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Israel is prioritising its relations with Jordan

Thousands of young Jordanians arrive for a mass march near the border with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians on May 21, 2021 in al-Karama, Jordan [Jordan Pix/Getty Images]
Thousands of young Jordanians arrive for a mass march near the border with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians on May 21, 2021 in al-Karama, Jordan [Jordan Pix/Getty Images]

The lengthy-term of office of Benjamin Netanyahu was marked by strained relations with Jordan. The new Israeli government is now seeking to restore relations with the Hashemite Kingdom, which reached their lowest level during the Netanyahu era because maintaining the peace treaty with Jordan is very important for Israel's security.

With Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visiting the UAE for the first time and then meeting with his Bahraini counterpart, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Jordan appeared to be absent from the Israeli government's agenda. This was despite the importance of their relations and the peace treaty signed in 1994 by the late King Hussein.

Israeli security and military officials have been keen to contact their Jordanian counterparts to learn how to stop the deterioration of relations. This is in addition to the strong will in Israel to improve bilateral military relations with Amman, which have remained good even in difficult political times.

OPINION: Jordan's guardianship of Jerusalem's holy sites has to be questioned

Israel crossed a number of red lines under Netanyahu, which has had a negative impact on relations with Jordan. The Israeli plan to annex the Jordan Valley as part of the so-called Deal of the Century is one example. Other crises include the assassination of a Jordanian judge on the border in 2014 and the killing of two Jordanians within the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman in 2017 by a security guard. The guard was photograph embracing Netanyahu upon his return to Israel, which sparked anger among Jordanians.

Jordan bans Israelis from entering Al-Baqura‏ area - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Jordan bans Israelis from entering Al-Baqura‏ area – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

By March this year, the two countries were at odds over security arrangements for the Jordanian Crown Prince's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Meanwhile, Netanyahu's aircraft was banned from entering Jordan's airspace en route to the UAE.

The recent Israeli offensive against Gaza also caused great unrest among Palestinians and Jordanians, with thousands of protesters marching to the border. However, King Abdullah may still be interested in turning over a new page with the new Israeli leadership. Indeed, he listened to Defence Minister Benny Gantz explain in detail how the relations between the two states had deteriorated during the Netanyahu era and express a strong desire to improve the situation.

Ordinary Jordanians have a significant hatred of Israel and oppose normalisation with the occupation state. Every week there are demonstrations calling for the freezing of the peace and gas agreements between the two countries, expelling Israel's ambassador from Amman, and recalling the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Israeli circles believe that improving relations with Jordan is very important for Israel's security and as a way to maintain a calm border against the infiltration of militants, including Iranian forces. Although restoring these relations will be a long, slow process, the Bennett-Lapid government can make goodwill gestures towards the Hashemite Kingdom to build trust.

The Biden administration also supports the improvement of relations between Israel and Jordan. King Abdullah II will visit the White House soon, the first Arab leader to meet Joe Biden since he took office in January. This places the ball firmly in Israel's court.

However, the hasty steps made by Bennett to contact friends in the Arab world while keeping Amman in limbo, raises fears about regional instability. A few days ago, Jordan announced that it will officially cancel the Two Seas Canal project linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, and build a desalination plant for the use of Jordanians, and the Negev and Arabah Valley residents.

Oddly enough, the canal agreement between Israel and Jordan was signed by Benjamin Netanyahu's government in 2013, and his government ratified it in 2019, but since then no progress has been made. Meanwhile, Jordan's need for water has increased. The Jordanians have announced that they will build a separate desalination plant instead of the canal within five years.

Israeli security circles confirm that Jordan is not a secondary actor in relations with the Middle East. It is a strategic partner that shares a common border of more than 336 kilometres. A joint operations room is being established allowing closer cooperation in the fight against arms smuggling. However, security is not the only important element in the equation.

Everything that happens in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque is detrimental to the stability of the Kingdom. The Israeli leadership, especially Netanyahu, has made sure in recent years not to take the Jordanians into consideration. Instead, it has provoked dangerous crises with the Kingdom on more than one occasion. The effects of this deterioration are echoed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the Jordanians develop more sympathy for the boycott movement and the Islamists.

Hence, it is neither possible nor necessary to exclude the Palestinian issue from the Israel-Jordan equation. Tel Aviv is obliged to cooperate with the royal palace in Amman to prevent the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and to allow the imminent political change in a way that prevents a Hamas victory.

READ: Jordan and Hamas may reconcile to confront Israel

The economy is also of importance. The Jordanians did not get what they were promised when the Israel–Jordan peace treaty was signed. Aside from the canal and giant industrial complexes which have not materialised, when the normalisation "Abraham Accords" were signed last year, Jordan was not invited to participate in the wider regional movement.

So Israel has the security it wants through the peace treaty with Jordan, but the Kingdom still suffers from an economic crisis and feels neglected. Israel actually benefits all around.

That is why the recent reports of the Trump administration's attempt to harm the Hashemite Kingdom, with or without Israeli intervention, are a concern to the Israelis. They would not be able to go back to the beginning and try to build relations with Jordan from scratch without implementing the agreements with the Kingdom. To do so would carry real political, economic, and security costs. Failure would mean that Israel will lose a strategically, something which it cannot afford to do

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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