalent Jordan

Jordan's King Abdullah II returned home from Washington earlier this month having ostensibly urged President Barack Obama to offer his own peace plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli "tinderbox." The king's interests in a settlement are doubtlessly sincere yet by no means straightforward.

Abdullah was in the US to attend a two-day Nuclear Security Summit. He had a private lunch with the president as well as a formal Oval Office meeting becoming the first Arab leader to visit the Obama White House. Photographs showed the two leaders smiling and looking relaxed.

In a subsequent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Abdullah predicted that a Middle East war this summer is inevitable given that "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in peace" and that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is set to expire in July. Contrary to statements by Arab League officials, Abdullah told the newspaper that the initiative was not "a take-it-or-leave-it document." On Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, the king professed to be sanguine: "If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, nobody needs a nuclear weapon."

In an earlier Wall Street Journal interview, Abdullah intimated that Israel intended to "push" West Bank Palestinians into Jordan. Jordan's Foreign Ministry recently summoned Israel's ambassador to "harshly" protest a (nonexistent) "West Bank expulsion rule." The Hashemite Kingdom, with its mostly Palestinian population, has long feared a "Jordan is Palestine" designation. Though it continues to see itself as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places which need defending against "continued [Israeli] provocations," Jordan does not want to reassume responsibility for the West Bank. A recent speech by Queen Rania announcing the launching of "Madrasati Palestine," an initiative to renovate Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem affiliated with the Jordanian wakf, was carefully coordinated with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty has resulted in a decidedly frosty relationship. The king says ties with Israel have never been worse and that economically Jordan was better off "before my father signed the peace treaty." Yet the Jordanian stock market is rebounding from the global economic downturn, and the kingdom continues to enjoy the trade benefits from its peace with Israel.

But Abdullah is under constant pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood and the intelligentsia to sever ties with Israel. Soon after two IDF soldiers were killed in an encounter with Palestinian gunmen laying mines along the Gaza border fence, and as news reports circulated that Iranian SCUD missiles had been shipped across Syria to Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon, an editorial in the Jordan Times accused Israel of being determined to start another war despite the prevailing "calm."

What does Jordan want? Assaf David, a Hebrew University expert believes that while Jordan genuinely wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians it simultaneously fears such an accord would permanently codify the Palestinian presence in Jordan and threaten Hashemite rule.





-- April 2010

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