Jordan struggles to weather the Gaza storm

Jordanians rally in solidarity with Gaza  007
(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
The Israeli war on Gaza has placed Jordan in an increasingly delicate position as it navigates the fallout from the conflict. The kingdom is striving to maintain stability and prevent a nightmare scenario of the displacement of Palestinians across its borders. At the same time, Jordan is trying to appease its own population, which is boiling with anger against the Israeli operation.اضافة اعلان

It is proving to be a difficult balancing act. The longer the Israeli-Hamas war drags on, the more Jordan’s concerns intensify – and for good reason.

More than 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in Gaza - the highest number since the Nakba in 1948, which led to the formation of the Israeli state. Fueled by comments from prominent Israelis and leaked plans, fears have grown that Israel is planning to drive Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt, reopening scars that run deep in the Palestinian psyche.

The specter of Palestinian refugees fleeing to the Sinai Peninsula, serves as a haunting prelude to what Jordan fears Israel could potentially do to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

King Abdullah has repeatedly warned against a regional spillover from the Gaza war and rejected the acceptance of refugees as a red line. “No, refugees in Jordan, no refugees in Egypt,” he said. This week, he added: “There will be no solution to the Palestinian issue at Jordan’s expense.”
“State-backed settler violence against Palestinians has risen in both frequency and intensity, with soldiers and police officers fully backing the assailants and often participating in the attacks,”
A mass displacement of Palestinians to Jordan could upset the delicate demographic balance and dilute national identity. More than half of Jordan's population are of Palestinian origin, including 2.2 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN. The threat of a further influx poses an existential threat to the country.

Since Israel’s most right-wing and religiously conservative government took over last year, the notion that Palestinians could be expelled from the occupied territories has entered the mainstream. And Israel has set about creating the conditions that make life extremely difficult for Palestinians to continue living in the West Bank.

While the world has focused on the shocking Palestinian death toll in Gaza, with at least 18,000 killed in the past three months, in the West Bank, 270 Palestinians have been killed by security forces or Israeli settlers during the same period.

The escalating settler violence in the West Bank since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel has added to Jordan’s concern over a wider conflict that could spark an exodus.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, said Israel has intensified efforts in the West Bank to displace Palestinian communities and seize their land, using the conflict as a pretext. “State-backed settler violence against Palestinians has risen in both frequency and intensity, with soldiers and police officers fully backing the assailants and often participating in the attacks,” the group said.

Oraib Rantawi, the founder and director general of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies told me that Jordan is working hard to prevent a wave of displacement from the West Bank to Jordan. “In response, Jordan can close its borders, deploy troops and declare a state of emergency,” he said. “When one country displaces people to another country, it's akin to declaring war.” 

In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country after Egypt to sign a peace deal with Israel. The agreement included an article prohibiting the forced displacement of people in a way that could harm the security of either party. While Rantawi thinks a breach of this article is unlikely for now, he said Jordan is working to avert this.

Indeed, Jordan sent tanks to the border last month in a clear message to Israel that it would not accept Palestinians being pushed into its territory.

There have also been constant provocations by Israeli settlers at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is under the custodianship of Jordan. The mosque experiences almost daily incursions by settlers escorted by Israeli police.

Back home in Jordan, protests persist, fueled by the distressing scenes of carnage in Gaza and resentment toward the government. Many Jordanians accuse the government of being subservient to Israel, citing the $10 billion gas deal signed with Israel in 2016. They also want Jordan to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel.

For now, Jordan has heightened its criticism against Israel. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has spoken against Israel repeatedly and called its aggression in Gaza a genocide.

Jordan also summoned its ambassador to Israel and asked Israel's foreign ministry to instruct its ambassador not to return to Amman. Safadi also said Jordan would not renew an agreement to supply energy to Israel in exchange for water, a deal that was initially scheduled for ratification in October.

Those measures helped in part to placate public anger. A recent survey showed that 27 percent of Jordanians are highly satisfied, and 31 percent are moderately satisfied with Jordan’s position toward the Gaza war.

But severing ties with Israel does not seem like an option Jordan is considering. Last month, Jordan was among several Arab countries that refused to break all diplomatic and economic relations with Israel.

Jordan must also be careful not to upset Israel’s main ally, the US, which provides Amman with $1.45 billion annually in economic and military aid under a seven-year agreement signed this year.

But as the war persists, demands increase. Incidents of violence near the Israeli embassy have been contained by Jordanian police thus far. Citizens were also given space to vent their anger and even wave Hamas flags.

As public anger simmers and the government carefully tries to navigate the unrest pulsing from Gaza, how long can Jordan remain calm and retain its position as a nation of stability in a sea of turmoil.

Suha Ma’ayeh is a journalist based in Amman, Jordan. Her work has been published in Foreign Policy and CTC Sentinel. She also reports for The Wall Street Journal and other publications on Jordan and southern Syria.

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

Read more Opinion and Analysis
Jordan News