Jordan's King Abdullah speaks during his meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan.
(photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS)
The details of a reconciliation deal between Israel and Jordan are sketchy, as are the circumstances that led to a break in diplomatic ties between the two countries in July.
What we do know is that thanks to behind-the-scenes work by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, special envoys of US President Donald Trump to the Middle East, a reasonable formula was reached, according to which neither Israel nor Jordan would lose face, and relations between Jerusalem and Amman would be restored.
A stable Jordan is a cardinal Israeli interest. And Jordan is an important Israeli ally in defending our eastern and northern borders from the encroachment of forces aligned with al-Qaida or Islamic State, as well as Iranian- backed militias.
A 15-year, multi-billion-dollar agreement was signed in 2016, under which Jordan will buy natural gas from Israel. Israel employs Jordanian workers in Dead Sea and Eilat hotels. The two countries cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including a regional water and energy project linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. And they work together to help keep King Abdullah’s regime stable. This has become increasingly challenging as Jordan faces an economic crisis and the strain of absorbing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Relations between Israel and Jordan have been complicated by a number of recent incidents. The most damaging was a lethal clash between an Israeli Embassy guard and two Jordanians in Amman. According to Israel, the security guard was attacked by a 17-year old delivery boy who brandished a screwdriver in an apartment rented by the Israeli Embassy. In the ensuing altercation, the guard shot dead the boy as well as, accidentally, a bystander, an orthopedic surgeon who was the owner of the apartment.
The ensuing rioting in Amman forced the Israeli Embassy staff to abandon Jordan. The embassy has been vacant ever since. Further exacerbating tensions between Israel and Jordan was controversy surrounding Israel’s short-lived move to place metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, or Haram Al-Sharif, in response to a Palestinian terrorist attack at the site that left two Israeli police dead and two injured. The metal- detector crisis took place in July, immediately before the Amman shootings.
Then in December, US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further strained relations between Jordan and Israel and between Jordan and the US. Tens of thousands of Jordanians have protested against the US in Amman and in other major cities across Jordan. Jordanian King Abdullah’s role as custodian and guardian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif complex, has put him under pressure both at home and throughout the Arab world to fight the Trump announcement.
The king had little choice but to be tough against Israel on the issue of reopening the embassy. In a country with a growing Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political movement and, of course, a huge Palestinian population that lacks real political representation, King Abdullah has availed himself of the old trick used by Arab autocrats and has deflected criticism from his own regime by lashing out at Israel.
But Jordan, no less than Israel, has too much to lose from a diplomatic freeze. Jordan has a vested interest in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians leading toward a resolution of the conflict. The longer there is an impasse on the creation of an autonomous Palestinian entity on the West Bank, pressure will grow for Jordan’s Palestinian majority to be given more of a say in running the country. Jordan also shares with Israel economic, environmental and security issues. After all, the two countries share a long border.
It was prudent of both sides to end the conflict and renew diplomatic ties. Whether or not Israel paid compensation to the families of the two Jordanian victims in the July shooting or transferred money to the Jordanian government is not important.
Nor is it important whether Israel “apologized” or “expressed regret” for the incident. What is important is that the countries renew their ties and full-fledged cooperation to the benefit of both Israel and Jordan.