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Netanyahu’s comeback is Jordan’s worst nightmare

Osama Al Sharif

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

The 28-year-old peace between Jordan and Israel has been anything but normal. The two countries share a checkered history, having fought three wars since 1948 before finally signing a peace treaty in 1994, one that the majority of Jordanians still reject. But throughout the “frigid” peace between the two neighboring countries, at least at the public level, one man stood behind a series of diplomatic crises that erupted between them during the past two and half decades: Benjamin Netanyahu.اضافة اعلان

Less than a year into his first term as Israeli prime minister, in 1997, Netanyahu sanctioned what turned out to be a botched attempt on the life of Khalid Mishal, head of the Hamas political bureau, in the heart of Amman. King Hussein threatened to suspend the peace treaty with Israel unless Netanyahu supplied the antidote for the poison Mossad agents had injected Mishal with. Netanyahu relented and Mishal survived. But that incident tainted ties between Netanyahu and King Hussein.

The young King Abdullah, who took over after King Hussein’s death in 1999, shared his father’s suspicions about Netanyahu, and the two men have sparred numerous times over the years until the Israeli leader’s fall from grace in June 2021; he had been the longest-serving premier in the history of the state.

Whether over Jordan’s custody of Al-Aqsa Mosque and incursions into the holy site by Jewish extremists, the setting up of electronic gates at the entrances of the mosque’s complex, the confiscation of Sheikh Jarrah houses in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli guard at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman, obstructing an unprecedented visit by Jordan’s crown prince to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or the threat to annex the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu was a gadfly casting a dark shadow over bilateral ties.

So when a motley coalition of centrist, right-wing and Arab parties took over in Israel last year, Jordan was relieved. Not that Naftali Bennett was a moderate or had supported the two-state solution — he did not — but because anyone was a better choice than Netanyahu who, Jordanians believe, has a grudge against Jordan, and the King personally. Bennett and caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid were quick to visit Amman and restore a semblance of normality to bilateral relations. King Abdullah invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog for an official state visit to Jordan last summer.
With two firebrand far right ultra-nationalist politicians backing him up, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich, Netanyahu is slated to rule over the most extreme government in the history of Israel. Labeled as fascists and racists by the Israeli media, the two men are believed to be the real winners of the election, having been on the fringe of Israeli politics for years.
Even though Netanyahu’s successors continued to allow Jewish extremists to breach Al-Aqsa, the thinking in Amman was that neither Bennett nor Lapid would go as far as to officially end Jordan’s role over the Muslim site. Both men had to appease the far right, which was gaining force with every election cycle. Amman did not like it, but it understood the delicate situation the two beleaguered leaders found themselves in. No one wanted Netanyahu to return.

And then, after four inconclusive Knesset elections since 2019, last week Israel witnessed a political earthquake. Netanyahu, who is under trial on graft charges, was able to hammer together a toxic alliance of far right, religious right, and Likud parties to contest and win a fifth election. This time around, he beat all polls and emerged as winner, with 65 seats, out of 120, to his name, a comfortable majority that would enable him to form the next government.

With two firebrand far right ultra-nationalist politicians backing him up, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich, Netanyahu is slated to rule over the most extreme government in the history of Israel. Labeled as fascists and racists by the Israeli media, the two men are believed to be the real winners of the election, having been on the fringe of Israeli politics for years.

Having to deal with Netanyahu is one thing, confronting two openly belligerent politicians whose position on Al-Aqsa does not exclude taking over the site and even leveling the Muslim shrine is another. The new far right government’s policies will challenge Jordan on other issues as well, such as East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods, UNRWA, West Bank annexation and even mass transfer of Palestinians.

Unlike other Arab countries that signed peace treaties with Israel, Jordan has a unique relationship with West Bank Palestinians, and is home to over two million Palestinian refugees.

Even if Netanyahu decides to dump his fanatic allies for a more centrist coalition in order to gain international acceptance, which is highly unlikely, his comeback at the helm is enough to keep Jordan guessing. His legacy, as he searches for one, could be to end Jordan’s role at Al-Aqsa and allow for the physical division of the holy site. His move to annex the Jordan Valley, thus isolating the West Bank physically from Jordan, is also not far-fetched.

Jordan has not commented publicly on Netanyahu’s victory and is probably waiting to see what kind of government he is putting together. Ironically, a far right administration may end up serving Jordan more than an alliance with the center right. A government with openly racist ministers should trigger international outrage and might even put pressure on signatories to the Abraham Accords. In all cases, aside from the Palestinians, Jordan is preparing for the worst as Netanyahu, a long time nemesis, prepares for a triumphant return. Its options in dealing with him are limited.


Osama Al Sharif  is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.


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