Jordan seethes over Gaza's dead, testing Israel relations

Jordan has greater ability to serve Palestinian interests while maintaining relations with Israel, rather than discontinuing presence in neighboring country, government argues.

Roman Theater, Amman, July 31 (photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
Roman Theater, Amman, July 31
(photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
AMMAN -- At the depths of a dry valley known to have hosted Thomas Edward Lawrence, British pioneer of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, there are four Palestinians— now Jordanians— simmering in the desert heat at Israel and its military.
Operation Protective Edge amounts to nothing less than an Israeli massacre, the students bluntly say, as they begin hiking up a mountainside towards Lawrence's old watering hole. They had just come from a massive protest in Amman, where thousands demanded measurable action against Jerusalem from Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Along the King's Highway, the country's main artery, stores and homes play the same Arabic news channels, featuring rows of Gazan homes shattered by weapons fired by Israelis and made in America. One storekeeper, named Mohammed, wondered aloud if Israel had been officially declared the 51st state.
And on Rainbow Street, in the heart of Amman's downtown, one shop, called Mlabbas, has seen a boon in sales this month: the store offers uniquely designed clothing and apparel calling for an end to the Jewish state, and a "Vendetta" revolution against its occupation of Palestinian lands.
Nowhere in Jordan, from the Syrian border to the expanse of Wadi Rum, is there refuge from uniform anger at the Israeli government for its war against Hamas in Gaza, now coming to a close after dozens of tunnels into Israel were destroyed, and 1,900 Gazan lives were lost.
​In a country where half the population is of Palestinian origin, ​that anger comes as no surprise. But on the streets of its capital, a political consensus has formed that this time might be different: that among the reforms Abdullah has promised, relations with Israel may now be among the peoples' demands.
That comes as an unwelcome development to Jordan's government, already facing unprecedented security threats from its northern and eastern borders with Syria and Iraq. Quietly, relations with Israel remain one of Amman's most stable policies, rewarded by generous financing from Washington for its upkeep.
Local media here highlighted Abdullah's condemnation of Israel's "aggression," and his efforts to end the fighting in the interest of the Palestinian cause. This is the main public justification for a continuation of Jordan's presence in Israel: that Jordan has a greater ability to serve Palestinian interests while maintaining relations with Israel than it would if there were a breakdown between the capitals.
Calls for the withdrawal of Jordan's ambassador to Israel were thus rejected by the country's cabinet and prime minister this week. And on Wednesday, the Jordanian delegation at the United Nations submitted a resolution to the Security Council calling for the continuation of a delicate cease-fire between the two warring sides.
Jordan is "very happy" that the cease-fire has held thus far, Dina Kawar, Jordan's UN ambassador, said at the introduction of the resolution, which condemns "all violence and hostilities against civilians" and orders the "immediate withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip."
Over the course of the four-week conflict, Jordan's Hashemite Charity Organization says it has delivered 180 trucks full of humanitarian aid to the strip, and received 20 cargo planes from the region carrying aid.
And alongside his colleagues from Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco, Jordan's foreign minister will visit the strip this week to demonstrate "solidarity" with the Gazan people.
Those four governments, however, are not shy in their opposition to Hamas, either its politics or its role in prompting Israeli military action in the territory. Amman has maintained consistency in its opposition to Islamic fundamentalist groups, whether it be Hamas or the related Muslim Brotherhood, the al-Nusra Front in Syria, or the looming Islamic State, brimming along its borders.
Whether Jordan will support Palestinian efforts to brandish Israel for war crimes, however, will be yet another test of the relationship, now in two contrasting states in the public and private spheres.
"We are Jordanians now, but we are Palestinians always," said one of the hikers, named Ahmed, once he finally reached the watering hole. "Especially under siege, our people need us more than ever."