Jordan’s King Abdullah II needs to start being helpful

Sure, the king wants Israel’s security, cooperation in facing off against terroristsand access to Israeli water and energy, but heaven forbid he come out against labor union calls to boycott Israel.

King Abdullah addresses the European Parliament. (photo credit: screenshot)
King Abdullah addresses the European Parliament.
(photo credit: screenshot)
The time has come for Jordan’s King Abdullah II to start being helpful.
The king was scheduled to address both US Senate and House foreign-relations committees by video on Wednesday to sound the alarm over Israel’s possible extension of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.
Abdullah, as he has made abundantly clear, is opposed to the move, arguing that it would sound the death knell for a two-state solution, badly harm Jordan’s relationship with Israel and further upend stability in the Mideast.
The Jordanian monarch is, of course, entitled to his opinion, and his words are likely to carry weight with US legislators who view Jordan as a critical US partner in efforts to stabilize the Mideast, fight terrorism and empower Muslim moderates. Yet Abdullah should be cautioned not to go overboard in his anger toward Israel over the proposed move.
If he is indeed worried about annexation’s ramifications, he should be discussing this not only with US lawmakers, but first and foremost with Israeli policy makers such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.
Yet, according to reports this week, Abdullah has refused to take phone calls from Netanyahu to discuss the issue or accede to requests by Gantz for a meeting. He should not be taking a page out of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s playbook and give Israel the silent treatment because of policy disagreements; rather, he should engage with Netanyahu and Gantz now – especially now. And Washington, which has historically done much to promote good Israeli-Jordanian relations, should encourage him to do so.
Abdullah enjoys a great deal of popularity in Washington, and that is why there was surprise this week following reports the US administration is considering cutting $1.5 billion annual military and economic aid to the kingdom if it does not extradite Ahlam Tamimi, one of the masterminds of the heinous Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001 that killed 15 people and wounded 122. Among the dead were two US citizens.
Tamimi was convicted and given 16 life sentences in Israel. She was released in 2011 in the prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit. She was allowed to go to Jordan, where she was born. US requests for the extradition of one of those on its list of “most wanted terrorists” to stand trial for the killing of two of its citizens have been rebuffed by the Jordanians, placing Amman and Washington on an unusual collision course.
While criticism of long-standing US Mideast allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel is commonplace in Washington, and has been for years, Jordan has generally received special treatment because of widespread recognition of its precarious strategic situation and the important role it plays in stabilizing the Mideast and in combating terrorism.
But harboring a terrorist responsible for killing 15 people, who then later boasted about it in the Jordanian media, does not align with that terrorism-fighting image.
Abdullah’s apologists will say Congress needs to take into account his precarious domestic position, that the Jordanian population is 55%-70% Palestinian and that they would oppose the extradition of Tamimi.
But the excuse of angry Palestinian public opinion in Jordan is overused. It was used last year when the king gratuitously opted out of annexes from its 1994 peace treaty with Israel that leased Naharayim and Tzofar to the Jewish state. And it is used to explain why the king has done almost nothing in his 21 years on the throne to promote people-to-people ties with its western neighbor.
Sure, the king wants Israel’s security assurances, cooperation in facing off against terrorists who also threaten him and access to Israeli water and energy. But heaven forbid he should come out publicly against Jordanian labor unions calling to boycott Israel.
The 1994 peace agreement, it is fair to say, is solid at a government-to-government level but did not filter down to the Jordanian masses. Abdullah is partly to blame for this.
While Washington appreciates the role the king plays in the region, it should also let him know it has expectations. The first is not to harbor terrorists, and the second is to look for ways to tamp down – rather than exacerbate – tensions with Israel.