The leaders of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have traditionally been known as masters at staying as neutral as possible, especially when it comes to inter-Arab relations. This was on clear display in Amman’s response to the recent UAE-Israel rapprochement, when it refused to either endorse or oppose the agreement for a “full normalization of relations,” while prodding the friendly Gulf state to pursue an end to the occupation.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told state-run media that the UAE’s decision “will move the region towards a just peace, if Israel “dealt with it as an incentive to end occupation.” Following the agreement Israel must end any unilateral moves to annex territory in the occupied West Bank that “obstruct peace prospects and violate Palestinian rights,” Safadi concluded, without saying whether Jordan supports or rejects the UAE’s move.
Diplomatic niceties notwithstanding, Jordanian officials were clearly unhappy with the move because it weakened the Arab consensus as represented in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative endorsed by the Arab League. An unspoken but strongly-held belief is that the UAE took credit for the hard work that Jordan and others in the international community did prior to July 1 to ensure that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t go through with threats of annexation.
Jordan’s former deputy prime minister, Mamdouh al-Abadi, told the London-based website Arabi21, “The Emirates has not been involved in the Palestinian cause either in war or in peace. It has no weight in the Arab-Israeli conflict, unlike countries such as Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.” Abadi called the UAE-Israel deal an “empty gesture,” contradicting the UAE’s claims about its role in stopping Israeli annexation. He went on to add,“this agreement … doesn’t produce any real value to the Emirates. The real winner is Trump.”
It took a well-respected Palestinian journalist, Nasser al-Laham, the editor-in-chief of the independent pro-Palestine Liberation Organization Maan News agency, to publicly state that "Jordan and its King” had made the main contribution to stopping the Israeli annexation.
While Jordan receives much less monetary support than it once did from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, there are many reasons why Amman held back from publicly going against Abu Dhabi. Remittances are one. According to Jordan’s central bank, in 2019 a total of $3.7 billion was remitted by Jordanians working abroad, the vast majority of whom (79 percent) work in the Gulf region. Out of a total of around 750,000 Jordanian expatriates, some 200,000 reportedly work in the UAE.
“Time changes the priorities for countries”
Adnan Abu Odeh, former advisor to King Hussein and King Abdullah, told MEI that while Egypt was expelled from the Arab League for unilaterally pursuing peace with Israel, the UAE will not be isolated: “When Sadat visited Israel, Egypt was kicked out of the Arab League. The Emirates has now violated the Arab Peace Plan, but they will not be punished similarly. Time changes the priorities for countries.” Abu Odeh believes that the UAE acted largely to protect itself from Iran: “When it comes to Iran, the Emirates are weak and the weak need someone to protect them. Protection comes from the Americans.”
Maj. Gen. Mamoun Abu Nawwar, a retired Jordanian air force pilot, believes that the UAE’s decision is “dangerous” for Jordan because it fails to address the main issue in the region: the Palestinian conflict. “It is dangerous for Jordan because it has not solved the Palestinian conflict.” Abu Nawwar says that the fact that annexation has been postponed means that it will be like a time bomb and therefore it has weakened Jordan.
Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economics and Informatics, told MEI that there might be some benefits from the UAE-Israel deal, but overall Jordan would be hurt by it. “For years Jordan has been able to translate its strategic advantage as the buffer between Israel and the Arab world, especially Iraq and the Gulf. But this move means that its role will be weakened as Israel and the Gulf countries will be able to bypass Jordan, even though economically, and if there is the trade of goods by land, they will still need Jordan.”
So, while Jordan might want to distance itself politically from the UAE, it cannot publicly oppose the deal for a number of reasons. As a country that itself made a peace deal with Israel in 1994, Jordan can’t take a holier-than-thou position vis-à-vis the UAE. It is true that Jordan has border and land disputes with Israel and that it coordinates regularly with the Palestinian leadership, but it still hosts an Israeli ambassador in Amman.
Keeping a close eye on Washington
The tightrope that Jordan will need to walk moving forward involves trying not to get on the bad side of the current resident of the White House. Jordan receives support from the American people to the tune of $1.25 billion a year, in addition to other bilateral agreements that aim to help Jordan’s economy.
Jordan, therefore, like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, will keep a close eye on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. If Donald Trump is re-elected, Amman will need to be sure to avoid doing anything that might anger Washington. It is no coincidence, for example, that Bahrain has delayed following the UAE’s move until the end of the year. If Joe Biden wins, the pressure to go along with the Trump vision and respond to Netanyahu’s needs for accomplishments in the Arab world without addressing Palestinian rights will be less overt, they expect.
The attempts at neutrality by Jordan hide a much deeper unhappiness with the UAE move and the potential for further divisions in an already deeply divided Arab world. More importantly, the fact that the UAE move totally ignored Palestinians means that they and the Arab public will continue to simmer in anger over the lack of any just solution to the Palestinian problem, an issue of great strategic geopolitical importance for Jordan.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist, the director of the Community Media Network in Amman, and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter @daoudkuttab. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
Photo by KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images