Jordan in a wait-and-see mode over Jeddah summit

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (File photo: Jordan News)
Jordan is yet to issue a formal statement on the US and Saudi separate announcements that President Joe Biden will be attending a regional summit in Jeddah on July 16 that will bring together the leaders of the five GCC countries in addition to King Abdullah, the Egyptian president and the Iraqi premier. Biden will be arriving in Saudi Arabia, for the first time since he assumed office, following a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to the White House.اضافة اعلان

There were also unconfirmed reports that Biden might be making a short stopover in Amman on his way to Saudi Arabia.

It is unusual for the Royal Court and the Foreign Ministry not to comment on news involving Jordan and ties with the US, specifically.

Jordan’s silence could be attributed to the shortage of information on the agenda of Biden’s visit, especially to the West Bank. The White House said on June 14 that “the president will begin his travel in Israel, where he will meet with Israeli leaders to discuss Israel’s security, prosperity, and its increasing integration into the greater region. The president will also visit the West Bank to consult with the Palestinian Authority and to reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people.”

The two-state solution, which King Abdullah advocates strongly, was mentioned only in relation to the Palestinians, but was not among the issues that the White House spokesperson said will top the US president’s discussions with the Israeli leaders.

Also among the controversial issues, at least for Jordan, is the reference to “Israel’s integration into the greater region”, which Amman views with anxiety. Jordan has not commented publicly on news that a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress on June 9, giving the Pentagon 180 days to present a plan to integrate the air defense capabilities of Israel and a number of Arab countries, including Jordan, to counter ballistic missile threats from Iran and its proxies. A vast majority of Jordanians can be expected to reject such open military cooperation with Israel.

Various Israeli and US media reports speculated in the past week that Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia will pave the way for Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords. There was no hint of that in the Saudi media.

The White House release on the Saudi visit said that “while in Saudi Arabia, the president will discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. These include support to the UN-mediated truce in Yemen, which has led to the most peaceful period there since war began seven years ago. He will also discuss means for expanding regional economic and security cooperation, including new and promising infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security. The president looks forward to outlining his affirmative vision for US engagement in the region over the coming months and years.”

Amman is concerned that Biden’s visit will focus more on normalizing ties with Riyadh, following months of tensions especially over oil production limits in light of the spike in global energy prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, than on finding ways to re-launch stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. On his two visits to the White House, last year and last May, King Abdullah tried to get Biden to take actual steps toward that goal, in addition to renewing America’s commitment to the two-state solution.

But Amman could get little more than verbal commitment. In fact, this writer was told by a source close to President Mahmoud Abbas that when US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf visited Ramallah last week, she told the Palestinian leader not to raise “side issues” with Biden such as the administration’s promise to re-open the US consulate in East Jerusalem.

The fact is that Jordan sees little benefit from being forced to join a new military alliance with Israel that brings the GCC countries, along with Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and possibly Turkey, into what has been dubbed as a Middle Eastern NATO that will further normalize ties with Israel without extracting any concessions on the Palestinian issue.

Jordan will also feel uneasy about the open hostility to Iran, which is expected to feature as a theme at the Jeddah summit. King Abdullah has tried to keep all options open when dealing with Tehran’s controversial role in the region. The Iranian embassy remains fully functional in Amman while there is no Jordanian ambassador in Tehran.

While not criticizing the Abraham Accords directly, Jordan believes that the normalization deals involving the UAE and Bahrain will not bring regional peace. In an interview while in the US last May, King Abdullah said that “no matter what relations Arab countries have with Israel, if we don’t solve the Palestinian issue, it is really two steps forward and two steps back.”

But the King’s carefully worded statements on the issue have not affected his ties with the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain, with whom he has strong personal relations. In fact, he hopes that both countries will use their leverage to influence Israel’s position on peace talks with the Palestinians.

But Jordanians in general believe that at some phase in the future, Riyadh will follow in the footsteps of UAE and Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel. This, in spite of the repeated Saudi position that it remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative.

What Jordan fears is that a collapse of the two-state solution, deteriorating ties with Israel over Al-Aqsa and closer Israel-Gulf strategic ties will not only come at the expense of the Palestinians, it will eventually put Jordan before existential challenges.

This is perhaps why Jordan has not commented on Biden’s visit and the Jeddah summit until now. It is taking a wait-and-see position, perhaps hoping that the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Amman this week will shed more light on what can be expected from the summit and where Riyadh stands on the issue of normalization with Israel.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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