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Jordan's domestic pressures and the US empire

November 16, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Last weekend, Jordan announced that it would end the lease of two enclaves of land to Israel.

As part of the unjust 1994 peace deal signed between Israel and Jordan, the latter gave Israelis access to these Jordanian territories for 25 years.

But on Sunday, the lease expired. Jordan’s king announced that the two small territories – in the north and south, along the Jordanian border with historic Palestine (which is fully controlled by Israeli occupation forces), would be taken back into the hands of their rightful owners.

Israel’s racist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had exerted intense pressure for his state’s occupation of the two territories to continue. He threatened to annex them in a similar fashion to which Israel illegally annexed eastern Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights.

As Palestinian broadcasting legend and political analyst, Abdel Bari Atwan, put it this week, “while such arm-twisting may have worked in the past, this time it failed, and the Jordanian state insisted on regaining every inch of its territory. By resisting all this pressure, the Jordanian monarch acted in accordance with the strongly-held and clearly-expressed will of the people.”

The ending of the decades-long and dubious lease of Jordanian territories to Israeli settlers, is a sign of the increasingly strained relationship between Israel and Jordan.

Along with Egypt, Jordan is one of only two Arab nations to have official, over-the-table diplomatic relations with Israel – a hostile settler-colonial entity which has launched wars and occupations targeting both countries in the past.

Another such sign was the detention without charge or trial of two Palestinian citizens of Jordan – Heba Al-Labadi and Abdulrahman Mirie – for over two months.

Activists stage a demonstration in support of Palestinian-Jordanian woman Hiba Al-Labadi, who stages a hunger strike after she was arrested by Israeli forces, in front of the Ofer Prison in Ramallah, West Bank on 28 October, 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

Activists stage a demonstration in support of Palestinian-Jordanian woman Hiba Al-Labadi, who stages a hunger strike after she was arrested by Israeli forces, in front of the Ofer Prison in Ramallah, West Bank on 28 October, 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

The pair were released only after Al-Labadi had carried out a hunger strike in protest of her unjust internment, and Jordanians themselves launched popular protests to free the prisoners.

But for once, the Jordanian government itself has also stepped up to the plate and exerted diplomatic pressure to free the pair.

Jordan recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv, with the foreign minister warning that this was only a first step. That alone was enough, it seems, for Israel to capitulate and release the pair. As so often, Israel folded like the paper tiger that it really is.

In his article on the issue, Atwan (whose opinion I always respect) was intensely optimistic. “The recovery of these territories is an important step, which vindicates the new approach of standing up to Israel and its occupation of Arab territories and dealing with it from a position of parity,” he wrote. “Jordan is to be commended for its resilience in adhering to its rights and not capitulating to Israeli and American pressure. Let us hope it can stay the course, and that the next celebration will be when the disgraceful gas deal is scrapped.”

Was I incorrect, then, in a previous column a few weeks ago, to state that Jordan is still a client state of US imperialism?

In my opinion: no.

While in some ways Jordan has finally done the right thing during the course of recent interactions with Israel, it’s far too soon to tell if its policies towards the settler-colonial state are undergoing any fundamental shift.

It seems unlikely.

Jordan is still flooded by US military, political and intelligence officials – spies, generals and diplomats. Only last year, the US signed a memorandum of understanding to provide Jordan with almost $6.4 billion in funding over a 5-year period. In 2017 alone, the US Department of Defence provided more than $200 million dollar’s worth of support. There is also billions more in loan guarantees.

The material conditions are still very much there for the US to pull a lot of strings, and exert its influence over Jordan

As Israel is a top regional client state – a vicious attack dog – of the US, smooth Israeli-Jordanian relations remain an important US policy goal.

But the Jordanian monarchy also has to balance this consideration with certain domestic realities – mainly the fact that there is a huge Palestinian population in Jordan.

At least half (some estimates put the figure at as much as 60 per cent) of the Jordanian population are Palestinians, mainly refugees dating back from the Zionist movement’s 1947-49 war of expulsion against the indigenous people of Palestine. They, and their ancestors, were driven out by the Israeli army and its precursor militias in 1948 – the Nakba.

In this respect, the Jordanian king should not be patted on the back for his recent actions – it was the minimum demanded.

Last year, 87 Jordanian MPs had signed a petition urging to end the land lease to Israel, and large protests were mobilised to demand the release of Al-Labadi and Mirie.

But as Atwan, too, has pointed out, these protestors were also demanding much more: the end of Jordan’s unequal gas deal with the Israeli occupier and the cancelation of 1994’s ‘peace’ treaty altogether.

These are steps that the Jordanian monarchy – as long as it remains a US client – seems highly unlikely to take.

Furthermore, and most importantly, Jordanian security and military cooperation with Israel seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future – as events this week have demonstrated.

Israel’s latest military assault against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of 34 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians, including eight children and three women.

There was no Israeli fatalities.

As the attacks were carried out, evidence emerged that Jordanian air pilots were conducting joint exercises with the Israeli Air Force – even as Israeli bombers were pounding Gaza.

Jordanian officials did not comment. But the evidence seemed clear, and they did not deny it.

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