Full Spectrum Jordan: A Separation

safadi blinken
(Photo: Twitter/X)
On November 4, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a press conference alongside Jordan’s Foreign Minister stating three points 1) a ceasefire will benefit Hamas - thus eliminating a pause that would allow civilians time for healthcare, movement, and funerals. 2) Israel has the right to defend itself - thus justifying continued military strikes against Gaza and 3) Hamas uses human shields - thus justifying Israeli war crimes that target mosques, hospitals, ambulances, schools, and an ancient church. The fact that he gave these statements in Amman - where crowds gather nightly calling for a ceasefire, calling for protection of civilian areas, and demanding Israel halt its aggressive strikes - shows that he is either oblivious to the anger in the Arab street, or he believes that by making these statements he will somehow deflate the protest movement. اضافة اعلان

This weekend was a widely anticipated one - first Nasrullah’s first speech since the war began as the world waited to see if he declared war or issued an ultimatum, and second, the Blinken visit and speech which could have called for peace, laid a blueprint for a post-Hamas Gaza, or at least called for dialogue. Instead, Nasrullah framed the narrative of the war and Blinken played defense for Israel’s actions. 

Three Things You Should Know
Nasrallah’s Narrative: Nasrallah’s speech was everything I had expected it to be, empty, boring and a blame game. While politicos spent much of their time debating whether Nasrallah will give an ultimatum or declare war, they missed the real point of the speech - framing the narrative. The US was blamed for the war on Gaza, and Israel’s own sovereignty questioned. This made targeting US assets a legitimate form of resistance rather than crossing the redline by expanding war with Israel in South Lebanon. It also served Hezbollah’s and Iran’s bigger projects in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, it served as a scene-setter for what he really wanted - to throw the ball back to the Arab leader’s courts. He called them out, he set the goals, demands and spoke the street language. While many were disappointed and others relieved - I think Nasrallah and Iran have actually come up on top. They joined the street calls, putting the US’ allies and regional players in the spotlight. Nasrallah is counting on Washington’s total support for Israel and a complete regional paralysis in the face of such blind commitment. 

The Street’s Narrative: In recent decades, there has been a lot written about ‘the Arab street’ and what it wants. Two points can be made here - 1) what it wants is clear from chants, lists of demands, political party programs, press conferences, and social media. The people want a ceasefire, protection of civilians, following international law, accountability for Israel’s leaders, and for the West to either support civilians or stay out of it. 2) It is not just the Arab street. New York, Calgary, Cape Town, Auckland, Perth, Seoul, Copenhagen, London, Rome, Jakarta, Geneva - the list goes on of protests of thousands around the world. They are in the Universities, in the plazas, in Blinken’s Senate testimony, in the train stations, and in the streets. The amount of civilian death - especially of children - is taking place in the age of social media where every phone is a camera and every user an activist. Spin is ridiculous and denial is impossible. 

The street is holding their own leaders accountable. Are they making statements? Are they selling weapons to Israel? What are they doing to advance peace? Are they justifying the attacks on civilians? For Arab leaders, their people are asking them to cut economic agreements with Israel and undo political arrangements from recalling ambassadors to canceling `accords. As a result, Arab leaders are stuck between foreign policy dilemmas and an angry citizenry demanding action.

The White House Narrative: In the face of these dilemmas and angry populations, the US is throwing fuel. The Biden administration has taken a hard line of defense for Israel, and the Netanyahu government has stretched that defense into covering their tactics, violations of international law, and cleansing Gaza of its population. The White House narrative is that Israel is defending itself against  a foe that uses human shields, and thus destruction of those human shields is justified and that any ceasefire would not protect those civilians but just let Hamas regroup. The White House narrative does not seem to account for its Arab allies - appreciation for their dilemma, recognition of how US rhetoric inflames tensions, and how the US will rebuild trust among Arab populations and develop a Middle East strategy. Right now it has an Israel strategy. 

My Take: While everyone was fixated on whether Nasrallah would expand the conflict or not, they missed what was really happening - the blame game and setting the narrative. Nasrallah successfully put the burden on the international community, specifically the US and its allies. That singles out those Middle East allies with a harsh spotlight. The US’s blind and misled support for Israel’s bloody campaign has left no room for considerations for allies and partners.  

America is using a tier based foreign policy where Israel dominates tier one and the Arab allies are not even a close second. Jordan has been taken for granted - after its swift diplomatic action to protect civilians, bring in aid, and create summits for dialogue. It also wastes decades of relations with Jordan and has undone faith with the Jordanian public. Other regional allies and partners are also taken for granted - again, a waste of years of diplomatic relations and breaking faith with those populations. How this gets built back will be a long and costly process. 

As expected, Israel is back tracking on its original announcements. Netanyahu’s government first announced the goal of eradicating Hamas. Now they have released a more attainable realistic objective -  “Getting to Al Sinwar”. This objective is clearer and more realistic tactically. But I will be honest as an analyst and an Arab. I don’t get it. Israel sent the message to the world that they have taken almost 10 thousand civilian lives, at least four thousand of which are children. They are still refusing to provide water, electricity, fuel, and medicine. They dropped a bunker buster bomb on a refugee camp. (Also, there is a refugee camp of Gazans inside of Gaza. Think about it.) These acts are openly admitted. It is like they don't see consequences, don’t see regional breaks, and don’t think of a future reckoning.

The US is standing right behind them, providing them cover and supplying them with weapons. The US, which was an influence and a goal for many of us whether we attended Purdue or visited the Grand Canyon or simply liked to watch American shows. Frankly, it is a shock. We feel a great separation. It is not just the US. Germany was a large surprise and its stance created heartbreak (well, and boycotts). The EU seems to have also given a green light to destroying Gaza as well as the UK. As these states talk about human rights and inclusion and international norms, it will be hard for us not to grit our teeth. 

The protestors on the street see their leaders, standing still, unable to stop the mass slaughter of Palestinians - something they were told would not and could not happen because of peace agreements and trade and diplomacy and international law. 

There has to be a reckoning. I know we still have a long way to go, but at the end of this several things will need to happen. Israel will need to realign its place in the Middle East. The optimism of recognition during the Abraham accords is gone. Trade and tourism will change. Second, the US will need to devise a Middle East policy that includes Arab states. There will be reputational damage. The memory of this will be long. Finally, Arab leaders will recalibrate their relationship with their own populations. Their awkward position between the US and their own people will not be soon forgotten. 

After all this, relations won’t be the same and may be broken for more than a generation. But eventually diplomacy and dialogue and the peace narrative will prevail - and Jordan will be waiting.

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

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