The limits of Jordan’s diplomatic leverage on Israel

Osama al sharif
The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
Efforts by Jordan to convince Israeli leadership to avoid escalations in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank appear to have hit a wall. اضافة اعلان

Since the beginning of March, King Abdullah has been calling on visiting Israeli officials not to provoke the Palestinians, especially at Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. In the past few weeks he met in Amman, on separate occasions, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and most recently Israeli President Isaac Herzog. On Sunday he received a call from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

In all these meetings and calls the King underlined the need to maintain calm during Ramadan, which also coincides with Jewish celebrations of Passover, in order to avoid a repetition of last May’s bloody showdown between Hamas and Israel and an outbreak of violence in the West Bank. Lapid and Gantz appear to agree and the latter talked about making positive gestures to Palestinians during Ramadan.

The King visited Ramallah last week and made similar appeals in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But things started getting out of control when Palestinians carried out a number of attacks inside Israel that killed a total of 11 Israelis. Two of these attacks were attributed to Daesh, in an intriguing precedent. In retaliation, Israeli security forces carried out a number of arrests in the West Bank and shot three Palestinian youths in cold blood, on the outskirts of Jenin.

Earlier last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Palestinians and Israelis to avoid provocations during Ramadan. But while the Israeli security clampdown may be put in context as a reaction to the spate of attacks inside Israel, it is naive to believe that the blame for the recent escalation can be put squarely on Palestinians.

A day after Herzog made the historic visit to Amman, the first official trip by an Israeli president since the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, far-right Israeli MP Itamar Ben Gvir breached Al-Aqsa compound, under Israeli police protection, and made provocative statements. He called the Jordanian Waqf authorities who administer the Muslim site “terrorists” and said that “whoever controls the Temple Mount controls the Land of Israel. The enemy understands this too”.

Ben Gvir is the same firebrand racist politician who recently triggered violent clashes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. He has led incursions into Al-Aqsa a number of times this year. Israel has ignored Jordanian denunciations of the almost daily incursions into Al-Aqsa by radical Jews.

On the same day that Bennett called King Abdullah, his coalition partner, alternate prime minister and Foreign Minister Lapid made a provocative visit to the Damascus Gate, in old Jerusalem, accompanied by police who later clashed with Palestinians. It was the second day of Ramadan in the occupied territories and the atmosphere was already inflamed. Lapid, a centrist politician, is the same man who visited Amman a month earlier to discuss calming the situation with the King.

Since Bennett formed his coalition government last June, and despite a marked improvement in Jordanian-Israeli ties — in contrast to the years of tension under Benyamin Netanyahu — Israeli officials did little to prevent radical Jewish groups from breaching Al-Aqsa in a clear violation of the agreement between Jordan and Israel and the peace treaty.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, Jordan and to some extent Egypt became the only two Arab countries with ties to Israel who defend the two-state solution as the only recipe to a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and that try to put pressure on Israel to stop its unilateral actions in the occupied territories.
Since the Bennett government was sworn in, the number of mob attacks by radical Jewish settlers against Palestinians had increased exponentially, resulting in injuries and deaths, in the burning of cars and houses and the uprooting of hundreds of trees.
But it is Jordan’s diplomacy that champions the Palestinian cause in world arenas and for good reasons, too. Jordan’s ties to the West Bank and to Jerusalem are unique. It is in Jordan’s top national security interest that a two-state solution be achieved, one that resolves the issue of Palestine refugees, ends the Jordan-is-Palestine myth that is spread by the Israeli far right, which wants to annex the West Bank and drive the Palestinians into Jordan, and protects the Hashemites’ role as custodians of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But growing Palestinian anger and frustration is not without good reasons. Since the Bennett government was sworn in, the number of mob attacks by radical Jewish settlers against Palestinians had increased exponentially, resulting in injuries and deaths, in the burning of cars and houses and the uprooting of hundreds of trees. The situation has been simmering for months and it is not surprising that violence has finally broken out.

The reality is that assurances made by Israeli officials to Jordan are mostly empty and false. Israeli coalition governments have many heads and even if one official gives his word, another soon breaks it. In the case of Lapid who could not wait to break his word to Amman.

Provoking the Palestinians is a sure way to make cheap gains in public opinion polls in a country that is veering dangerously to the far right, and Lapid is eyeing his turn as premier next year. Against such a backdrop, Jordan’s diplomacy has limits when it comes to gaining leverage with Israel, and with the US indifferent to the conflict, Amman finds itself in a lonely place.

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

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