Jordan on verge of survival showdown?

Jordan’s prime minister revealed that his country would vote against Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September.

July 10, 2011 21:38
3 minute read.
Alexander Bligh

Alexander Bligh 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Jordan has been relatively quiet since the outbreak of popular unrest engulfing many Arab and North African countries.

However, two recent developments perhaps indicate that the kingdom is far from complacent.

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Last Saturday, King Abdullah declared a reshuffle in the cabinet not five months after it was sworn in – clearly in response to demonstrations protesting alleged government corruption. Earlier that week, the Dubai-based daily Al-Bayan published a leaked report that Jordan’s prime minister had revealed that his country would vote against Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September – thus breaking Arab consensus.

Unsurprisingly Jordan is facing two major challenges. On the one hand, there are mounting domestic pressures, especially from the Beduin South, the backbone of the regime for over 90 years. So far, the king has been following in the footsteps of his late father, King Hussein, and has demonstrated no less than brilliance in balancing all domestic players.

On the other hand, Jordan is nearing a crossroads in its attitude toward the Palestinians. In my book, The Political Legacy of King Hussein (2004), I analyze the advantages that Hussein could have found in losing of the West Bank to Israel.

First and foremost, Israel would be in charge of resolving the Palestinian issue, and the Palestinians would not be in a position to claim Jordan as a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Israel seems to have divorced itself from its traditional policy of resisting a Palestinian state at all costs.

In the Jordanian mind, this translates to a position that might endanger the very existence of the Hashemite Kingdom, as well as the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty, and a de-facto abandonment of the traditional friendship between the two countries that has survived many crisis since 1960.

Jordan has tried (and usually succeeded) in letting Israel lead the way against the creation of a Palestinian state. However, Israel is now seen as being too weak to halt a Palestinian independence process. The creation of such a state would put Jordan’s very existence in jeopardy: The PLO is formally and spiritually committed to taking over all of mandatory Palestine – i.e., Jordan, the territories and Israel. Considering that Israel would hold its ground within the 1967 lines, the next target of a small, economically weak, irredentist Palestinian state would be Jordan – a country that has already served as a battleground for the PLO in 1970-71.

If, indeed, this is the current Jordanian reading, it follows that the US and Israel are seen as weak players that cannot be trusted to support the kingdom.

Furthermore, if Jordan is to take to arms – diplomatic in this case – it has quite a strong weapon: Declaring a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital constitutes a flagrant violation of the internationally recognized Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty. That instrument states (Article 9): “When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines [Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem].” A Palestinian unilateral declaration of a state – let alone one that claimed Jerusalem as part of that state – cannot, at least in the Jordanian mind, be approved by any country, since it negates a basic element of the peace agreement and directly harms the interests of the Hashemite family, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Holy City.

All in all, a stable and strong ally of the US, led by a courageous ruler, would be directly threatened by a Palestinian state, and is apparently on the verge of openly fighting for its own survival.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Research Center, Ariel University center, and former adviser on Arab Affairs to the prime minister of Israel.

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