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What is in the offing for Jordan?

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Shehab Al Makahleh

Jordan remained relatively stable compared to other regional counterparts when commotions spread across the Middle East in 2011. Notwithstanding the conflict on its borders with Iraq and Syria, the upsurge of Daesh and a large inflow of Syrian refugees to the country as a result of war in Syria, Jordan has managed to circumvent political mayhem and significant political restructuring and reform.

Jordanians believe that their country is under too much pressure regionally and internationally to accept the proposed peace plan known as the “Century Deal” as Jordan is undergoing tough economic and political predicaments that would drive the kingdom to give consent to the pact. However, this is not the case as right now in spite of all atmospherics, Jordan would accept the deal only if: A two state solution is back on track and the status quo of Jerusalem is left until final settlement.

That is the briefing King Abdullah II had with American president Donald Trump on June 25 in the White House where the US president confirmed that a “lot of progress had been made in the Middle East” declining to announce when the White House would release the Century Deal Plan. For sure Trump-Abdullah meeting was matchless and  unique as it is the first ever meeting between Trump and a foreign official which was marked by such cordial welcome and due respect, which reveals the significance of Jordan and the Jordanian monarch to the region and to the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The American president said during his meeting with King Abdullah that “things had improved since he pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal”. The king who is known for his smart comments hailed Trump saying:

“If the rest of the world just took a little bit of your humility and your grace, we’d be in a lot better position.” Trump reacted by saying: “Remember, he used the word humility with respect to me, so I am very happy with that word.  That’s probably the nicest compliment I’ve been given in a long time”. The king has made a point.

Trump has reacted positively to the monarch’s statement, flattering King Abdullah for doing a fantastic job in Jordan and in the region which is a signal that the king is key to the Middle East and Jordan is the peace maker.

What does Israel want at present?

The focus of the new Israeli strategy is to involve the major Arab states to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to bear responsibility in this regard rather than blaming Israel for being obstinate and stalwart for not negotiating with the Palestinians since 2008. In other words, Tel Aviv wants other major Arab states including those in the Gulf to share the responsibility. This helps Israel absolve itself of liability in front of the international community.

The core idea of the deal is turning from a bilateral settlement to a multilateral solution. Unlike those days when negotiations were conducted on political and strategic grounds, the Century Deal will allow the international community to be engaged, using the economic factor to bring more parties to the process to secure stronger guarantees of implementation and adherence to the agreement. This new approach was not accepted in the past because of the hostility existing in the Arab world that would not allow the Arab countries to be part of the Palestinian Israeli final settlement.

Why does King Abdullah visit the White House at this time?

The timing is very important for Jordan which is undergoing hard economic conditions and threat from Iranian and militias on its borders in the north. If the war in south Syria starts, Jordan will be facing another wave of refugees. This was another message the king sought to convey to the American administration.

The monarch’s visit has confirmed that Jordan has a major role to play in the Middle East as a mediator to ensure Arab consensus on normalisation with Israel for the peace deal. Of course, the monarchy cannot act alone without American support to revive the peace process, without Israelis and Palestinians getting back to the negotiation table to finalise all pending terms and topics. It sounds that the Jordanian king has been assured about a Palestinian state because talks between both Palestinians and Israelis ceased suddenly in 2009, shortly after Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was elected.

The King’s visit would not have been possible had it not been for his meeting with US envoys to the Middle East, Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser, and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, who paved the way for his visit with the most important files to be discussed with the American administration.

Amman has turned out to be the epicenter for western officials recently with American, Israeli, German and British officials’ visits to Jordan. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu have visited Jordan with eyes on the “Century Deal” and the amendments to the proposed pact to settle the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

What unifies Jordan, the US and Israel now is much more than before. It is the issue in southern Syria and the potentials of an Iranian intrusion to Jordan and Israel through militias which would add salt to Jordanian injuries: bad economic conditions, high unemployment rates, a trend amongst Jordanians to be extremists if the atmosphere is set for them, turning them into a source of threat to the country’s national security along with the refugees who would find their ways to Jordan should the Syrian army start the ground offensive on Dera’a, Suwaida and Qunaitra.

In Amman, Netanyahu discussed with a high-level security delegation a joint plan for south Syrian. This has been a victory to Jordan as the stubborn Israeli prime minister has finally paid a visit to Amman at a critical time to discuss precarious topics including the peace process with the Palestinians, the conflict in Syria and the Jordanian custodianship over the holy sites in east Jerusalem.

Jordanian state mood is euphoric nowadays with the return of the country to be the key player in regional affairs: Thanks to May 31, 2018 public demonstrations which empowered the regime’s status and enabled the king to manoeuver further with regional and international players as he has started feeling that he is backed by his people who gave him the carte blanche to proceed with his mission and vision for a better Jordan for the generations to come.

The king has been wise in the past few months when he manoeuvered that he would reposition by initiating a direct dialogue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. King Abdullah visited Turkey since November 2017 two times and in the second time, he shook hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. These geopolitical signals have been received by the American radar that Jordan cannot stand more pressure as the Jordanian leadership would consider other options. In just few weeks from these maneuvers, the Gulf States contacted Amman, extending assistance and promising to fulfill what they pledged to help the Jordanian economy recover.

Regional and international players have finally realised that Jordan is a red line and any threat to Jordanian national security is a threat to regional stability as this will affect other monarchies with the domino effect formula. This could not have been achieved without the recent demonstrations against price and tax hikes in the country as these sit-ins gave further momentum to the Jordanian regime and to the king himself to proceed with his strategic plans and policies.  Only Jordanians with their demonstrations helped the monarch to have the upper hand at present in the region after the monarchy has been marginalised for few years since 2014.