As the US administration prepares to roll out its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, there are indications of growing instability and consternation in Jordan.
Facing increased demands for major political and economic reforms in the kingdom, King Abdullah II seems worried that his kingdom will pay a heavy price whether it accepts or rejects the deal.
The monarch’s biggest fear, political analysts say, is that the plan would require Jordan to absorb millions of Palestinians who are already living in the kingdom. Abdullah is also worried that the plan would end the Hashemites’ historic custodianship over the holy sites in Jerusalem in favor of other Arab and Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
In an attempt to reassure the Jordanian monarch, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, last month took to Twitter to announce: “@King Abdullah II & Jordan are strong US allies. Rumors that our peace vision includes a confederation between Jordan, Israel & the PA [Palestinian Authority], or that the vision contemplates making Jordan the homeland for Palestinians, are incorrect. Please don’t spread rumors.”
Greenblatt’s announcement, however, has thus far failed to calm the king and other Jordanians, who continue to talk about a US “conspiracy” against Jordan.
Worse, Jordanian officials and political analysts fear that several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, are “colluding” with the Trump administration to force Jordan to make far-reaching concessions so as to facilitate the implementation of the deal.
The most significant concession, they believe, will come in the form of the resettlement of millions of Palestinians in the kingdom, where the economy is facing huge challenges not only because of refugees from Palestine, Iraq and Syria and drops in foreign aid, but also as a result of rampant corruption and mismanagement.
A report released last week by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Jordan has continued to preserve macro-economic stability in a difficult environment. As a result, the kingdom will still need substantial donor involvement, the report said.
Indicating that global, regional and domestic environments are expected to remain difficult, the IMF report said that Jordan will continue to face the burden of hosting some 1.4 million Syrian refugees at a time of slow growth, high unemployment and sizeable financial needs.
The report also pointed out that Jordan has “weathered a series of severe shocks for several years now; in addition to the hosting of the Syrian refugees, the kingdom has also faced a disruption of critical export markets and transportation routes, as well as rising borrowing costs.”
The economic crisis and recurring reports about corruption cases in the public and private sectors have sparked a wave of protests in Amman and other Jordanian cities in the past few months.
The protests are mainly directed against the government, although a few Jordanians have also taken the unusual step of criticizing the king and holding him responsible for the bad policies of the government.
The protests recently prompted Abdullah to order a reshuffle of the Jordanian cabinet – the third of its kind in less than a year. The move is seen in the context of the king’s effort to tackle economic challenges and prepare Jordan for Trump’s peace deal.
Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said last March that “some individuals try to question Jordan’s stances in an attempt to destabilize the country.”
Jordan’s stance on the Palestinian issue and Jerusalem is unwavering, namely the two-state solution in accordance with international legitimacy and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, she added.
Her remarks reflect Jordan’s concern over Trump’s upcoming plan, particularly in wake of reports that it makes no reference to the two-state solution. This has sparked a wave of rumors among Jordanians regarding a US-Israeli “conspiracy” to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state.
The rumors have been reinforced by claims that Abdullah was being kept out of the loop about the details of the peace plan.
Former Jordanian Minister of Information Samih al-Maaytah said that Jordan always wants to be updated and consulted about any future plan for peace.
“Jordan has good relations with the US and plays a role in regional issues,” he told the pan-Arab media outlet The New Arab. “Jordan wants a plan that is based on the  Arab Peace Initiative and international resolutions. Jordan wants a viable initiative. Jordan has not departed from the equation of peace and a political solution.”
Maaytah said that Jordan has been “proactive, locally and internationally,” in preparation for the announcement of Trump’s plan, to emphasize the need for resolving the issues of Palestinian refugees and resettlement [of Palestinians].
Several Jordanians and Palestinians who met with Abdullah in recent weeks said he complained that he was under pressure from some Arab countries and the US administration not to reject the peace plan.
Jordanian MP Musa Hantash, who met last month with the king, claimed that an Arab country was prepared to pay off Jordan’s debts in exchange for the king’s acceptance of the Trump plan and the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood on terrorism lists. Hantash himself is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He did not name the country, although unconfirmed reports have pointed to Saudi Arabia.
“The Hashemite leadership totally rejects anyone who intervenes in Jordanian politics and society,” Hantash told the Jordanian news site Saraya News. He went on to quote Abdullah as telling him and other Muslim Brotherhood MPs that the Hashemite custodianship over the holy sites in Jerusalem was being “threatened” by several parties.
Prominent Jordanian columnist Maher Abu Tir claimed in a television interview last month that Jordan has been offered $100 billion in economic projects and grants as part of the peace plan.
Jordan, he said, is today at a “very difficult and sensitive crossroad. The chances of Jordan accepting the deal are impossible, even though many believe that the kingdom will eventually surrender to the pressure. However, there are also many sensitivities linked to what’s happening in Jordan. As everyone knows, Jordan can’t be involved in such solutions.”
Abu Tir said that Jordan was betting on the Palestinians to be the first to reject Trump’s plan.
“Jordan is betting on the Palestinians to reject the plan because of their direct involvement,” he added. “Jordan is also relying on the Europeans to reject the deal because, according to confirmed information, they don’t support its formula. Jordan may not publicly reject this formula, and will not be the first to dismiss it. But Jordan is betting on other ‘safety belts’ that would stand against this deal.”
The columnist predicted that Jordan’s ultimate rejection of Trump’s deal would come at a heavy price. “Similarly, accepting the plan will also cost Jordan dearly,” he said. “We are facing two costs – and we have to choose one.”
The anxiety caused by the upcoming revelation of the plan, accompanied by growing demands for major economic and political reforms in the kingdom, are believed to be the reason behind a recent shake-up in the upper political and security echelons of government in Amman.
While the cabinet reshuffle is seen as an attempt to tackle the economic crisis, other measures taken by the king indicate that he may also be facing real and unprecedented challenges from home.
Earlier this month, Abdullah dismissed the director of the country’s General Intelligence Department, Adnan al-Jundi. The king said that his move was prompted by complaints about “abuses” under al-Jundi’s administration.
The king did not provide details about the alleged abuses. However, he explained that the decision to replace the intelligence chief “came at a delicate stage facing the region as a whole, and the huge and unprecedented challenges created by regional changes and a unique and tense world climate.”
In addition to the dismissal of the intelligence chief, the king also fired several senior officials in the royal palace. According to unconfirmed reports, he has also issued orders to replace the security detail of many members of the royal family.
The firing of the intelligence chief and senior royal palace officials came almost immediately after a Kuwaiti newspaper reported a “dangerous” plan aimed to destabilize Jordan. The report said that the man behind the “hellish plan” is the husband of the king’s aunt – a wealthy businessman charged with financial corruption.
West Bank Palestinians who visited Jordan in the past few weeks said that the kingdom was awash with rumors and conspiracy theories amid increased calls for economic and political reforms and leaks concerning the peace plan.
“The situation in Amman is very tense,” said a businessman from Ramallah who visits Jordan regularly. “The economic situation is very bad, and many people complain that the Syrian refugees are taking their jobs. In addition, there’s talk about several senior political and security officials who may be involved in attempts to undermine the monarchy.”
A Palestinian Authority official who returned from Amman last week said that Jordanian officials told him that Abdullah was “upset” with the Trump administration and some Arab states. “The king feels that he’s been left alone to face serious challenges from home and abroad,” the PA official said. “He’s afraid that Trump’s plan will aggravate tensions inside the kingdom and drive a wedge between Jordan and other Arabs.”
Summing up Jordan’s predicament, a veteran political analyst in Amman said that the kingdom was facing “existential challenges” as a result of the peace plan.
The king’s efforts, he said, “should be focused on preserving Jordan’s survival, independence and stability, while also pushing for badly needed economic and political reforms.”