Former senior official in Amman says blame lies with Netanyahu and ‘electoral considerations,’ while Israeli expert cites dearth of contacts
Jordan’s King Abdullah II chose a New York City audience to tell the world that relations between his country and Israel were “at an all-time low” since the nations made peace in 1994.
In remarks made last week at an event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Abdullah blamed the worsening in relations in part to “Israeli domestic matters.”
Former Jordanian labor minister Jawad Anani clarified to The Media Line that the monarch was not talking about Israel itself, but about the head of its government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“I believe His Majesty sees the Israeli prime minister’s actions as anti-peace,” he said.
Netanyahu, Anani continued, “is a man who has many problems in his country and is therefore constantly striving to believe he is ‘exporting’ these problems by taking tough positions that affect the Palestinian cause and Jordan’s interests. We therefore have seen no progress in the peace process since the prime minister took office.”
Abdallah’s comments in New York coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Jordan-Israel peace deal, which began with great hope. While never described as “warm,” many now call it “cold,” while others prefer to say it is “inactive.”
Dr. Abdullah Swalha, founder and director of the Center for Israel Studies in Amman, told The Media Line that there were no “major” problems between the two neighbors, although officials needed to start moving on many points.
“The issue is that the relationship needs to be warmed up,” he explained.
“The important point in His Majesty’s comments,” Swalha went on, “is that the relationship is determined by domestic matters. I think the king at this point wants to say that the political leadership in Israel acts the way it does because of political or electoral considerations.”
Several issues have contributed to the strain in ties.
Last month, Jordan recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv to protest the detention of two Jordanian citizens by Israel. They were held for two months without charge before being released to heroes’ welcomes back home.
The arrests brought massive public and media pressure to bear on the Jordanian government, with calls to expel the Israeli ambassador.
Another disappointment is the fact that Jordan, which is struggling with massive foreign debt, has never benefited financially from the peace treaty. Instead, it has lurched from crisis to crisis over everything from taxes to teachers’ salaries.
Tensions rise even higher when it comes to Jerusalem, a holy locale that is sensitive to all sides. Under the 1994 peace treaty, Jordan is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in the city, which has been a flashpoint for clashes over the years.
Palestinians consider East Jerusalem their future capital and feel that any move made by Israel is highly contentious and often incendiary.
“The Israeli attitude toward the Aqsa Mosque [area], which Israel defines as the ‘Temple Mount,’ is one of the most debated and heated issues between the two sides,” Yitzhak Reiter, an Israeli political scientist and chair of Israel studies at Ashkelon Academic College, told The Media Line.
“The Israelis are gradually pushing to change the status quo toward one that puts these holy sites under Israeli control at the expense of the Jordanian Waqf [Muslim holy trust],” he explained. “This is one issue that really bothers the Jordanian government.”
An additional thorny issue is the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Jordan still believes it can play a key role in the peace process, but without the United States, nothing is achieved,” Swalha said, admitting that the Palestinians see it differently.
“They can count on the Europeans, Japan and other countries, as well as the halls of the UN and some international human rights platforms,” he explained. “Jordan does not see this. Jordan sees a major role for the United States, and achieving peace is difficult or almost impossible without Washington.”
He adds that Amman views its relationship with Israel through what he calls “the Palestinian file.”
The Palestinian Authority severed all diplomatic ties with the White House after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, announcing that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In addition, Palestinian leaders refuse to engage in any peace efforts in which Washington is the sole, dominant interlocutor.
Swalha says that for this, the US is to blame.
“The American recognition of Jerusalem, the transfer of the embassy and the issue of settlements prevent Jordan from making progress,” he said. “But more importantly, there is no dialogue between Jordan and Israel.”
President Trump and his Mideast team have also consistently refused to endorse a two-state solution, something that has infuriated the Palestinians. Abdullah insists that the two-state solution is the only way to bring an end to the conflict.
In addition, an announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week that the US had reversed a decades-long policy that deemed Israeli settlements in the West Bank “inconsistent with international law” has further angered both Palestinians and Jordanians.
But there is more. Last September, Netanyahu made an election promise to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. Jordanian officials condemned the pledge, but Swalha says he was probably only speaking to his base.
Still, he finds it worrying.
“I am concerned,” he said, “that there is no Jordanian strategy to deal with three strategic and sensitive matters: the American-Israeli alliance – I mean the alliance of the American Right with the Israeli Right; warming ties between Israel and Gulf countries; and the Palestinian refusal to deal with the Americans in exchange for a Jordanian desire to deal with Washington.”
Dr. Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and now a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line he was not surprised by the “low” level of the current relations.
“There has been no meeting at the highest level… in almost two years,” Eran said, noting that the lack of dialogue had contributed to the strain in relations.
“We have an accumulation of certain points of disagreement between the two states, ranging from the holy sites, contested land and a lack of progress in the peace process to water issues,” he said.
“None of these issues have been discussed and they are pending some sort of resolution at the highest level,” he said. “The absence of meetings can’t help in solving them.”