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.
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
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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