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Jordanians worry that the ‘deal of the century’ will come at their expense

- May 31, 2019

The recent visit of Jared Kushner to Amman left many Jordanians worried that the Kushner plan, or President Trump’s alleged “deal of the century,” will try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Jordan’s expense.

Less than a year ago, Jordanians were on edge over rumors regarding a Trump administration peace plan, including a potential confederation between Jordan and Palestinian territories — a proposal that was floated as new but was in fact quite old and a nonstarter for Jordan. Even as a political crisis in Israel could jeopardize the plan, regional meetings and summits on the horizon have Jordanians concerned about what the Trump administration has in store.

What Jordan does — and does not — want

Jordan’s position on the peace process has not changed. The kingdom has consistently called for a two-state solution, including a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But Jordan has also made clear that the status of Jerusalem is a vital factor — not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Jordanians as well. The Hashemite monarchy takes seriously its role as protector of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem’s Old City, and the kingdom does not want to see that role eroded in any way.

Jordan has also insisted that a comprehensive settlement — an actual deal of the century — include agreements addressing refugees and the right of return. Jordanian officials realize that final borders will be subject to negotiation, but they see these concerns as essential to any real peace agreement.

So far, however, the Kushner and Trump peace process has appeared to endorse a very one-sided approach: the side of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various far-right Israeli parties. Palestinian officials complain that they have barely been consulted, that funding for Palestinian refugees has been cut off by the United States and that they are being sidelined in the negotiation process. Jordanian officials, in turn, argue that this puts still more pressure on Jordan.

Most Jordanian and other regional analysts seem to think that Kushner and Trump are approaching peace like a real estate development project. Every point of discussion thus far has turned on investment and business, essentially maintaining the status quo for Israel while trying to improve economic conditions for Palestinians. The plan seemingly does not include a Palestinian state but, rather, a kinder, gentler occupation.

Some Jordanian officials therefore fear a deal that is almost predestined to fail, allowing Israel to maintain an otherwise unsustainable status quo while relegating Palestinians to an even more hopeless future. Many also worry that U.S. officials and some of Jordan’s Persian Gulf allies would strong-arm the kingdom to accept this kind of deal, with little regard for the country’s long-standing positions, Jordanian public opinion, or the kingdom’s severe domestic and economic constraints.

Jordanian officials have long feared any attempt to turn the kingdom into a Palestinian state (as many on the far right of Israeli politics have at times advocated) or pressures to form a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinians. But now they fear something just as alarming: that the “deal of the century” is a buyout rather than an attempt at genuine conflict resolution. Such a deal suggests that Jordan’s allies, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, would probably disregard the kingdom’s severe domestic and regional constraints and pressure it to accept the plan.

The Trump administration’s new idea for Israeli-Palestinian peace is actually an old, failed idea

Intense regional and domestic pressures

Despite concerns about the policy choices of its allies, Jordan has not realigned away from the Americans, Saudis and Emiratis. It has, however, preemptively strengthened relations with other countries — including Turkey, Russia and China.

Given Jordan’s regional insecurity and its economic and fiscal crisis, external patrons and allies are vital parts of Jordanian policy. The kingdom has also hosted wave upon wave of refugees — Palestinians, Iraqis and, now, Syrians — in a small country with limited resources and no oil wealth.

Meanwhile, within Jordan, the economy has been mired in recession. Social and political unrest has increased, especially in the past several years. The country’s large activist movement has grown in depth, breadth and experience, especially since the early days of the Arab Spring.

Protests re-erupted in the summer of 2018 over tax changes, economic austerity and corruption in public life. Since then, activists have continued to hold at least weekly protests, and now more have emerged against the Kushner visit and peace plan.

Meanwhile, there are ample signs that the state has been reorganizing in preparation for further political upheaval. The signs include changes even at the top levels of Jordan’s intelligence and security apparatus. Israeli media and think tank reports have suggested that the changes are aimed at thwarting plots from within the state.

After visiting Jordan, several U.S. senators seemed to pick up on the level of alarm within the kingdom and warned that the Trump peace plan could destabilize the country. Taher Masri, a former prime minister and former lawmaker, was quoted in the Jordanian press as warning that implementation of the deal would be “a grave threat to Jordan.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has been consistent, and emphatic, that “the future of Jerusalem and Palestine is a red line for Jordan.” Jordanian officials have for years argued that their country is not Palestine and that the Hashemite kingdom will not become a substitute for a Palestinian state. But a peace plan that reads as little more than an economic development project — without Palestinian statehood — would also be disastrous for Jordan.

The peace deal, however it turns out, appears to be the fourth Trump policy initiative to ignore the concerns and interests of Jordan and other U.S. allies. The other three: moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights; and cutting U.S. funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

It would be a dramatic policy change for the U.S. administration to propose a peace plan that would address root causes and take seriously the interests of allies such as Jordan. In the meantime, fear continues to grow that Trump’s deal won’t lead to peace but to catastrophe for Jordanians and Palestinians, who might then be blamed for the failure of a process against which they had warned.

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Curtis Ryan is a professor of political science at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. His latest book is “Jordan and the Arab Uprisings: Regime Survival and Politics Beyond the State.”