This past February, as revolutions were gaining fervor across the Arab world,
Jordan’s King Abdullah II released his memoirs – something usually reserved for
the latter part of one’s life.
It seemed eerily ironic and blindly
premature for an Arab leader, especially one still a year shy of his fiftieth
birthday, to be publishing such a body of work at a time when gusting political
winds were beginning to rewrite history and create even more unpredictability in
a region where a single day’s events are enough to fill headlines for an entire
Yet, as the initial phases of the Arab Spring have toppled
autocrats across the Middle East and North Africa, Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy –
a direct line of descent from the Prophet Mohammed – has thus far managed to
weather the storm despite intermittent protests, mainly in Amman.
protests do not appear to be aimed at toppling the monarchy as much as at
creating more accountability for corruption, combating the 13 percent
unemployment rate and fostering greater measures for more democratic inclusion
at the parliamentary level.
This has caused the king to dissolve and
restructure his cabinet, including naming former International Court of Justice
judge Awn Khasawneh as the new prime minister.
The recent shuffle of the
Jordanian cabinet may be nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at quieting
the protesters – Jordan has changed prime ministers 10 times since Abdullah
assumed the throne in 1999. However, it is clear that Abdullah seems to be
seizing the reins of the Arab Spring as a means to increase his previously
diminished role in the region.
IT IS no coincidence that over the last
month, Abdullah has become increasingly vocal and more diplomatically
visible. In an interview with the BBC, he was the first Arab leader to
call for Syria’s Bashar Assad to relinquish his control of Syria.
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king made an even bolder gesture when he made his first official visit to
Ramallah in 10 years to meet with the Palestinian leadership in the West
Bank. The long overdue trip showed that Jordan still views the
Palestinian Authority as the primary representative of the Palestinian people in
light of ongoing reconciliation talks with Hamas.
Just days later,
Abdullah received President Shimon Peres in Amman. That move was aimed at
encouraging stalled progress on the peace process, and also at assuring Peres
that Palestinian reconciliation would not come at the expense of Israel’s
The unpublicized meeting was also meant to express the king’s
gratitude for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “postponement” of the
demolition of the Mugrabi Bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza to the
Abdullah has been a major opponent of the proposed
demolition and has continuously warned about the consequences of what would be
seen as a large-scale provocation within local Muslim circles.
outspoken opposition and Netanyahu’s reconsideration are a critical
pronouncement of Israel’s recognition, outlined in the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli
peace treaty, of Jordan’s “special role in protecting Muslim holy shrines in
Jerusalem” while giving “high priority to Jordan’s historic role in these
shrines during permanent status negotiations” with the
Regardless of whether or not the Jerusalem city council
eventually finalizes the closing of the bridge and its eventual reconstruction,
Abdullah will have made a clear statement that Jordan will continue to play an
important role in determining the status of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, even
as the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance to UNESCO could threaten the status of
Jordan’s Muslim religious trust – the Wakf – as applied to Jerusalem.
most shocking move, however, may be the king’s hosting of Hamas political bureau
chairman Khaled Mashaal in the kingdom within the coming weeks. Hamas was
exiled from Jordan in 1999 after what the monarchy stated was the organization’s
failure to refrain from conducting illicit activity within its
In less diplomatic terms, the organization was kicked out for
using Jordan as a base from which to conduct terror-related activities while
attempting to become overly influential within Jordanian politics via its
connection to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Having met Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit to Ramallah while also pursuing a
meeting with Mashaal, Abdullah seems to be asserting himself as the key mediator
in Palestinian reconciliation talks at a time when Egypt – the presumed
facilitator of such dialogue – is having enough problems reconciling its own
The king also appears to be paving inroads for Hamas to
reestablish its headquarters in Jordan should the organization feel that
President Assad’s lack of stability in Syria will force it to look elsewhere for
a new host-country.
Not only would this reposition Abdullah as a
steadfast third-party negotiator in the region, it would also be a popular move
with Jordan’s Palestinian population – approximately 50 percent of the
By allowing Mashaal’s return to Jordan, the king would be making
a cordial gesture to the country’s faction of the Muslim Brotherhood without
fully appeasing the Brotherhood’s demands for more inclusion within the
Hashemite political system.
Just as his father, the late King Hussein,
masterfully maneuvered through the cutthroat landscape that defines Middle East
politics, Abdullah is demonstrating similar tactics within his own political and
diplomatic savvy. More importantly, however, the current king seems to be
justifying his father’s decision in the waning days of his life to confirm
Abdullah as crown prince.
In his biography of King Hussein, Nigel Ashton
wrote that the destiny of the Hashemite kingdom “was always a quixotic ideology
in the face of the hardheaded realities of power.”
For Abdullah today,
there is no harder reality of power than the events that have transpired in the
Arab world over the last year.
So far, Abdullah has had no problems
embracing this quixotic vision.The writer holds a Masters degree from
the Abba Eban School of Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University. He currently resides
in Tel Aviv where he is a linguistic editor. This article first appeared on the
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