Is Jordan paying the price for Jerusalem criticism?

Observers say Amman’s vehement condemnation of President Trump’s Jerusalem announcement has upset the US’ Arab allies.

Protesters hold the Palestinian flags during a protest near the American Embassy in Amman
Protesters hold Palestinian flags during a demonstration near the American embassy in Amman last week [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Arab states have put pressure on Jordan to accept the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a heavily stripped-down version of the Palestinian state, Jordanian politicians and analysts say.

Member of Parliament Wafa Bani Mustafa told Al Jazeera the two main antagonists are the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken a dominant role.  

Jordan sided with the Palestinians and rejected US President Donald Trump’s decision last week to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognise the Holy City as the capital of Israel.

“Bin Salman and the United Arab Emirates are trying to strangle Jordan’s economy until it agrees to their terms, submit to their leadership in the region, and agree to Trump’s so-called ‘ultimate deal’,” Bani Mustafa said, referring to the US president’s as yet unexplained new plan to bring about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

US, Saudi, Israel axis

King Abdullah II said Trump’s Jerusalem announcement would have “dangerous repercussions on the stability and security of the region”, according to a statement released by the royal palace.

Thousands of protesters in Amman and other Jordanian cities denounced the US and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia – accusing the Gulf kingdom of collusion in the Jerusalem decision.

An official Saudi statement described Trump’s move as “unjustified and irresponsible”, and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process”.

However, according to a report by Reuters news agency, Crown Prince Salman is said to be acting on behalf senior White House advisor Jared Kushner and has presented Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the American plan for Middle East peace.

The US scheme reportedly involves creating a Palestinian state consisting of the Gaza Strip and disjointed parts of the occupied West Bank – without East Jerusalem as its capital, and without resolving the right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced when Israel was founded in 1948.

Al Jazeera spoke to three officials close to the Palestinian Authority’s leadership who confirmed that Crown Prince bin Salman pressured Abbas to accept a watered-down version of Palestinian statehood, without its chosen capital.

Bani Mustafa said the United States and its regional partners excluded Jordan from any arrangements regarding a Palestinian state. She also pointed out Jordan was not invited by Egypt to participate in Palestinian reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas last October.

Economic diplomacy

While Jordan is the only Arab nation directly impacted by a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, neither the US or Arab countries invited Jordan to the negotiating table, Bani Mustafa noted.

Jordan is home to several million Palestinian refugees, and its social, economic, and political fabric is interwoven directly with Palestinians in the West Bank.

King Abdullah is also the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy places, and the royal court pays the salaries of Palestinian employees there.

Bani Mustafa also said Jordan’s closest Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies – Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait – did not renew a five-year financial assistance programme with Amman worth $3.6bn that ended in 2017.

US aid to Jordan amounts to about $1.6bn a year; about $800m in military assistance and $800m in economic relief. Part of the economic assistance arrives as a direct monetary transfer, while the rest comes in the form of USAID projects in the country. Jordan’s 2018 budget includes a $400m direct grant from the United States.

King Abdullah II held talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday [Courtesy: Petra news agency]
King Abdullah II held talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday [Courtesy: Petra news agency]

King Abdullah met King Salman in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and discussions focused on “the dangerous implications of the United States decision” on Jerusalem, reported Jordan’s state news agency Petra.

King Abdullah will be in Istanbul on Wednesday for the emergency meeting called by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation that aims to produce a “unified Islamic position” over Trump’s decision

He joins other leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun. Saudi Arabia and UAE are not expected to be represented by heads of state. 

Jordanian analysts told Al Jazeera the apparent rift in bilateral relations between Jordan and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Journalist and political analyst Fahad al-Khitan said Crown Prince bin Salman is departing rapidly from traditional diplomacy in the region.

“The Saudis no longer view the Arab-Israeli conflict or the issue of Jerusalem as a priority for them or even on their agendas,” al-Khitan said. “Saudi Arabia’s regional posture has since President Trump won the American elections shifted toward more escalating and aggressive approach to Iran.”

Khitan also said Prince bin Salman, 32, has placed Saudi-Jordanian relations “on ice”.

“Bin Salman no longer views Jordan as a needed partner now that he has warming and direct ties with Israel – according to several statements made by Israeli politicians,” he said.

“Bin Salman is behaving as if he is the leader of the entire Arab world. But the problem is that he does not realise that such leadership also requires that he bears the burden of leading the region. But he is not getting it.”

Egyptian withdrawal

Al-Khitan highlighted Egypt’s diminished solidarity with the Palestinian cause, saying the current leadership is not looking for any role as a regional power broker.

“I was directly told by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry here in Amman a few months ago that Egypt is not interested in becoming a leader in the Arab world. Egypt is more concerned now with its own domestic problems,” he said. 

Bani Mustafa said Jordan must now reach out to countries such as China, Russia, Turkey, and Qatar to balance out the cooling relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt in order to pressure the US to reconsider its unilateral decision-making in the Middle East.

Member of Parliament Khalil Atiyeh agreed.

“Jordan’s position on Jerusalem is closer to the position of Turkey and Qatar than with the Saudi-UAE-Egypt axis,” Atiyeh said.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter @Ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera