Benjamin Netanyahu paid a surprise visit to Jordan this week. The Israeli Prime Minister went to Amman in advance of the forthcoming tour of the region by US presidential adviser Jared Kushner and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt. The US delegates' tour includes a meeting proposed by Britain, according to Israel's right-wing Channel 14, along with foreign ministers from France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Netanyahu's visit suggests a possible hiccup in Kushner's tour schedule that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is trying to avoid.
In theory, Netanyahu's trip to Amman was not unusual in the context of preparations for Kushner's tour; there is an obsession and fear about the shut down of the channel that Kushner and Greenblatt have opened. However, there is also a Jordanian obsession about improving its political status in the region which would allow it to break free from US and Israeli restrictions, as well as unstated Arab pressure.
The meeting between Netanyahu and King Abdullah was undoubtedly linked to various local issues. It was held not only in advance of Kushner's visit but also that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is part of EU moves towards Jordan. More importantly, perhaps, it follows protests against the suffocating economic situation in the Hashemite Kingdom, which has prompted the Gulf States, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, to offer financial assistance to Amman.
There are not only efforts being made to reduce the tension but also to contain Jordan as it tries to improve its regional standing. This is evident in the make-up of the delegation that accompanied Netanyahu: Mossad director Yossi Cohen, Military Secretary Eliezer Toledano, retired political advisor Jonathan Schachter, Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz and National Security Council representative and economic adviser Professor Avi Simhon.
Their meeting did not ignore economic issues, despite the delegation's obvious security leaning. The latter reflected Israel's wish to thwart Jordan's efforts to improve its standing in the region and link it to the US-Israeli peace project, which seeks to disregard Palestinian rights. It is clear that Israel and America want to link Jordan and Palestine to US and Israeli projects in the region, beginning with the "deal of the century", which has created a lot of tension across the Middle East.
Despite the crisis faced by the Palestinian leadership, which is opposed to the American "deal", the Jordanian monarch was faced with an Israeli proposal to remove obstacles hindering the expansion of economic activity between Jordan and the West Bank. Israel has even gone as far as activating regional economic projects with Jordan, beginning with the Two Seas Canal funded by the World Bank, which itself imposed impossible conditions on the Kingdom recently, threatening its stability.
Netanyahu is hoping to take pre-emptive action to reduce the tension in the West Bank and transfer part of the burden to Jordan. He is taking advantage of the need for a way forward similar to that suggested by Washington, which calls for the construction of a port in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula serving the Gaza Strip and funded by the UAE and Saudi Arabia in order to contain any escalation in the besieged territory. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned against such escalation recently. The solutions are generally derived from the "deal of the century", but are dominated by a sense of urgency and the need to reduce tension across the region.
In the past year and a half, Israeli and American policies have come up against a brick wall in Ramallah and Amman. They have also increased tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories, not only in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but also in the land occupied by the nascent State of Israel in 1948. Such tensions have made their way to Jordan, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, making it essential for them to be eased. It has also become a matter of urgency for Israel and its allies in Washington to suppress Jordan's efforts to improve its standing, even more so than the implementation of the "deal of the century" itself, for this is a region that is ready to kick off, and it contains many surprises.
In conclusion, while Netanyahu's visit acknowledged Jordan's role implicitly, and the difficulty of overcoming its centrality, the fact that it preceded Kushner's visit to the region is an admission that the US channel has limited horizons and a serious blockage. However, the visit was motivated mainly by the Israeli Prime Minister's desire to pre-empt Jordanian attempts to improve its standing that would, in turn, expand its room to manoeuvre and resist US and Israeli pressure, as well as any future pressure from the Gulf States. This is the greatest concern for Netanyahu and his government at the moment.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 21 June 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.