Is Jordan’s King Trying to Affect the Outcome of Israel’s Election?
A recent secret meeting between King Abdullah and Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz makes some experts think so
Just three weeks before Israel’s national election, Jordan’s King Abdullah hosted Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political opponent of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two men met secretly last week, somewhere in the kingdom.
Gantz alluded to the meeting during a Zoom meeting with activists from his Blue and White Party, where he criticized Netanyahu’s relationship with Amman.
“I think Jordan is a great asset for Israel, and I think that our relationship with Jordan could be 1,000 times better. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is an unwanted figure in Jordan, and his presence harms” relations between the countries, Gantz said on February 26.
And this week, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with his Israeli counterpart, Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi, on the Jordanian side of the Allenby/King Hussein border crossing between the countries.
Gantz, whose party is struggling to garner enough support to pass the 3.25% electoral threshold to enter the next Knesset, is trying to project the image of a strong statesman and capitalize on the tense relationship between Netanyahu and the Hashemite monarch.
“I have a continuous and ongoing connection with the Jordanian king and other senior Jordanian officials, and I know we can have great achievements,” he said.
It is important for the king to keep good relations with a neighboring country that has a peace deal with Jordan, so long as the relationship is honest and not built on broken promises, as the case with Netanyahu has become
Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Amman-based Palestinian journalist, writer and analyst, told The Media Line such a meeting was a “boost” to Gantz’s political career.
“It is important for the king to keep good relations with a neighboring country that has a peace deal with Jordan, so long as the relationship is honest and not built on broken promises, as the case with Netanyahu has become,” Kuttab said.
Israel will hold its fourth parliamentary elections in two years on March 23; some analysts say such meetings may be intended to influence the outcome.
Recent polls show that Gantz’s party is crumbling, giving him four or five seats in the 120-member legislature, a sharp drop from the 15 he currently has and the 31 he won in the last election, before the Yesh Atid faction broke away from Blue and White.
Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Amman, says this weak position makes it difficult for the monarch to dissuade Israelis from voting for Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
Osama al-Sharif, a veteran Jordanian journalist and political commentator, told The Media Line these efforts by the king are aimed at reminding other regional and international players that Amman is “still” a major actor in the region.
“The king is trying to make mention that Jordan has an important regional functional role,” the journalist said.
Sharif thinks Jordan’s effort to convince Israeli voters to choose someone other than Netanyahu will be for naught. He says that since the Israeli right is still the majority, the intervention will not make a difference.
“I think that all these attempts to lure the Israeli voter are miserable and will not have any impact on the election result,” he said.
Eran says foreign policy does not have much impact on election results, and doubts these meetings will influence the outcome.
“I think that the king of Jordan is more realistic and more capable of assessing the situation, and by now any foreign leader should know that elections in Israel are hardly influenced by events like these meetings,” the former diplomat told The Media Line.
The recent regional and international political changes may have forced Abdullah to rethink his approach to the region, Eran says.
“First of all is the election of Biden, which means a significant policy deviation from the previous Trump administration, and the Jordanians understand there will be a return to the more traditional US policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and on other regional issues,” he said.
Eran adds that Amman must adapt to the regional shift in alliances and the creation of new diplomatic ties.
“They have to take into consideration that, in spite of the change in Washington, the normalization agreements between Israel and some of the Arab states are here to stay and, in fact, got the blessings of the new administration,” he said.
Gantz and his party list are very weak and have no real hope of achieving any results in the upcoming election, experts say.
It is a good gesture for the king before his upcoming US visit to show that he is a man of peace
Meanwhile, it is no secret that Abdullah and the Israeli prime minister have poor personal chemistry.
The king has refused to speak with Netanyahu, leading Gantz to tell his party’s supporters that relations between the two neighbors can improve if he is the prime minister.
“It is possible to advance ties” with Jordan, but Netanyahu’s “presence interferes with the advancement of relations,” Gantz said.
Kuttab blames Netanyahu for the cold relations between the two countries.
There have been “clear-cut broken promises, especially in regard to the continuous violations of the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the paving of the road for radicals to trespass, without any regard for the Hashemite custodianship of holy places in Jerusalem,” Kuttab said.
Israel’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, Eran says, made Jordan feel that it is being marginalized.
But with a new president in Washington, Abdullah seems to be sending a message to the US administration by holding such meetings that Jordan is still a major player in the region and will play a critical role in bridging the gap between Israel and the Palestinians.
The diplomatic efforts also come before the monarch embarks on a trip to the White House for a meeting with Biden. He has repeatedly called for a two-state solution and the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which have been frozen since 2014.
“It is a good gesture for the king before his upcoming US visit to show that he is a man of peace,” said Kuttab.
Sharif says that the king saw his role in the region diminish during the previous US administration, and he wants to seize the opportunity to reclaim his role with a friendlier president in Biden.
“King Abdullah during the reign of the Trump administration, his role was neutered, and perhaps with the change, he will revive the Jordanian role,” Sharif said.
Last month, the Jordanian king criticized Israel for not vaccinating Palestinians.
In a recent conference organized by the Brookings Institution, Abdullah reiterated his support for a two-state solution.
“Occupation and peace simply cannot coexist,” he said. “The Palestinian people have a right to an independent, viable and sovereign state on the June 4, 1967, lines – to live alongside Israel in peace and security.”
Relations between the two countries hit rock bottom in 2019 after a series of incidents that Amman deemed provocative and which led to the recall of its ambassador from Israel.
Jordan and Israel signed a peace agreement in 1994 and have full diplomatic relations, and their governments cooperate closely in several areas including security and economics.