Oded Eran
Oded Eran
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Smoke to the east of us: Is Jordan on fire?

Israel's new government must take decisive measures to help douse the flames posing a grave threat to Hashemite stability
Demonstrators lift flags during a pro-Palestine protest in the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2021. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)
Demonstrators lift flags during a pro-Palestine protest in the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2021. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Temperatures in Jordan, both climatic and political, have risen rapidly in recent months. Those resulting from the change in season are enough to provoke unrest against the background of the ongoing water shortage, but the political unrest is more dangerous and undermines the stability of the Hashemite rule. The situation should deeply concern Israel, which shares its longest border with Jordan.

The Jordanian regime, like other monarchies in the Middle East, weathered the Arab Spring decade successfully, but the effects of the earthquake in Jordan are now surfacing. Concessions by the king in the electoral law, for example, increased the weight of the tribal-regional lists in favor of national lists, thus weakening the base of the regime’s power. Added to this was the sense of alienation from the monarchy felt by the tribal leaders stemming from a lack of personal treatment, the economic damage that resulted from the Arab Spring and the COVID-19 crisis, and steps taken by the regime such as collecting weapons found in large quantities in the possession of the tribesmen.

Alongside the erosion of the regime’s relationship with its traditional power base, there has also been a decline in public confidence in the regime’s ability to deal with the economic and recovery implications of the coronavirus crisis. Three major components of Jordan’s economy – tourism, transfers of funds by Jordanian migrant workers, and cross-border inter-Arab trade fees – were severely affected, and the closures imposed to deal with the spread of COVID-19 deepened the crisis and the sense of distrust in the government. The effectiveness of public distractions, such as changing governments and leaders or demonstrating support for the Palestinian cause, have been found to be marginal and fleeting.

Jordan’s Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein, in 2015. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP)

All these converged in two sensational affairs in recent months, the alleged conspiracy plotted by Prince Hamzah, King Abdullah’s half-brother, and the blatant and belligerent defiance of the king by MP Osama al-Ajarma, which led to his removal from parliament.

The two affairs are unparalleled in the century of the Trans-Jordanian entity, and they testify to a dangerous drift in the status of King Abdullah as one who is supposed to be immune and elevated above internal criticisms and clashes. Even if there is no immediate danger to King Abdullah’s rule, the cumulative and corrosive effect of recent processes and events is worrying and disturbing.

File: Jordan’s King Abdullah II gives a speech during the inauguration of the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session, in Amman Jordan, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (Yousef Allan/The Royal Hashemite Court via AP)

This is also a problem for Israel. King Abdullah has intensified his criticism of the Netanyahu government’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and accuses Israel of renouncing its commitment to the Red Sea water transport project (the Red-Dead canal). Despite the need to understand Jordanian sensitivities on the Palestinian issue, Jordan’s conduct on this issue deviates from conventional norms between two states committed to a peace agreement. On the issue of water, Jordan ignores strategic, practical, and cheaper solutions offered to it. Nonetheless, the preservation of Jordan’s governmental stability is of strategic importance to Israel.

Any new government in Israel will have to address developments in Jordan and ways in which Israel can assist King Abdullah. East Jerusalem, the Palestinian population in the West Bank, and Gaza rehabilitation are areas where Jordan can play a constructive role that taps its capabilities and its centrality on many issues relating to the Palestinian population west of the Jordan.

Despite Jordan’s firm initial stance last year against normalization between Israel and Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, the integration of Jordan in regional projects, in cooperation with these countries, should be examined. Above all, Israel and Jordan, in conjunction with the international community, must initiate a strategic process centered on resolving water and energy issues in the Jordan-Palestinian-Israel triangle.

It is impossible to initiate a significant turnaround in the relationship without Jordan contributing its share. The constant slamming of Israel in every international forum and the freedom for bodies and individuals in Jordan to attack Israel and the peace agreement are not acceptable and cause damage to Jordan itself. The formation of a new government in Israel during times of internal Jordanian distress creates an opportunity for a profound change in Israeli-Jordanian relations, which has deteriorated in recent years.

About the Author
Oded Eran is a veteran Israeli diplomat and currently a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.
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