Jordanian relief as US peace plan on long-term hold

Jordanian relief as US peace plan on long-term hold


(L to R) US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) attend the opening of an ancient road at the City of David archaeological and tourist site in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. (AFP)

Now that the US-sponsored Bahrain workshop is over with hardly any result, a sense of relief can be felt in Jordan. Amman is one of the parties — aside from the Palestinians — that have shown no enthusiasm for the much-hyped peace plan the White House has been putting together for the last two years. Jordan took its time before announcing that it was attending the Manama conference. And, before that, King Abdullah insisted, on more than one occasion, that the two-state solution was the only viable path toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

While the Palestinians have made their objections to the US approach clear from the onset, Jordan had its own reasons for resisting the unilateral and pre-emptive moves that President Donald Trump had taken even before the plan, or at least its economic component, was revealed. While insisting that East Jerusalem is the capital of the yet-to-be-established independent Palestinian state, Jordan underlined its unique and special interest in the future of the Holy City.

Even before the city fell to Israel in June 1967, the role of the Hashemite dynasty as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem was firmly established. That role was enshrined in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and recognized later by the Palestinian Authority. Arab and Muslim nations also underlined Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem as recently as last month at the Makkah summits and other venues.

Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has endangered that role, especially when Israel’s right-wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu has looked the other way as Jewish zealots carried out almost daily incursions of Al-Haram Al Sharif in clear violation of the peace treaty. Radical ministers in Netanyahu’s Cabinet have also talked about allowing Jewish prayers to take place at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while extreme religious movements in Israel continue to vow to demolish the mosque and build a Jewish temple on its site.

Also under Netanyahu, the Israeli authorities challenged Jordan’s role by installing electronic gates at the entrance to the compound in July 2017, triggering a diplomatic crisis with Amman. The gates were later removed. The Trump peace team has failed to recognize Jordan’s special role in the Holy City and, on Sunday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Trump’s special envoy to the region Jason Greenblatt helped break open a new tunnel running under the Palestinian village of Silwan that leads to Al-Aqsa Mosque. This provocative step was seen as another move by the Trump administration in recognizing Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Aside from the sensitive issue of East Jerusalem and the holy sites, Jordan was quick to reject any move in the inchoate Trump plan to settle Palestinian refugees in host countries. With more than 2 million registered refugees in the kingdom, King Abdullah recently made it clear that he would never accept plans to settle Palestinian refugees in Jordan. That rejection is also linked to an old Likud suggestion that Jordan is a de facto Palestinian state. The so-called “Jordan Option” or “Alternative Homeland” has been revived by Netanyahu Cabinet ministers such as Naftali Bennett.

While losing all credibility, Trump’s peace team appears to have fired its last salvo in Bahrain.

Osama Al-Sharif

As much as this outrageous proposal is anathema to Jordanians and Palestinians alike, its revival by Israel’s far right constitutes a basis for genuine concern. So far, Trump’s peace team — Jared Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman — has implemented, to the letter, Israel’s extreme-right vision for the future of the West Bank and the Palestinians. Only a few days ago, Greenblatt, fresh from his Bahrain junket, announced that the West Bank is a “disputed” and not occupied territory. Adding insult to injury, he also called the illegal Jewish settlements “neighborhoods and cities.”

While losing all credibility, Trump’s peace team appears to have fired its last salvo in Bahrain; hence the sense of relief in Jordan. The perception in Amman is that Israel’s tepid reaction to parts of the economic proposal has seen it falter. Israel has garnered more than it had hoped for under Trump’s peace team without having to cough up any concessions. Besides, there is an Israeli election in September to be followed by the official kick-off of the US presidential race in November.

While Amman may feel a sense of relief that Trump’s “deal of the century” is now on long-term hold, it recognizes the huge damage that his peace team has done to what Jordan considers the core of the Middle East’s endemic crises. The two-state solution is in dire straits and, sooner rather than later, it will be impossible to implement, as Israel expands and builds settlements and may soon annex major parts of the West Bank with US backing. 

The fallout from the US’ reckless moves will be felt for a long time to come and all Jordan, along with others, can do for now is to contain the damage and hope that change will take place in Washington and Tel Aviv in the near future.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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