Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), spoke to a January 13th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the dynamics behind Jordan's rejectionist rhetoric towards Israel, Amman's decision to remain outside of the frameworks established by the Abraham Accords, and the accompanying deterioration in relations between Amman and Jerusalem. The following is a summary of his comments:
Schanzer's December 2022 FDD memo, "Neither Here Nor There," details Jordan's "ambivalence" towards the Abraham Accords which is due, in large part, to the "tense ties" between Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's incoming prime minister, and Jordan's King Abdullah II. The recent Negev Summit, which was attended by Israel's regional partners (Egypt, the United Arab Emirates [UAE], Bahrain, and Morocco), as well as the U.S. and which advanced normalization agreements as outlined in the Abraham Accords, was snubbed by Jordan.
What makes the acrimonious tilt more noteworthy is that since the 1994 peace agreement between the two countries, Israel has provided Jordan with gas, water, intelligence, and security assistance. Additionally, the U.S. has provided financial and military assistance to shore up the impoverished, natural resource-poor Hashemite Kingdom, and the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have regularly provided it with energy imports and financial infusions.
Yet in recent years, the Jordanian government has advocated consistently and unambiguously for the Palestinian cause. Amman's inflammatory rhetoric meted out in response to the U.S. embassy's move to Jerusalem, Israel's proposed annexation of areas of Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), and the Israeli government's defensive measures taken on the Temple Mount after Palestinian violence resulted in Israeli deaths, serves only to exacerbate tensions further.
After Israel "graciously" granted Amman status as custodians of the Temple Mount, Jordan was expected to ensure that calm prevailed on the site. In 2021, after Israel's security forces quelled a violent protest on the mount, the Jordanian government accused Israeli police of being "barbaric." The deteriorating relations are leading the Israelis to conclude that Jordan's role as a buffer to maintain stability has "backfired."
Every Ramadan, when Muslims ascend the mount, Israeli officials limit the "volume" of worshippers at the site as a crowd control measure to ensure that Hamas and militants do not provoke riots. Even this proactive measure elicited harsh criticism of Israel by the Jordanian government, with King Abdullah going so far as to speciously claim at a recent General Assembly that Christian churches in Jerusalem are being threatened. In reality, Christianity has a secure place in Israel, while Christians are fleeing authoritarian regimes across the Middle East that are threatening their freedom of worship and, in many circumstances, their lives.
Given the financial and economic benefits afforded to the Hashemite Kingdom, it behooves Jordan to "get on board with this new construct." A recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the U.S. and Jordan promises further financial assistance to the kingdom, which gives the U.S. more leverage to engage Jordan more "robustly." Specifically, the U.S. should stress the need for Jordan to stop the inflammatory rhetoric and "public excoriation" of Israel which "undermines peace." Israeli officials are quietly voicing that the current circumstances are "unsustainable," particularly given Jordan's lack of appreciation for Israel's assistance.
Although the king is unlikely to be deposed, his rejection of Israel's role in his country's stability is short-sighted. Whether it was during the Black September crisis in the 1970s, the Syrian attempt to destabilize Jordan, the ISIS crisis, or the upheaval of the Arab Spring, it has been Israel that has stepped in to stabilize Jordan. The Jordanian government's decision to turn its back on the Abraham Accords, which point towards "long-term stability" in the region, is a poor strategic choice.
King Abdullah is cognizant of his precarious position in the face of the hostility towards Israel expressed by the fifty to eighty-five percent of the Jordanian population who are Palestinians (according to various estimates); however, "populism" is not the only pressure he is placating. King Abdullah is inclined to be antagonistic because he does not hold Hamas or the Palestinian Authority accountable and instead blames Israel "for just about everything." His recent rhetoric is similar to the incitement voiced by Hamas and Iran.
The U.S. could take concrete steps to improve the situation. Israel's longest border is with Jordan, and enhancing border security cooperation between Israel and Jordan will benefit both countries. Jordan has had increasing challenges to its border security from the influx of Iranian-backed militias into southern Syria, which aim to destabilize the kingdom. The addictive drug, Captagon, is rife on the streets of Jordan, which creates further problems internally. Additional financial support, particularly from Gulf countries such as the UAE and the Saudis, could provide more stabilization.
Another possibility for the kingdom is to avail itself of the U.S. effort of "ally shoring" to develop new supply chains outside of China. Jordan has a "fairly decent" pharmaceutical sector and could produce pharmaceuticals, perhaps with Israel's assistance, for export to the U.S. All of these efforts will require greater U.S. engagement with the Hashemite kingdom, but one of greater accountability. To date, the State Department and the Pentagon "champion" Jordan, despite its behavior. Their conviction that the kingdom is "too weak to fail" accounts for their reluctance to pressure Jordan, fearing as they do a government collapse.
Jordan is enjoying the benefits of peace, but it is not acting like a peace partner, which places it in a "weird gray zone" where it opposes normalization while relying on U.S. support. With Netanyahu returning as prime minister, the role of the interlocutor between Israel and Jordan will assume greater importance, as will the role of Gulf partners. Ultimately, however, it falls on the U.S. to step up. "When the United States appears ... ascendant ... we will have greater leverage in building out these constructs and trying to create a region that is more oriented around peace, rather than confrontation."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.