Archive for the ‘Jordan and Palestinians’ category

Abbas lacks important Arab support against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem

December 7, 2017

Abbas lacks important Arab support against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, DEBKAfile, December 7, 2017

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinians during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90

It is no secret in Ramallah or Nablus that King Abdullah of Jordan has fallen out of favor with the majority of Arab rulers, especially the Saudi crown prince and strongman, the UAE emir and the Egyptian president.  DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources reveal that Riyadh has gone so far as to cut off financial assistance to Amman.

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The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas only found Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to back him up Thursday, Dec. 7, in the first 24 hours after US President Donald Trump’s announced recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Arab street’s first response was also minor in scale and pitch – less than 100 protesters at most of the rallies. Prepared for an outbreak of “the third Palestinian intifada (uprising)”, foreign correspondents arrived on the scene kitted up in helmets and vests, only to find a fairly low-key event to cover rather than a violent backlash. The Palestinian sources reported 140 injured so far, most of them from inhaling gas and three from rubber bullets.

The Palestinians were called out by their leaders to stage massive protest marches in East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm, as well as at the Gaza border fence.  Stones were hurled at Israeli troops and tires set on fire for the cameras, but nothing more lethal at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, for instance, than bottles of water. Only in Hebron did real clashes occur between security forces and protesters. They were broken up with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Extra Israeli security and military forces have been mobilized for the weekly Muslim Friday prayers at the mosques and Saturday. Will Palestinian protesters then turn out in force, as they have so many times before?

It must be said that, while most Arab and Muslim rulers have gone through the motions of condemning Trump’s pro-Israeli act, few are actively opposing it, which the Palestinian street has not been slow to notice. Their zeal for a violent confrontation with Israeli security forces is therefore less than expected – especially after their leader Abu Mazen had to fall back on the Jordanian king and Turkish president for support, instead of finding a rousing condemnation from the entire Arab leadership.

It is no secret in Ramallah or Nablus that King Abdullah of Jordan has fallen out of favor with the majority of Arab rulers, especially the Saudi crown prince and strongman, the UAE emir and the Egyptian president.  DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources reveal that Riyadh has gone so far as to cut off financial assistance to Amman.

Jordan has always been good friends with Turkey and so Abdullah flew to Ankara Wednesday to find a backer ahead of the Trump announcement. However, the ordinary Palestinian has a low opinion of President Erdogan and his efforts to set up an anti-American, Anti-Israel Islamic Front never found much response in Palestinian towns.

And so Abu Mazen’s panicky visit to Amman to talk with Abdullah is not expected to change the mood on the Palestinian street. At the same time, the situation is inflammable enough to catch fire in a trice. A large-scale Palestinian terrorist attack against Israel is always on the cards, and the potential for Israeli security forces facing a raging mob  to inflict a large number of casualties cannot be ruled out for triggering a major outbreak.

Palestinian Authority is unable to fight terror tunnels, official says

November 3, 2017

Palestinian Authority is unable to fight terror tunnels, official says, Israel Hayom, Daniel Siryoti and Israel Hayom Staff, November 3, 2017

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas | Photo: Reuters

Meanwhile, tensions between Jordan and the Palestinians were nearing a boiling point over the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal.

Senior Jordanian and PA officials told Israel Hayom on Thursday that the lack of communication between Amman and Ramallah is almost total, and that Jordanian officials accuse the Palestinians of jeopardizing the kingdom’s national security by allowing Hamas to integrate into the PA’s government institutions.

The officials also decried allowing Hamas to operate in the West Bank in a manner that might undermine the Jordanian regime’s stability, because the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, is active in the kingdom.

Jordan’s King Abdullah recently rejected a request by former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to reopen a Hamas consulate in Jordan, from where it would have been able to operate to realize its ambition of replacing Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

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The Palestinian Authority does not have the ability to prevent Hamas or any of the other Gaza Strip-based terrorist groups from continuing to dig terror tunnels, senior PA officials told Israel Hayom on Thursday.

One senior PA official close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Hayom that the “Palestinian reconciliation and the transfer of control [in Gaza] are on the declarative level only. In actuality, Hamas is in control on the ground in Gaza, and the PA’s security apparatus currently has no ability to contend against it and against the other [armed] Palestinian factions, certainly not with regard to preventing digging new terror tunnels.”

Moreover, the official stressed, the Palestinian Authority has no desire to exercise its authority in Gaza once control of the border crossings and civil affairs are transferred to the Palestinian unity government.

“What you in Israel and the United States do not understand is that we want to give this reconciliation a chance to succeed, even if not everything goes smoothly,” he said. “Therefore we are not interested in a confrontation with Hamas, certainly not because of the tunnel issue. We will be able to restrain Hamas in Gaza just as it is restrained in the West Bank, but it is a lengthy process that will take time [to implement], and for the time being it is not in our interest or desire to prevent Hamas from continuing its security-related activity in the Gaza Strip.”

A senior Palestinian security official told Israel Hayom that the PA’s military presence in Gaza is minimal and completely uninvolved.

“For all intents and purposes, the police in Gaza merely swapped the blue Hamas uniforms for PA uniforms. Hamas still has control on the ground and is continuing its security-related activities more intensely than ever, including digging tunnels for the purpose of terror and training. We haven’t been in Gaza for more than 10 years, and now, too, we don’t actually have control on the ground. We couldn’t even arrange a safe trip for Abbas to Gaza.

“We, as a security arm of the Palestinian Authority, don’t have the option or the ability to cope with Hamas’ military wing. Hamas’ political wing struggles to rein in its military wing, so how could we? The hope is that Hamas will come to understand that if it desires a Palestinian state it needs to disarm and merge with the PA’s security apparatus, but this is a long process,” the official said.

Meanwhile, tensions between Jordan and the Palestinians were nearing a boiling point over the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal.

Senior Jordanian and PA officials told Israel Hayom on Thursday that the lack of communication between Amman and Ramallah is almost total, and that Jordanian officials accuse the Palestinians of jeopardizing the kingdom’s national security by allowing Hamas to integrate into the PA’s government institutions.

The officials also decried allowing Hamas to operate in the West Bank in a manner that might undermine the Jordanian regime’s stability, because the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, is active in the kingdom.

Jordan’s King Abdullah recently rejected a request by former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to reopen a Hamas consulate in Jordan, from where it would have been able to operate to realize its ambition of replacing Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Abdullah’s friendly reminder to Abbas

August 13, 2017

Abdullah’s friendly reminder to Abbas, Israel Hayom, Dr. Ronen Yitzhak, August 13, 2017

Abdullah’s visit was in fact aimed at reining in Abbas following his handling of the crisis in Jerusalem. Abbas has been outspoken as of late in his criticism of the understandings between Israel and Jordan, and has effectively been edging Jordan out of the Temple Mount by allowing radical Islamist elements to gain a foothold there.

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According to senior Palestinian official Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Jordanian king’s visit to Ramallah last week is proof that “the Palestinians and the Jordanians speak with one voice.”

Indeed, King Abdullah’s visit appears to have been aimed at bolstering the position of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in light of recent tensions with Israel over the Temple Mount. Arab media outlets reported that the two leaders discussed increasing cooperation between Jordan and the PA, as well as the need to advance peace talks between the PA and Israel.

Despite this public show of solidarity, it seems Abdullah’s visit was in fact aimed at reining in Abbas following his handling of the crisis in Jerusalem. Abbas has been outspoken as of late in his criticism of the understandings between Israel and Jordan, and has effectively been edging Jordan out of the Temple Mount by allowing radical Islamist elements to gain a foothold there.

Abdullah also demanded stability in the West Bank. He knows violence in the Palestinian territories could spill over into the Hashemite Kingdom, and is therefore constantly working to ensure the PA’s continued rule over the West Bank.

The timing of the visit is no coincidence. Jordanians are currently furious at Israel and at Abdullah, who is seen as working in cahoots with the Israeli government in the recent shooting incident at the Israeli Embassy compound. (He allowed Israeli Embassy guard Ziv Moyal, who shot and killed two Jordanians after being attacked with a screwdriver, and the embassy staff to leave Jordan without being investigated for the shooting, which sparked a diplomatic crisis [LINK: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=44183%5D.) Abdullah’s visit to Ramallah, therefore, was also aimed at demonstrating to his people that he is not a collaborator.

According to Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, Abdullah made it abundantly clear to Abbas that Jordan would continue to fulfill its historic role as guardian of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Although this message was outwardly directed at Israel, it was also a reminder to the PA that it is the Jordanians, and not the Palestinians or the Arabs or any other group, who determine the policy in Jerusalem.

And so the king made the politically wise decision to come to Ramallah. Abdullah’s visit allowed him to demonstrate his solidarity with Palestinians, while simultaneously reminding Abbas that when it comes to Jerusalem, he is in charge.

Abdullah in Ramallah will strike anti-Israel stance

August 5, 2017

Abdullah in Ramallah will strike anti-Israel stance, DEBKAfile, August 5, 2017

Jordanian King Abdullah’s forthcoming visit to Ramallah Monday, Aug. 7, for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, bodes ill for Jordanian-Israeli relations at an especially jarring moment.

The Israeli embassy security officer Ziv Moyal, who on July 24 shot dead two Jordanians in the embassy compound when he was attacked with a screwdriver, left a trail of Jordanian ill will in his wake, especially since the incident occurred in the middle of the Temple House crisis in Jerusalem.

King Abdullah proposes to turn this unfortunate incident into a springboard for persuading the Palestinian leader to work with Jordan in the framework of the peace initiative US President Donald Trump is trying to resuscitate between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abdullah also plans to take advantage of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a moment of political and personal weakness. He is under a barrage of reported police investigations into allegations of corruption. Netanyahu has brushed the reports aside as “background noise.”

Jordan and Israeli signed a peace treaty in 2004. But since the shooting at the embassy, the Israeli ambassador and staff have not returned to Amman. And with tensions still running high, there is no sign that normal diplomatic business will be resumed any time soon.

In Ramallah, security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is still suspended, since Abbas ordered a freeze in the heat of the Palestinian disturbances over the security measures Israel put in place after the murder of two of its police guards.

The Jordanian king believes that there is plenty of common fodder for him and the Palestinian leader to build a united front that will boost him politically and personally at home. The Hashemite throne is in urgent need of shoring up after the shaking it took from an event that had nothing to do with Temple Mount, Jerusalem or Israel.

Abdullah had to sign a life sentence handed down by a Jordanian court against Marik al-Tuwayha, a Jordanian soldier who fired 70 bullets into vehicle of carrying US military instructors, killing three of them.

The court also booted the shooter out of the royal armed forces.

This judgment was a direct hit at the Tuwayha, a Bedouin tribe that by tradition sends its sons to the royal army and is historically loyal to the Hashemite throne. The fact that one of those sons attacked American soldiers carried the dread message that extremist ISIS ideology has penetrated deep into the king’s most solid power base.

The monarch is therefore in an extremely tight spot: He can’t afford to lose the Tuwayha tribe’s allegiance, on the one hand, but neither can be afford to alienate the Americans, when the US along with Israel, are his regime’s economic and security mainstay.

Netanyahu’s warm hug for the security officer on his safe return from Amman put up too many backs in Jordan and its streets for its king to weather the storm without striking a strong anti-Israeli posture. The Palestinian leader will no doubt take advantage of this situation to stir up the crisis between Amman and Jerusalem and so and lift his own plummeting fortunes in the Palestinian street. The royal visit to Ramallah, the first Abdullah has made in five years, will most likely produce a stream of invective against Israel and tough statements assailing Israel’s right to sovereignty over Jerusalem and Temple Mount.

 

Preventing an intifada

July 23, 2017

Preventing an intifada, Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor, July 23, 2017

(How likely is that Jordan, much of the population of which is “Palestinian,” will provide significant help in diminishing the current crisis? — DM)

The one scenario Israel strives to avoid at this point is a third intifada, a senior defense source said over the weekend. The words “third intifada” have been at the heart of every security assessment held over the past week and this time, defense officials are saying it outright. This is also the scenario which the Shin Bet security agency and the IDF have been increasingly warning about over the past few days, and one that various overt and covert elements on the ground have made into a very real possibility.

Those comparing the unrest of the past week to the wave of mostly lone-wolf terrorism that erupted in October 2015 are wrong. The current crisis represents a much more slippery slope because it is fueled by religious rage. Past waves of terrorism, including the Second Intifada, the attempts to use security prisoners’ hunger strikes to agitate the Palestinian street, and other flare-ups in recent years, were more rationally motivated.

In the past, flare-ups were led by political forces seeking national gains by means of violence. This time the unrest is emotionally motivated, driven by the false notion that Al-Aqsa mosque is “in danger” of Israeli takeover. Israel’s repeated statements that it has no intention whatsoever to change the status quo on the Temple Mount continue to fall on deaf ears. The perceived threat to Al-Aqsa resonates across the Muslim world and generates a very negative trend, as evident by the hundreds of thousands of social media posts echoing the need to defend the holy site.

Another indication was the reaction on the Palestinian street to the gruesome terrorist attack in the Samaria community of Halamish, where a terrorist murdered three members of the Salomon family on Friday. The glory and support showered on the terrorist was unusual even for a society that regularly glorifies terrorists, raising concerns that others might very well follow in his footsteps.

The ease with which the terrorist managed to enter Halamish — despite the security fence surrounding it and the alert, which according to the initial investigation was mishandled by the rapid response team in the community — is likely to spur others to act. Several individuals have already openly said as much on social media. The defense establishment’s immediate challenge, therefore, is to prevent copycat attacks.

The decision to deploy large security contingents on the ground is meant to do just that: prevent terrorist attacks and lend the residents a sense of security. Past experience has shown that this would most likely be only partially successful as well as slow to happen, as it takes time to get a solid hold on an area, seal any breaches to the fence and exhaust intelligence.

Palestinian security forces took an active part in efforts to curb the last wave of terrorism, mostly over their own concerns of losing control over the Palestinian population. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement over the weekend that the PA was suspending all security ties with Israel will undermine the Palestinian Authority, but it may also cost Israeli lives.

Israeli effort to curtail further security deterioration will therefore focus on four fronts: in Jerusalem, by the police; in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, by the military; and overseas, by the Shin Bet, which will try to prevent terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets abroad. The defense establishment’s working assumption is that this situation will be somewhat prolonged. The IDF has already diverted troops in a way that would sustain this special state of alert for at least a month, and it is preparing for the possibility that it will take longer to resolve.

But this operational effort is only part of the plan, alongside significant diplomatic efforts. The Diplomatic-Security Cabinet decided to keep the metal detectors installed last week on the Temple Mount, but according to Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, whose interview with Al Jazeera over the weekend meant to allay the concerns of the Arab street, the cabinet is currently seeking alternative solutions.

While the search for metal detector-free security measures continues, Israel must also find ways to assuage the concerns expressed by Arab leaders. The anti-Israeli consensus in recent days — at a time when Israel was able to make progress vis-a-vis many Middle East nations based on the shared need to curtail Iran’s regional ambitions and the joint war on Islamic State — is very troubling and must be addressed immediately.

The main effort in this respect must be directed at Jordan: As the nation controlling the Islamic trust that manages Al-Aqsa mosque, Amman plays a special role on the holy site and that should be leveraged when discussing the various alternatives and compromises.

Israel believes that even if an agreement is reached on a diplomatic level, some “braking distance” would still be required until the unrest on the ground is quelled. For this reason, “calm” will be the operative word in the coming days, as there is a need to calm the situation on the ground and tone down the rhetoric so as to facilitate an effective war on terror while minimizing any harm to civilians on both sides. This is a particularly complicated operation in terms of security and diplomacy, but it is essential if we are to avoid an unwanted escalation that would lead to a third intifada.

Jordan Intensifies Anti-Israel Rhetoric Despite Security Challenges

June 1, 2017

Jordan Intensifies Anti-Israel Rhetoric Despite Security Challenges, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Noah Beck, June 1, 2017

Jordan, a country that has had a formal peace treaty with Israel since 1994, has seen an uptick in anti-Israel hostility.

Last month, Jordan condemned the killing of a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker who was filmed stabbing an Israeli policeman multiple times before he was shot, calling it “a heinous crime.” In September, Israeli police killed a Jordanian tourist who attacked with a knife. Jordan described this act of self-defense as a premeditated and “barbaric act of the army of the Israeli occupation.”

Israeli analysts disagree whether Jordan’s rhetoric is a cause for concern.

Since the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, Jordan’s public statements often contradict private behavior, said Elad Ben-Dror, a Bar-Ilan University Middle Eastern Studies senior lecturer. Publicly, “the Jordanian parliament and press are fierce in their denunciation of Israel… Beneath the surface, however, there is a strong link and security cooperation between the two countries, especially with regard to the war on terrorism.”

Jordanian demographics drive the public vitriol, said Tel Aviv University Contemporary Middle Eastern History Chair Eyal Zisser. Palestinians comprise half the Jordanian population, “and because the population is conservative and very much Islamic, the regime lets the public…express anti-Israeli sentiments as a way to vent and reduce…pressure on the regime.”

So “cheap shots” like condemning the shooting of a terrorist in the act of trying to kill are “aimed at showing the Palestinians in Jordan [that] the Hashemites have not abandoned them,” said Oded Eran, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. “The King expects the Israeli government” to ignore such statements. And for the most part, Jerusalem does.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently took exception. “It is outrageous to hear the Jordanian government’s speaker support the terror attack which occurred today in Jerusalem’s Old City,” a statement released by Netanyahu’s office said. “It’s time Jordan stopped playing both sides of the game. Just like Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terror attacks in Israel. Terror is terror.”

Moreover, some anti-Israel hostility by Jordan goes beyond mere statements.

In March, Jordan released Ahmed Daqamseh, a former soldier who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls as they visited his country. His tribe gave him a hero’s welcome and he called for Israel’s destruction on Al-Jazeera TV. Many lawmakers and politicians had reportedly lobbied to set him free, and doing so may have been a populist move.

Jordan also hosts “Al-Quds,” the official TV station of Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group committed to Israel’s destruction.

Some experts think Israel should stop turning the other cheek. “Israel is assisting Jordan economically, providing it with fresh water and [helping] in many other areas. It is entitled and even obligated to insist that Jordan moderate its criticism and certainly that it not support anti-Israeli terrorism,” Ben-Dror said.

Israel should “slowly alter the rules of the game” by insisting that Jordan’s monarch condemn Palestinian violence, said Bar-Ilan political scientist Hillel Frisch. “Israel has to make him sweat a little but not, of course, at the expense of his throne.”

“I’m glad that Netanyahu rebuked him over the attempted murder of the policeman,” Frisch said. “I’d like to see more rebukes in the future, especially regarding the Waqf guards’ role in incitement on Har Habayit.” Under the terms of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan, the Jordanian-run Waqf Islamic religious trust administers the Temple Mount, but has been leading efforts to deny and erase any Jewish connection to the site.

Last July, three members of the Islamic Waqf attacked a group of archeologists at the site. The harassment continued in January, when Islamic guards tried to remove an Israeli tour guide for calling the area the “Temple Mount,” insisting that he use the Islamic term “Haram al-Sharif.”

While King Abdullah might have an unspoken understanding with his “Arab Street” that requires regular condemnations of Israel, the sustainability of such an arrangement remains a concern. The same Islamist forces to which he panders could eventually hobble his policy objectives, or worse.

Last October, a grassroots campaign was launched by Jordanian activists to turn off the lights to protest Jordan’s gas deal with Israel. The “lights-out action came on the heels of a protest march [recently] in downtown Amman that attracted an estimated 2,500 demonstrators, making it one of the largest protests in Jordan in recent years,” the Jerusalem Post reported. The protests reportedly included chants against both the gas deal and Jordan’s peace with Israel.

Reflecting popular opposition, the lower house of Jordan’s Parliament overwhelmingly opposed the 2014 gas deal. The opposition includes leading Jordanian trade unions, Islamists, and secularists.

By indulging public opinion with anti-Israel rhetoric, Abdullah risks encouraging and popularizing the type of movement that could eventually topple him. Jordanian Islamists recently murdered a prominent Christian writer who faced legal charges for sharing a “blasphemous” anti-ISIS cartoon that outraged Muslim groups. Honor killings are increasing in Jordan.

Last November, Jordan’s highest religious authority slammed as “false and insignificant” an Israeli bill to ban the Muslim call to prayer via loudspeakers during sleeping hours throughout Israel. The Israeli bill would apply to the sound systems of all houses of worship, not only mosques, and countries like India and Egypt have enacted similar limitations.

Anti-Israel hostility might be aggravated by Jordan’s overall situation. Economic woes and an influx of Syrian refugees are bringing increasing instability, Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Einat Shlein warned in March.

Frisch is less concerned: “I remember from [over 50 years ago] how the pundits predicted the Jordanian monarchy’s imminent fall. My take is that… [King Abdullah] has money (Saudi and Gulf) and lots of intelligence and logistical support (Israel, US, British) and the more heterogeneous his population, the more room for maneuver [he has] to play the role of arbiter.”

Although Jordan has economic challenges, the regime is stable, Ben-Dror said. “Jordanians see what is happening in Syria and Iraq and appreciate the stability the regime provides. I think that most Jordanians want to preserve the status quo – the Hashemite regime. The combination of outside support for the country and the domestic support of its citizens guarantee its survival.”

Mutual interests provide some insurance for Israel-Jordan relations, Eran said. Jordan needs Israeli cooperation and expertise when it comes to “security, water and…energy… [Jordan] also needs at least a semblance of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians to prevent unrest” among Jordanian Palestinians.

Indeed, that synergy may explain why Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Jordanian hostility towards Israel.

“Jordan protects Israel from the east,” Zisser said. “It’s better to have the Jordanians as our neighbors than to have ISIS, the Iranians, the Syrians, or the Iraqis. So security is above all, and as long as the Jordanians keep the border quiet and cooperate with Israel,” the rest can be tolerated.

Still, if King Abdullah views Israel as key to his regime’s success, and he also needs support from the Jordanian “street” for his regime’s survival, then why – despite being the most powerful figure in Jordan – has he done so little to align public opinion with his strategic objectives? If King Abdullah can order bloody crackdowns on terrorists, can’t he promote more moderate thinking among the general population, by – for example – pushing the press to include fair and balanced coverage of Israel?

“The King is not as powerful as one thinks,” Zisser said. “There were many protests against corruption, unemployment etc., so… [he] needs to maneuver carefully.”

But Frisch disagreed: “Abdullah has been in the throne long enough to influence and shape public opinion rather [than] pander to it. He might be doing this deliberately to derail any peace process that might lead to a Palestinian state, which he certainly does not want. He wants Israel, as the strongest state on the block to contain Palestinian nationalism and radicalism.”

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.

Dire Jordanian straits

March 14, 2017

Dire Jordanian straits, Israel Hayom, Daniel Pipes, March 14, 2017

Palestinians, according to most estimates, constitute a substantial majority of the population and present the deepest division. It’s common to speak of “Jordanians” and “Palestinians” even though the latter are citizens and children and grandchildren of citizens. As this suggests, the sense of being separate from and superior to the mostly tribal peoples of the East Bank has not diminished over time, especially not when Palestinians have achieved economic success.

I asked nearly all of my 15 interlocutors (who represented a wide range of viewpoints) about a return of Jordanian sovereignty to the West Bank. I regret to report that every one of them strongly rejected this idea. “Why would we want that headache?” they all seemed to say. Accepting their verdict means Israel has no practical solution to its West Bank conundrum, so its reluctant and unwanted sovereignty over Palestinians will likely continue into the distant future.

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“We’re in dire straits,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said half a year ago. After recently completing a week of intensive travels and discussions throughout Jordan, I found no one disagreeing with that assessment. Jordan may no longer be hyper-vulnerable and under siege, as it was in the past, but it does face possibly unprecedented problems.

Created out of thin air by Winston Churchill in 1921 to accommodate British imperial interests, the Emirate of Transjordan, now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for almost a century has led a precarious existence. Particularly dangerous moments came in 1967, when pan-Arabist pressures led King Hussein to make war on Israel and lose the West Bank; in 1970, when a Palestinian revolt nearly toppled the king; and 1990-1991, when pro-Saddam Hussein sentiments pushed him to join a hopeless and evil cause.

Today’s dangers are manifold. Islamic State lurks in Syria and Iraq, just beyond the border, attractive to a small but real minority of Jordanians. The once-robust trade with those two countries has nearly collapsed — and with it, Jordan’s lucrative transit role. In a region bountiful in oil and gas, Jordan is one of the very few countries to have almost no petroleum resources. City dwellers receive water just one day a week and country dwellers often even less. Tourism has declined, thanks to the Middle East’s notorious volatility. King Abdullah’s recent assertion of authority grates on those demanding more democracy.

The core issue of identity remains unresolved. As a country of massive immigration for over a hundred years (even exceeding the numbers going to Israel), it has received waves of Palestinians (in 1948-1949, 1967, and 1990-1991), Iraqis (2003), and Syrians (since 2011). Palestinians, according to most estimates, constitute a substantial majority of the population and present the deepest division. It’s common to speak of “Jordanians” and “Palestinians” even though the latter are citizens and children and grandchildren of citizens. As this suggests, the sense of being separate from and superior to the mostly tribal peoples of the East Bank has not diminished over time, especially not when Palestinians have achieved economic success.

The country’s strengths are also formidable. Surrounded by crises, the population is realistic and wary of trouble. The king enjoys an undisputed position of authority. Intermarriages and the influx of Iraqis and Syrians are eroding the historic divisions between Palestinians and others. The population enjoys a high level of education. Jordan has a good reputation around the world.

Then there’s Israel. “Where are the fruits of peace?” is a common refrain about Jordan’s 1994 treaty with Israel. Politicians and the media may not say so, but the answer is blindingly obvious: Whether it is using Haifa as an alternative to the Syrian land route, the purchase of inexpensive water, or the provision of plentiful gas (which is already being delivered), Jordan benefits directly and substantially from its ties with Israel. Despite this, a perverse social pressure against normalization with Israel has grown over time, intimidating absolutely everyone and preventing relations with the Jewish state from reaching their potential.

One Jordanian asked me why Israelis accept being treated like a mistress. The answer is clear: Because Jordan’s welfare ranks as a paramount Israeli priority, successive governments accept, even if through gritted teeth, the calumnies and lies told about Israel in the press and on the streets. Though they are too polite to say so, they clearly wish the king would take hold of this issue and point to the benefits of peace.

On a personal note: Since 2005, I have been advocating for “Jordan to the West Bank, Egypt to Gaza: The Three-State Solution” as a way to solve the Palestinian problem.

Accordingly, I asked nearly all of my 15 interlocutors (who represented a wide range of viewpoints) about a return of Jordanian sovereignty to the West Bank. I regret to report that every one of them strongly rejected this idea. “Why would we want that headache?” they all seemed to say. Accepting their verdict means Israel has no practical solution to its West Bank conundrum, so its reluctant and unwanted sovereignty over Palestinians will likely continue into the distant future.

Summing up the visit: Jordan has muddled through many crises and may do so again, but the concatenation of current dangers pose an extraordinary challenge to Jordan and its many well-wishers. Will Abdullah cope with these “dire straits”?