Young Jordanians innately committed to anti-Israel normalization

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
More than 25 years after the signing of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, the vast majority of Jordanians remain adamantly hostile to their western neighbor, and while a new generation was born in the so-called peace era, the rejection of any form of normalization with Israel continues to rise. What is baffling for some analysts is the fact that young Jordanians, mostly university students, are now leading the movement to resist any form of normalization.اضافة اعلان

Jordan and Israel enjoyed a brief phase of warm peace under King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who both had a shared vision for a regional Benelux, involving Jordan, Israel and a nascent Palestinian entity. This vision was shattered when Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish radical after a series of incitements by then upcoming Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu.

For decades, peace between Jordan and Israel was described as cold and at best as tepid. Governments made deals, some controversial, but at the public level there was a general resentment toward and widespread boycott of any dealings with Israel by Jordanians. But why?

The relationship between Jordan and the West Bank is unique in all forms. Historically and politically, the West Bank was part of the Kingdom of Jordan between 1950 and 1967. The Jordanian Arab Army fought to defend the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Many Jordanian soldiers died while defending the Old City. It was their sacrifice that prevented Israeli militias from taking the historical city then. Jordanians remember with pride their sacrifices in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Palestine to this date. And every year Jordanians mark the anniversary of the battle of Karameh, in 1968, when Israel tried to invade the East Bank and was repulsed by the Arab Army, at a cost, of course.

These battles are engraved in the national psyche. Jordan received waves of Palestinian refugees following the 1948 debacle and the 1967 war. Many of these refugees and displaced persons are Jordanian nationals.

Another dimension to Jordan’s unique tie to the Palestinian cause is the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim shrines, starting with the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdullah I, who was assassinated at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1951. Even at the lowest point of ties with Israel, King Abdullah II has been consistent in reaffirming his commitment to protecting Al-Aqsa, which has been at the center of Jordan-Israel clash for years.

At popular level, Jordanians feel a special kinship to the suffering Palestinians. Israel has Palestinian blood on its hands, but it has also spilled Jordanian blood. Over the past decade, Israelis killed in cold blood a Jordanian judge crossing the river into the occupied territories in 2014 and two Jordanians, shot dead by an Israeli diplomat in the Israel embassy compound in Amman, in 2017. Both crimes have passed without accountability. Such incidents further tarnished Israel’s image among Jordanians.

And when it comes to rejecting the two-state solution, which Jordan staunchly supports, there is a special dimension that concerns Jordan. For decades, the Israeli Far Right has claimed that a Palestinian state does exist and it points to Jordan. The so-called Jordan Option is not a farcical rhetoric by a dazed Israeli politician, but a conviction that the Palestinian question can and will be resolved at the expense of Jordan.

Such existential concern has made headways among Jordanians, especially East Banker tribes that do not trust Israel and believe that a conspiracy exist to “liquidate” the Palestinian national cause at their expense. That is why any talk about redefining the Jordanian national identity is treated with great suspicion by Jordanians.

It is no wonder, then, that when Jordanians found out that their government had signed a letter of intent with Israel and the UAE last week to begin feasibility studies of a project dubbed “electricity-for-water” between Jordan and Israel, tens of mostly university students tried to stage a protest. They were quickly rounded up and arrested without charge. The move triggered nation-wide indignation that resulted in the staging of a number of protests last Friday involving thousands who denounced the proposed deal and called for the release of the students.

It was an ill-planned move by a government that had only a week before submitted proposals to empower the youth and encourage them to become politically active. The logic behind the proposed trilateral project baffled even experts, so the government came under pressure to withdraw from the deal.

Jordanians, from all walks of life, will continue to resist normalization with Israel, primarily because of their unique ties to the Palestinian cause. The amazing thing is that young Jordanians, born after the signing of the peace treaty, are now leading the protest movement and are inspiring the nation. Changing, or attempting to change, such innate convictions seems an impossible task at this stage. 

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

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