Full Spectrum Jordan: What We’re Really Losing

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(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
A conflagration burns through the region with the largest crowds and public support we've seen since the Arab Spring. Such a public reaction did not occur in 2006 with Israel and Hezbollah, or in 2008 with Israel's war then on Gaza. The mass civilian casualties and destruction of schools and churches, has driven popular action in multiple countries. During the Arab Spring, large crowds were mobilized, but not jointly. They coincide at the same time, but their goals were internal reforms, grievances against their own domestic leadership, and political and social change in their own countries. اضافة اعلان

This current protest movement is externally focused, with anger aimed specifically at Israel and in many cases against the United States, and very focused against Joseph R. Biden, who has articulated support for Israel in much more aggressive and blunt ways than previous presidents, especially during times of high civilian deaths. 

However, as this conflagration burns, some things are consumed by the fire. While domestic leaders may not have to worry about being toppled by angry crowds, there are certain efforts and narratives that are lost - peace and diplomacy.

Three Things You Should Know
The Mainstreaming of Resistance:  As you may have noticed, several restaurants, cafes and businesses in Jordan have their employees wearing the black and white checkered shemagh, or keffiyeh, as a sign of solidarity with Gaza. During the Arab Spring, while grievances may have been shared by the majority of the public, those people that actually went to the streets in Jordan were viewed as “the radicals”. (Elsewhere also, but I can speak personally of the Jordan experience). Now it is not ‘the radicals’ who are going on the street. It is a popular movement, connected between the thousands who gather in the streets -whether in front of Parliament or in front of the US embassy, or in front of the Israeli embassy - or those who wear the shemagh out of solidarity. There is a connection between a mainstreamed cultural movement and the street movement that we did not see before. It means that people wear it not only as a sign of solidarity, but as a sign of belonging. Those on the street are not the outliers or the outsiders or the radicals. They are simply representatives of this more popular, more mainstream movement. 

Who is really at risk? As mentioned, during the Arab Spring, it was individual governments that were often the targets of citizen ire. And we saw dramatic falls, whether it was in Tunisia or it was America's closest ally, Mubarak of Egypt. Now, the leadership often agrees with the people. The popular anger is aimed externally. Leaders and regimes and administrations are not at risk. 

The likelihood of a regional war is very low. No head of state, no country is interested in getting militarily involved with the conflict. Non-state actors though, are aggressive in this sense and further empowered, whether it's the Shiite militias in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon, or armed groups in South Syria. The appearance of these non-state actors on this stage are a threat.

It also sidelines those leaders, such as His Majesty King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority leadership or Egypt. who have spent decades working with the United States, or in back channels or diplomatic channels with Israel, on peaceful solutions towards the two-state solution, towards human rights, towards peace, even towards recognition - as we saw in the Abraham Accords and Biden’s continuation of the Abraham Accords with a Saudi-Israeli deal. These efforts are all at risk or already lost. 

Finally, what else gets lost?The voice of the people in many places is not heard. I write here not of the Palestinians but of US citizens, EU citizens, and Israelis. Several months ago until just recently, hundreds of thousands rose up against Netanyahu’s  undercutting of democracy in Israel through judicial changes. In many ways, Bibi does not represent the average Israeli. Ben-Gvir does not represent the average Israeli. This was a government formation that caused shock and consternation to many Israelis. 

Likewise, within the United States, social survey data shows that Americans are not as aggressive as Biden on this issue. It is even the case within the State Department and White House as employees protest Biden’s one-sided position. Muslim employees state they are intimidated to stay silent. Leaks in HuffPost triggered an open letter by Anthony Blinken to all State Department employees to calm tensions.

 Finally, a petition against Ursula von der Leyen, with thousands of signatures against both her “Queen” approach to speaking for all of Europe rather than consensus, as well as how she ignores Palestinian civilian suffering. She doesn't represent Europe, and she does not even represent the diplomatic corps and the bureaucrats working for the EU who sign the petition. Three main players in this contest and three with internal discontent in their own staff over this issue. And yet the leadership seems to have to either a greater or a smaller degree, a separation from the popular sentiment of their own staff. 

The mistake of forsaking Jordan:Jordan has been a voice of moderation and mediation for decades. If anything, this has become Jordan's go-to stance. It has been happy to be a hub for summits and dialogues and an advocate for diplomacy and discussion. The Trump administration was one of the first to sideline Jordan when it comes to regional policies, and the Biden White House is also doing the same. 

Was Biden serious about going to Tel Aviv, hugging Netanyahu, calling Israel a democracy as they hollow out their judiciary, sign away weapons and support for them to prepare for a land invasion of Gaza, and completely ignore Israel’s war crimes, and then fly to Amman, Jordan, to speak with His Majesty? The press release in advance of this trip was clear that the goal was to express solidarity with Israel. Clearly, including Arab allies and hearing from them was not the priority of the trip and canceling it was the correct move - diplomatically and geopolitically. Jordan more than any other country has invested in the dignity of Palestinians and the two-state solution, as well as the application of international law and justice for all citizens. Dismissing all of this work and Jordan’s investment is a serious mistake not just for this crisis but for the future of regional peace and Palestinian statehood and development. 

My Take There is a race between two narratives; 1) The Peace narrative (I would argue spearheaded by Jordan) working through diplomacy, towards a two-state solution, with Track Two diplomacy and back channels. The second one is the Force narrative - meeting force with force, redrawing of borders through military confrontation and negotiation with a loaded gun. The irony here is that the second narrative camp, gives rise to armed non-state actors, that are a dime a dozen in the Middle East, is unintentionally been given a marketing boost by the Israeli (I must point out that Bibi’s government is in camp 2 since they are using force to re-draw borders and achieve victories) ongoing genocide of Palestinians and America cheering them on.

Biden, Bibi and Blinken (or as I like to call them - B3) have taken a hammer to the Peace narrative of the Middle East, even if unintentionally.  Bibi ushered in an extreme right wing Israeli government, with aggressive settlement building, dangerous racist rhetoric, and absolute disregard for all agreements, accords, or resolutions. Blinken and Biden came to the region, consecutively, beating the drums of war and kicking all diplomacy and peace processes to the side. They even out 9/11-ed each other, by Blinken saying this is Israel's “9/11 times ten” and then Biden said this is Israel’s “9/11 times 15”. There was no room for reason, international law or justice in their rhetoric - effectively making no room for Jordan as a country that encompasses all of the aforementioned. 

There is no clear end in sight - and no plans for what's next. There is a summit calling for a ceasefire represented by Arab leaders and top leaders of the UK, France, Germany, and EU at the same summit as top diplomats from Russia and China. The US sent an acting ambassador to Egypt. Bizarrely it is the rest of the world calling for calm and ceasefire. The Biden administration sent an internal memo ordering staff not to call for de-escalation or ceasefire. 

The US and Israel are holding a standoff with Hamas and other armed groups over a powder keg. 

For those of us who follow US politics, even the minutiae of US campaigns and media and the glorious eccentricities and nuances of their democracy - this was a disappointing and degrading week. I don’t know how US diplomacy in the Middle East will recover. For the long term, efforts at diplomacy and dialogue must be fostered, but there is a lot of trust building to restart.

Jordan is now in an uphill battle to center us all back on the road for peace and prosperity - it has the street. Will it have its Western allies?

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

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