Jordan looks to reset ties with US under Biden
There is a sense of reserved optimism in Jordan following the outcome of the US presidential election, which unexpectedly delivered a clear victory for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Like many countries in the region and beyond, Amman was preparing for a second term for Donald Trump and what that may have meant for the region as a result of his controversial peace plan. It is no secret that ties between Amman and Washington have been strained by a number of steps the Trump White House took on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, particularly its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, and the severing of US funding to Palestinian refugees.
King Abdullah had rejected these decisions and ignored Trump’s peace plan, while reiterating his commitment to the two-state solution as the only just and viable path to a lasting peace and the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While he and Trump had not met for almost two years, Washington’s financial and military support for Jordan continued and, earlier this year, the White House appointed a new envoy to Amman.
For King Abdullah, standing up to Trump’s unilateral approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a risk worth taking. Aside from the Palestinians, Jordan stood to lose the most from what the plan would deliver: Annexation of most of the West Bank, the recognition of Israeli settlements there, and the severing of East Jerusalem’s ties with the rest of the Palestinian territories in return for a non-contiguous entity that represents a Palestinian state. Most serious was the suggestion that Palestinian refugees would be denied the right of return and would be settled in host countries. Jordan hosts more than 2 million Palestinian refugees.
The drive to impose this plan was so challenging for Jordan that King Abdullah declared that unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley, as planned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May, would threaten the 25-year-old peace treaty between the two countries. Eventually, Israel backed down, at least temporarily, as two Gulf states stepped in to normalize ties with Tel Aviv.
While Jordan was preparing for a Trump victory, news that Biden had clinched the presidency came as a relief. King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to speak with the president-elect to congratulate him and vow to work together to strengthen bilateral ties. Biden was the one who expressed his commitment to the two-state solution. King Abdullah is expected to visit the White House in February, according to sources.
Jordan’s diplomatic role in the region has suffered in the last four years. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ reaction to Trump’s unilateral steps has been extreme; severing all contacts with the US administration even as the Palestinian Authority (PA) was going through unprecedented financial and political difficulties. Jordan had pressured Abbas to engage with the Trump administration in a bid to delay possible annexation, but without success. With the departure of Trump, Abbas feels vindicated.
Buoyed by the naming of Biden’s national security and foreign policy team last week, Jordan now sees a return to multilateralism, diplomatic engagement and a semblance of balance in the policies of the incoming administration. It would signal a rejuvenation of Jordan’s regional role, especially with regard to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to speak with the president-elect and vow to work together to strengthen bilateral ties.
King Abdullah and Abbas met in Aqaba on Sunday, the first such meeting in months, to coordinate their next moves. The king reaffirmed Jordan’s full support for the Palestinian people as they seek to fulfill their just and legitimate right to an independent, sovereign and viable state on the June 4, 1967, lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. He underscored the importance of preserving the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem, expressing Jordan’s rejection of all unilateral measures aimed at altering the city’s identity or religious sites and attempts to impose spatial or temporal divisions in Al-Aqsa Mosque or Al-Haram Al-Sharif. The latter is of special interest to the king in his capacity as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy places in East Jerusalem — a role acknowledged in the peace treaty with Israel and by the Palestinian leadership.
Jordan now hopes to take the lead in soliciting international support to rescue the financially troubled UN Relief and Works Agency. The Biden administration is expected to reverse Trump’s decision to suspend financial support of the UN organization, as well as resume direct aid to the PA.
But it is too early to celebrate a quick return to the two-state solution. Under Netanyahu, Israel is unlikely to slow down its settlement activity, which has accelerated in the past few weeks. While Arab and international support for the two-state solution has been reiterated time and again this year, it is unclear how the Biden administration will move to revive it or even roll back some of Trump’s most controversial steps. But, for Jordan, the coming months will bring a reset in its ties with Washington.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010