Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the annexation of the Jordan Valley. This came in tandem with the US State Department reversing its stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Before Israel’s September elections, Netanyahu stated, “If elected, I commit to annex the Jordan Valley. It is our eastern border, our defense wall.”
Netanyahu explained this decision as a security measure that would create a stronger defense on the eastern border. He reaffirmed this decision a few days ago, this time with the backing of the United States.
In statements made to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week, King Abdullah II replied to Netanyahu’s annexation intention, stating that the relationship between Jordan and Israel is at an “all-time low.” He went on to call this a “sensitive and emotional issue,” adding that, “If we do not solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Israel cannot be part of the Middle East.”
The king said the problems both nations face are mutual and that he was not “ready for the annexation to come at the expense of what my father, and late prime minister [Yitzhak] Rabin fought so hard to achieve, as a symbol of hope and opportunity for Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and others.” He said that, “part of this is due to internal Israeli issues. We hope that Israel will determine its future, either in the coming weeks or in the coming months, and then we all must return to focusing our energy on bringing us all back to the discussion table and seeing the full glass.”
In light of the king’s hostile remarks toward Israel, Israel’s Western allies must make a strong stance against the threat that Jordan could pose. Israel and the US must force Jordan to maintain its peace agreement to avoid further regional instability. For the past few decades, Jordan and Israel have maintained a tenuous peace that is based largely on shared economic and security needs. The Palestinian issue has proved to be a thorn in the side of relations between the two nations.
Jordan, though it displays more secular Western proclivities than other religious monarchies in the Middle East, remained largely anti-Zionist in Israel’s early years. In 1967, Jordan aligned itself with Egyptian president Gamal Nasser’s Arab nationalist movement against Israel and promptly lost east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six Day War. Yet a few years later, relations between the two countries were much improved, and in 1973 Jordan fought alongside Israel against PLO factions in the West Bank.
JORDAN WAS initially concerned about Israel’s peace process with the PLO in the Oslo Accords. To assuage fears, Rabin flew to Jordan to speak with King Hussein. The relationship between Rabin and Hussein was crucial to the negotiation process and the historic peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel on October 24, 1994. The treaty, at worst, delayed territorial disputes, trade issues and the sharing of water between the two nations.
The willingness of Jordan to stand alone among many Arab nations in honoring a peace treaty and working with Israel toward greater economic and security cooperation has contributed immensely to regional stability. The two nations have worked hand-in-hand to stem terrorist threats, and Jordan has been an instrumental player in mediating between the Palestinians and Israelis.
However, indicating the recent souring of relations, Jordan has reclaimed some lands it leased to Israel as part of the 1994 peace treaty. This dramatic diplomatic signal was intended to show Israel that the alliance is not guaranteed, and can be abandoned at any moment. It was a land-based rebuttal to show Israel that the land is what matters to the Jordanians.
Israel, as well as the US, needs to place Jordan in check. While Amman is showing that it has power in this relationship, further escalation of tensions between the two countries could plunge the whole region, already in a tenuous position, into a state of open warfare.
The current regional stability owes at least in part to Jordan’s cooperation with Israel. Energy, commerce and information have flowed with increasing ease over the years between the two neighbors – demonstrating to the region, as well as the West, that economic and security cooperation are worth exploring as a route to peace.
The much-anticipated Trump peace plan, according to statements from administration officials, seeks to establish peace through his “peace to prosperity” plan for the Middle East. The plan aims to assist economically troubled countries to integrate with other nations economically. When money is injected into economies through economic relations, it becomes mutually destructive to jeopardize that relationship.
Jordan should realize this, as it has recently signed a major, 15-year, 10-billion-dollar natural gas deal with Israel. Severing ties with Jerusalem would not only affect the region but would have a direct effect on Jordan’s economy. Israel and the United States can, and should, collectively use strong economic levers to deter Jordan from jeopardizing cooperation, security and peace in the region. It is in the interests of the United States and Israel to not allow Jordan to rely on a more radical approach to relations – and to keep economic and strategic ties as strong as possible.
The author is a political analyst for various research institutions where he specializes in Middle East relations.