What's in store for Palestinian-Jordanian ties as US rolls out peace plan?

While Jordan and Palestine are supporting each other in their rejection of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, it remains to be seen what the future holds if Washington ups the pressure on Amman.

al-monitor Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the group photo with Arab leaders, ahead of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, March 31, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

Feb 7, 2020

The US peace plan announced in the White House Jan. 28 has not only unified the Palestinians, but appears to have cemented Jordanian-Palestinian relations that in the past went through some rocky ups and downs. As he was delivering his scathing criticism to the US plan at the Arab League foreign ministers meeting Feb. 1, President Mahmoud Abbas turned to the Jordanian foreign minister. As he rephrased the plan’s restrictions on Palestinian sovereignty over the crossing points, Abbas looked at Ayman Safadi and commented jokingly using the first name of the minister, “What do you think Ayman, will we need Israeli permission to visit you in Jordan according to this plan?”

Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee responsible for relations with the Arab world, told Al-Monitor that the Jordanian position to the plan has been great. “Jordan’s position has been great; the official and popular positions have been supportive of Palestinian rights and we appreciate that.”

Lamis Andoni, a veteran Jordanian analyst and former lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley, told Al-Monitor that normally any US Middle East plan often leaves a shadow on relations between Palestinians and Jordanians because the Palestinians worry that the Americans want Jordan to represent the Palestinians due to the fact that pre-1967 Jordan controlled the West Bank. “The United States, however, has brought the two sides together this time. Both sides are very worried, and therefore they need to cooperate because this is a direct threat to both sides,” she said.

Andoni noted that King Abdullah II has made it clear that Jordan will accept only what the Palestinians accept, so the rejection of the Palestinians makes it easy for Jordan to also reject it. “However, this plan — which is not a peace plan but a war plan — will increase pressure on Jordan. Jordan can’t get away totally from the Trump plan if it continues to ward off the pressure; the coming period will be very tense even though so far there are no signs of any cracks between the two leaderships.” 

Andoni noted, “In the past, we saw signs of mistrust. But this time, I can’t see any such signs. But, in the end, it depends on how much pressure the United States and Saudi Arabia will exert on Jordan — and if that happens, this will revive the mistrust.”

The height of mistrust Andoni talks about refers to the bloody internal violence between the Jordanian army and the PLO guerrillas that became known as the Black September of 1970 and the exit of Palestinian fighters from Jordan to Lebanon. And despite the fact that the Arab summit in Rabat in 1974 declared that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Palestinian officials continued to worry about Jordan’s stance regarding various peace plans that were being offered or negotiated. At one time, the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation was on the table, pushing late King Hussein to publicly declare, “I don’t want to hear the word confederation anymore.”

Ahmed Awad, director of the Phenix Center for Economics and Informatics Studies in Jordan, told Al-Monitor that at the present time, there are close relations between both sides. “As for the future, it all depends on how each side will react to the implementation phase of the US plan, especially when and if the Israelis move regarding the clauses in this plan on Jerusalem and the annexation of the West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.”

Awad, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, argued that Jordanians and Palestinians need each other to stand up to external pressures. “Both sides are vulnerable. The Palestinians face a difficulty but Jordan will have an even harder time to keep saying no. They can’t stand up for a long time to external pressure that might certainly escalate in the coming days — especially as a result of the upcoming Israeli and US elections.” 

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump are fighting to stay in power with crucial Israeli elections due on March 2 and US presidential elections in November.

Jamal Nazzal, the Fatah spokesman in Europe, told Al-Monitor that the early reaction from Jordan has been positive. “On the public rhetorical level, both Jordanian and Palestinian leaders have made strong statements. Jordan’s rejection is welcomed by the Palestinians. Fatah, for its part, is very concerned about the situation in Jordan and we want to be as supportive as possible to them [Jordanians] in their attempts to ward off the external pressures that will be placed on them.”

It seems clear that for the time being, both Palestinians and Jordanians have chosen to stick together to stand up to the US bullying efforts. Their mutual goal for now is to buy time until the results of the Israeli and US elections are known, and they will wait to see what kind of pressure they will be under in the coming months, and especially whether the United States will make life unbearable — particularly for Jordan — or not. The Arab and international opposition to the US peace plan has been reassuring, but it is not certain if this rejection will continue or not if the United States and Israel decide to implement this one-sided deal.

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