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Jacob Olidort

Jordan sits out the Negev Forum with Washington’s tacit approval

The Biden administration appeases the Palestinians and minimizes steps toward peace by Israel and its regional partners
Where's Jordan? The steering committee of the Negev Forum meets in Abu Dhabi, January 9, 2023 (UAE Foreign Ministry)
Where's Jordan? The steering committee of the Negev Forum meets in Abu Dhabi, January 9, 2023 (UAE Foreign Ministry)

There was a glaring absence from last month’s meeting of the Negev Forum in Abu Dhabi. While officials from the US, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, and Morocco came together to discuss regional integration, Jordan was the only Middle East nation with diplomatic relations with Israel that did not attend.

Jordan missed out on a series of meetings between Israel and regional partners – signatories of the Abraham Accords and legacy partner Egypt – on issues ranging from healthcare to environment to defense. More striking than Jordan’s absence was its justification for skipping the regional meeting – that the Palestinians were not represented there.

The Biden Administration probably could have secured Jordanian participation in the Negev Forum had it chosen to promote the Abraham Accords more emphatically and had it not so consistently prioritized carrying water for the Palestinian Authority.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s concluding press statement for the Forum makes no mention of the Abraham Accords by name. It focused almost exclusively on how the setting helped address Palestinians’ prosperity and Israeli-Palestinian relations, with the word “Palestinian” appearing four times in the brief statement. By comparison, the four-page Negev Forum Regional Cooperation Framework agreed upon by Israel and regional partners this past November features just two sentences dealing with Israeli-Palestinian relations and the well-being of Palestinians.

Notwithstanding muted recognition for the Abraham Accords at the second anniversary in September, Biden Administration officials have routinely downplayed the historic agreement and made every effort to restore the failed “peace process” approach. Blinken did not mention the Abraham Accords during his call with his new Israeli counterpart on January 2, nor did he mention it on a call with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, on January 6.

The call with Safadi followed the Biden Administration’s criticisms of Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir for his visit to the Temple Mount. The apparent intent of the call to Safadi was to reassure Jordan that the status quo of the Temple Mount remains intact. In fact, the concern is out of place as the status quo arrangement permits Jewish visitors.  

Blinken’s call is part of a pattern by the Biden Administration to elevate the Palestinian Authority and minimize the steps toward peace achieved by Israel and its regional partners. This process kicked into high gear when Israel’s elections on November 1, 2022, brought Benjamin Netanyahu back to power. The Biden Administration waited a full week before issuing any congratulations. The Administration took great pains, moreover, to ostracize his cabinet before it was formed because it disagreed with its politics.

Since then, Blinken appeared as the keynote speaker at the annual conference of J Street, a far-left organization that has consistently taken an extreme approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defending antisemites, and which advocates for America’s “moral responsibility” to pressure Israel into compromise in its dealings with Palestinians. 

It is therefore no surprise that the Biden Administration undermined the Negev Forum as well, with a State Department official saying it is “not a substitute for efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian front” and that “our partners will be watching [the Netanyahu coalition] closely.” 

Jordan is a key and close ally of the United States and Israel. It is a nation that faces profound pressure domestically, as the Hashemite family governs a majority Palestinian population and, in recent years, migrants from other nations, especially due to the Syrian conflict. It is not only a key partner in energy and environmental coordination with Israel but also a partner of Israel and the United States on counterterrorism, including confronting Islamist groups operating across both borders and membership in the counter-ISIS coalition.

Jordan is making a statement by having missed the Negev Forum last month: It can win points with Israel’s adversaries while maintaining business-as-usual ties with Israel and the United States. This is precisely the formula that characterizes decades of US policy in the Middle East – the appeasement of adversaries at the expense of allies. 

In its absence from last month’s Negev Forum committee meeting, Jordan showed it can score points with Israel’s adversaries while maintaining business-as-usual ties with Israel and the United States. This is precisely the formula that characterizes decades of US policy in the Middle East – the appeasement of adversaries at the expense of allies. 

Indeed, just recently the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu held a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in which he reassured the latter that there would be no change to the status quo of the Temple Mount. That such a meeting took place is an expression of the collateral damage of the Biden Administration’s policy decisions – undue pressure on friends to prostrate themselves in the name of Washington talking points rather than peace. 

Even as this approach has previously failed, this administration is determined to revive it. Thankfully, many of America’s Middle East allies are pursuing a different approach – the Abraham Accords – and are not waiting around for the United States to get on board with a real plan for peace. 

About the Author
Jacob Olidort is a historian of the Middle East who served as an advisor in the Office of Vice President Mike Pence. He currently serves as the Director of the Center for American Security and as Director of the Center’s Middle East Peace Project at the America First Policy Institute.