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Why did King Abdullah of Jordan agree to attend a major UK Jewish fundraising dinner?

January 25, 2014 at 2:21 am

It should come as no surprise that King Abdullah of Jordan has cancelled a proposed visit to Britain during which he was to attend the annual fundraising dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. After all, the Board is staunchly pro-Israel and last week signed a letter of support, along with many other British Jewish groups and individuals, for the Zionist state’s military offensive against the people of Gaza. As the Jewish Chronicle reported, the King’s wife, Queen Rania, is a Palestinian as, indeed, are the majority of his subjects, made refugees from their homeland in 1948 and 1967. The Queen’s parents are from Tulkarem on the occupied West Bank.

What is surprising, or should be, is that the King accepted an invitation to attend such an event in the first place. The Board of Deputies makes no bones about its support for the State of Israel; its Constitution says that it must take “such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel’s security, welfare and standing”. So why would the Jordanian monarch plan on attending such an event, which he must know would create waves back home?

Jordan, of course, has a peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the late King Hussain and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. Technically, the Hashemite Kingdom still has responsibility for Islamic endowment (Waqf) properties in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, which has caused friction between the two states whenever extremist Jews enter Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform religious rituals. Nevertheless, King Abdullah generally maintains a low profile on the Palestinian issue, having an ambiguous, though improving, relationship with Hamas and, in particular, the current political head of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Khaled Meshaal. The Political Bureau chief visited Amman earlier this year for the first time since Hamas was expelled by King Abdullah in 1999.

Even so, that would not be sufficient reason for the King to cancel his visit to London and the Jewish fundraiser. For that, we have to look to the Arab Spring and popular pressure for reform and, latterly, full replacement of the government in Jordan.

While most of the demonstrations on the streets of Amman have been in protest at rising prices, notably of fuel, there is now an undercurrent of calls for complete political change. The will it, won’t it attitude of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood over whether it will participate in limited democratic elections for the country’s parliament has been challenged by the revolutions in other parts of the region in which Islamic movement candidates have ended up with the top jobs in government. Jordan’s constitutional monarchy places the King as Chief Executive able to appoint all of the members of the upper chamber, the Senate. The Arab Spring revolutions, which have swept away autocratic rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, have inspired the people of Jordan to look at their own limited democracy with a more critical eye.

Clearly, then, at this moment in time it would be rather reckless, indeed feckless, of King Abdullah to consider speaking at a dinner to raise funds for an organisation so strongly pro-Israel as the Board of Deputies. So why do it?

For the Board of Deputies, the presence of the Jordanian King at their annual dinner at this moment in Middle East history would be a bit of a coup, but one has to wonder whether the invitation was thought through clearly. Israel lost its “strategic ally” when Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president of Egypt, and good relations with regional power Turkey were damaged severely by the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 during which 9 Turkish citizens were killed by Israel’s commandos. That leaves, in the words of Aluf Benn in Haaretz newspaper, Israel “with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority”.

Given that Israel’s Foreign Minister, the extreme right-wing Avigdor Lieberman, has called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to be replaced, and King Abdullah of Jordan “refuses to meet [Israeli premier] Netanyahu”, it is hard to understand why the pro-Israel Board of Deputies would try to put the King in a potentially damaging position by this invitation. Could it be that the short-term benefit to the Board was judged to outweigh the obvious potential threat to the King’s position in Jordan and Israel’s strategic relationship with the Kingdom? Could it be that Israel itself is adopting a more pragmatic approach and was ready to ditch Abdullah along with Abbas in the hope that US pressure on a new regime would, as in Egypt so far, be able to prevent any serious rupture of relations and efforts to amend peace treaties?

One wonders who is advising King Abdullah on such issues, and why his advisers themselves appear to have been so short-sighted that they could not see the potential for damage to the monarchy. Whatever the reason, it would have been disastrous from a Palestinian point of view for the King to attend such a dinner. His presence would have been a direct snub to almost 2 million Jordanians of Palestinian heritage, including more than 300,000 Palestinian refugees, let alone the 3.8 million who live across the Jordan under Israeli occupation.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, “There had been anxiety about the visit all week since fighting erupted between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza”. Every cloud has a silver lining, they say; perhaps one positive thing to come out of Israel’s aggression in Gaza is that the Rogue State’s main cheerleaders in Britain aren’t going to get this particular royal feather in their cap.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.