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Jordanian foreign policy and the dilemma of the 'third option'

A demonstrator holds a sign in Arabic meaning "the King of Bahrain's normalisation with Israel is betrayal" during a protest against normalising relations with Israel on 15 September 2020 [MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images]
A demonstrator holds a sign in Arabic meaning "the King of Bahrain's normalisation with Israel is betrayal" during a protest against normalising relations with Israel on 15 September 2020 [MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images]

Jordanian politicians are open about feeling isolated and concerned about the noticeably quickened pace of agreements between Arab countries and Israel, under US sponsorship. The matter will not stop at the UAE and Bahrain, with US assurances that other Arab states will follow suit.

The brainstorming in Amman regarding the situation suggests that it is not separate from the context of events over the past two decades. The Arab world as we know it has completely collapsed and the vital Arab states are no longer deciding the future of the Middle East. Regional forces such as Iran and Turkey are filling the strategic vacuum, while the Arab Gulf countries are chasing their own interests. This redefines these interests and the sources of potential threats, even in taking the initiative over heated Arab issues.

At this strategic stage, for which the Palestinians are paying the price, Amman finds itself faced with two options. The first is pacification and silence, and perhaps even jumping on the bandwagon, as well as engaging to a certain extent in the new regional system that is forming, as Egypt has done. In doing so, it would avoid further crises and tension in its relationship with the Trump administration, especially with his son-in-law Jared Kushner who is responsible for these agreements. It will also spare Amman from any crises with Arab countries that have been a strategic ally for Jordan over the past two decades.

The second option is to stick to the traditional Arab position and peace initiative, which is the option with popular support. This also means aligning with the Palestinian Authority, albeit without a vision or action plan to confront these changes, which means that Jordan would be entering a stage more dangerous than regional isolation and one which threatens its economic and political interests. This would, inevitably, reflect on Jordanian workers in the Gulf, whose remittances are vital given the extremely difficult economic conditions whereby Jordan is witnessing an unprecedented rise in unemployment and a growing financial crisis.

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Decision makers in Amman are working on a third option based on bridging the growing gap in Jordan’s strategic position on the Palestinian issue, which it considers to be a matter of national security and linked to the core of the internal equation, political stability and strategic and economic interests with the Americans and Arab allies. However, officials accept that this option is not easy and requires complex and accurate calculations even while walking on a political tightrope.

A careful reading of the statement by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi about the Bahrain-Israel normalisation deal reveals the extent of the complexity and stalemate of Jordan’s position. He responds implicitly to Kushner’s claims about establishing an Israeli-Arab strategic alliance to confront surrounding countries — Iran especially, and Turkey is implied — and confirms the basis of Jordan’s position for a peaceful solution based on “the establishment of a Palestinian state”. Safadi avoids criticising the agreements and tries to stand with the PA at this dangerous point in the history of the Palestinian cause.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Moscow, Russia on 28 December 2018 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Moscow, Russia on 28 December 2018 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

The dilemma lies in the fact that the gap is widening between this “strategic doctrine” and the international and regional developments and shifts. The only way to reduce the pressure on Amman and reach some degree of balance is to wait for the outcome of the US presidential election, with the hope that a new administration will be more understanding of the Palestinian situation. What if, though, President Donald Trump stays in the White House? That is the worst case scenario for Amman, which could manage to resist US pressure and be patient for a short time, but views another four years as a nightmare.

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Moreover, it can no longer be ignored or avoided that Jordan’s own peace treaty with Israel has, in its present form, ended to all intents and purposes, and no one but the Jordanians and Palestinians talk about it. Meanwhile, the dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state has, with the deal of the century and regional normalisation, become far-fetched. It is no longer surprising to hear unprecedented calls in Amman, even from those who reject the deal, to discuss “rights” rather than “the state”, in an attempt to change the rules of the game with Israel and threaten it with internal crises, a game more complicated than the matter of a state. It is ironic that Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz hinted at this approach to the media, and faced a lot of domestic criticism after which he was forced to clarify his position, even in official and semi-official circles. This means that this proposal was not included among the Jordanian options or possible scenarios for public consumption, and is still at the discussion stage among the political elites.

The third option is tactical and temporary in order to deal with this moment, but strategically it is necessary to redefine Jordan’s national interests in light of the transformations, and reach an understanding regarding the country’s role and management of any losses so long as it is difficult to talk about gains or even the preservation of political capital.

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

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ArticleAsia & AmericasBahrainIsraelJordanMiddle EastOpinionPalestineUAEUS
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