Shortly before an election, Jordan’s King Abdullah hosted an Israeli opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose popularity was waning.
That could be a headline from October 2018 or from Sunday.
About two and a half years ago, Abdullah invited Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay to meet in his palace. At the time, tensions in Netanyahu’s coalition meant there were rumblings about an early election, though one was not called for two more months. Gabbay, while the head of the largest opposition party in the 20th Knesset, was projected to lead a much smaller faction in the next one.
“Abdullah hosted Gabbay despite polls indicating that the Zionist Union would win only 12 seats in the next election,” The Jerusalem Post reported at the time, and a “Midgam poll broadcast on Channel 2 found that only 4% of Israelis believe he is the most fit candidate to be prime minister.”
Reading the headlines on Sunday morning, one can’t help but feel déjà vu. King Abdullah recently held a secret meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as first reported in Yediot Aharonot and verified by the Post.
Much like Gabbay at the end of 2018, the polls indicate that Gantz’s party is collapsing, giving him four or five seats, down from the 15 he currently has or the 31 he won in the last election before Yesh Atid broke away from Blue and White.
Others on the Left are so concerned that Blue and White won’t pass the electoral threshold, leading to tens of thousands of Center-Left votes to not be reflected in the next Knesset’s makeup, that there is a campaign to convince Gantz to quit.
Of course, Gantz is currently defense minister and will continue to be for at least a couple of months, as opposed to Gabbay, who was not even an MK at the time of their meeting.
The meeting with Gantz took place after Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, at least twice in recent months. They are in frequent contact about possible cooperation in water resources, tourism, agriculture, transportation, trade and more.
Ashkenazi is on the way out, having said he won’t run in the upcoming election, rather than be trounced like his party’s leader, Gantz, is expected to be. But Ashkenazi’s meetings with Safadi started months before he would leave office.
Which leaves Abdullah’s meeting with Gantz, just as his influence is waning, seem like an apparent repeat of the meeting with Gabbay.
All of this contact between the Israeli Center-Left and Jordan is in the context of Abdullah refusing to speak with Netanyahu.
“It is possible to advance ties” with Jordan, but Netanyahu’s “presence interferes with the advancement of [the] relations,” Gantz said in a Zoom call with Blue and White activists.
His statement has strange implications. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a monarch in an undemocratic country doesn’t think much about the democratic choices of Israeli citizens, but to use that as a cudgel against Netanyahu seems like tacit approval of that tactic.
Regardless, contact with Jordan is important, and it’s good that it’s happening. Abdullah seems to be trying to meet with Netanyahu’s opposition to try to get his message about a two-state solution across to Israelis.
But he is making odd choices of the vehicles for that message. A better idea might be to wait to see the result of the election to find out who might be effective in that role.
Then again, we have had so many elections lately that it’s hard to know if the person leading the opposition to Netanyahu after the vote on March 23 will be in place for long.