Jordan’s King Abdullah II ‘Very Encouraged’ After Meeting With Israeli PM
But this is just a honeymoon period and the relationship between the two countries will continue to be put to the test, analysts say
King Abdullah of Jordan opened up about his relationship with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and the prospects for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
The Jordanian monarch was on a visit to the United States where he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. Abdullah is the first Arab leader to meet with Biden since he took office in January.
Biden called the king a “good, loyal, decent friend.”
Osama al-Sharif, a veteran Jordanian journalist and political commentator, told The Media Line that the king “wanted to move on with regard to the sedition case,” and that he feels confident enough to leave the country, adding that the April crisis in which a former court official and a distant member of the ruling family conspired with the king’s half-brother Prince Hamzah to destabilize the country was “behind him and that he understands the frustration of Jordanians at the socioeconomic conditions.”
Al-Sharif also says that the Jordanian monarch “reaffirmed his position on the Israel-Palestine issue and that the tumultuous years of the previous US president are over.”
Abdullah said in the interview that he felt that it was important before embarking on his trip to “unify messaging” by meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Jordan late last month for a brief meeting with the king in the capital, Amman.
“It was important for me not only to meet with the Palestinian leadership after a war – which I did with Abu Mazen,” Abdullah said, using Abbas’ nom de guerre, adding “I met the prime minister, I met General Gantz. We really have to get back to the table.”
Abdullah, who met with Biden in the White House last week, said he held such meetings “under that umbrella of how we get Israelis and Palestinians to talk.”
The Israeli coalition is different from the one Netanyahu led, so there will be improvement in ties. But, again, when it comes to sensitive issues concerning Al-Aqsa and settlements the ties will be tested.
The king’s comments came during a sit-down interview with Fareed Zakaria aired Sunday on CNN in which he spoke candidly about Israel’s new government. Despite knowing that Bennett is a right-wing nationalist who opposes a two-state solution, putting him in direct opposition to the king’s position, Abdullah insisted that a one-state solution would be far more challenging to Israelis.
“What are you going to do? Are you going to push all the Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank, and just create instability on the other side? At the end of the day, Jordan gets a vote on this. And I think our red lines have been clearly identified,” he said.
Abdullah said he was “very encouraged” by his recent meeting with Bennett. They met secretly in Amman during the last week in June – the first such meeting between the king and an Israeli prime minister in years.
It is no secret that Abdullah and the former Israeli prime minister had poor personal chemistry.
Jordan is a key security partner for Israel, but relations have deteriorated in recent years over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line that all the publicity about a new beginning is much ado about nothing.
“There’s nothing new. It’s a new honeymoon period between Israel and Jordan, but when he [King Abdullah] starts with his demands, all that will change,” Ben-Menachem said.
Al-Sharif agrees; he says the relationship between Jordan and Israel will be put to the test again when tension begins to rise again in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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“The Israeli coalition is different from the one Netanyahu led, so there will be improvement in ties. But, again, when it comes to sensitive issues concerning Al-Aqsa and settlements the ties will be tested,” al-Sharif said.
The two countries have a number of issues that interest them and they “see eye to eye,” for example on security coordination, according to Ben-Menachem. But other issues, such as water, remain an obstacle, he says.
After Abdullah’s meeting with Bennett, Israel approved the sale of 50 million cubic meters of water to the Hashemite Kingdom, a major increase over the 30 million cubic meters Jordan receives from Israel under the 1994 peace treaty.
“The decision was seen as a goodwill gesture by the new government and an opportunity to create a positive atmosphere,” said Ben-Menachem.
The relationship between Abdullah and former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was frosty, but many wonder how the king will be able to have a working relationship with Bennett, who is seen as more hawkish than his predecessor. Bennett has said he is in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank, and he is an ardent supporter of settlement expansion.
“The difference is that there’s a new American administration and Netanyahu was dangerous for Jordan because he was working together with Trump for annexation, and there was a real danger that it was going to happen. With the Biden administration it will not happen for the next four years. So, Bennett can say what he wants, he can’t go through with the annexation,” Ben-Menachem said.
Abdullah staunchly rejected former US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, widely known as the “deal of the century,” which the king saw as posing a national security threat and undermining the Hashemite custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem, which has been a key source of legitimacy for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty for nearly a century.
During the Trump administration, Jordan, which considers itself a strategic ally to Washington, saw its role diminish as the one-term president’s relations with wealthy Gulf states took precedence.
“I think the king wanted to send a message that Jordan remains an important regional ally of the US after years of marginalization. … He achieved that, but it remains to be seen what the Biden administration will do regarding Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen,” said al-Sharif.
Israel last year signed two normalization deals with Gulf states that Ben-Menachem says the king feels diminishes his monarchy’s regional position.
“He didn’t like the normalization process, he thought it was at the expense of Jordan, and also Netanyahu was continuously threating him that he will give Saudi Arabia a foothold over Islamic holy sites in the Old City,” Ben-Menachem said. “This is a big insult for Jordan.”
News of warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have alarmed Jordanian leaders, who fear that the al-Aqsa mosque and compound could be a bargaining chip to sweeten a normalization deal.
I think the king wanted to send a message that Jordan remains an important regional ally of the US after years of marginalization
The Islamic holy sites in east Jerusalem are considered a red line for Jordan as the Hashemites see themselves as the rightful guardians of both Islamic and Christian holy sites.
But despite the recent meetings and the apparent warming of relations, Ben-Menachem thinks it’s not going to be long before relations sour again.
“This is very short romance, once the king starts with his demands which are not acceptable to Israel again the relations will be bad. He wants to have sovereignty in the Temple Mount, he thinks he is in charge,” he explains.