Two Jordanian military helicopters touched down Sunday at the Muqatta, the Palestinian Authority presidential compound in Ramallah, on the West Bank, and picked up Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas for an unplanned meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the capital Amman.
A high-ranking delegation that included PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki; the head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj; and the head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh, accompanied Abbas.
The meeting comes days after CIA Director William Burns met with President Abbas, along with Washington’s most trusted Palestinian, the intelligence chief Faraj.
That meeting took place after the Jordanian king’s recent visit to the United States, which many observers in the kingdom viewed as “important.” Abdullah had, according to his aides, a constructive meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden as well as members of Congress and other U.S. leaders.
The aides claim that the king got what he wanted from the U.S. administration: President Biden publicly supported the role of Jordan and the Hashemites’ custodianship over Islamic and Christian sites in East Jerusalem.
Oraib Al Rantawi, the founder and director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, told The Media Line that the king does not need a mandate from the U.S. administration to play a role in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“The king had American support to resume his role in the region. Since the beginning of the peace process, Jordan has played a key role in bridging the gaps and overcoming obstacles, in bringing the parties together and resolving some obstacles and complexities. This is the traditional Jordanian role,” Al Rantawi said.
He added that the king needed to “discuss with the Palestinian president and share his assessments, impressions and readings from his recent visit to the U.S.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not at the top of President Biden’s agenda. He’s preoccupied with several matters, among them United States’ utter failure in Afghanistan, lack of progress in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, China, and Russia, in addition to domestic crises.
Al Rantawi says that despite this recent activity and movement, a final resolution is not on the agenda.
“These efforts revolve around two points. The first: to save the Palestinian Authority, which is facing a dangerous state of political confinement and an unprecedented economic and financial predicament. The authority is on the verge of financial bankruptcy as it pays the salaries of its employees in installments,” says Al Rantawi. “The second,” he adds, is “the path of restoring confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Abdullah and Abbas first held a private meeting and then held a meeting with their delegations.
Ahmad Rafiq Awad, president of the Center for Jerusalem Studies at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line that there were always attempts to coordinate between the Jordanian and Palestinian positions. “This visit comes within that framework.”
“The Jordanian role is very important and is always present and cannot be marginalized.”
Rafiq Awad says the PA going through difficult times.
Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated throughout the West Bank over the summer against Abbas.
Protesters in Ramallah chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime,” and urged Abbas to step down.
This meeting, Rafiq Awad says, serves to stabilize the PA politically and economically.
“The next stage will be characterized by small agreements full of incentives. We are not talking about a peaceful settlement in the broadest sense. Jordan will play a pivotal and very important role in the process and issue of introducing this approach.”
In an interview with CNN during his visit, the king spoke candidly about Israel’s new government. Despite knowing that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a right-wing nationalist who opposes a two-state solution, putting him in direct opposition to the king’s position, Abdullah insisted that a one-state solution would be far more challenging to Israelis.
“What are you going to do? Are you going to push all the Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank, and just create instability on the other side? At the end of the day, Jordan gets a vote on this. And I think our red lines have been clearly identified,” he said.
Al Rantawi believes that the current rapprochement is superficial and fragile. He argues that the new Israeli government is no different from the Netanyahu government, but rather, Al Rantawi says, “it may be stricter on a number of issues.”
“The level of Israeli violations of Haram al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque increased during Bennett’s time and did not decline, threatening the Hashemite guardianship over these places.
“Bennett is the first prime minister to declare the right of Jews to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and this is a dangerous development.”
Yoni Ben-Menachem, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line that all the publicity about a new beginning is much ado about nothing.
“There’s nothing new. It’s a new honeymoon period between Israel and Jordan, but when he [King Abdullah] starts with his demands, all that will change,” Ben-Menachem said.
After Abdullah’s meeting with Bennett, Israel approved the sale of 50 million cubic meters of water to the Hashemite kingdom, a major increase over the 30 million cubic meters Jordan receives from Israel under the 1994 peace treaty.
The relationship between Abdullah and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was frosty, but many wonder how the king will be able to have a working relationship with Bennett, who is seen as more hawkish than his predecessor. Bennett has said he is in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank, and he is an ardent supporter of settlement expansion.
King Abdullah met with President Biden last July, in what many say was a reboot of the Jordanian monarch’s position in the region following four years of what seemed like a marginalized role for Jordan during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
President Biden called the king a “good, loyal, decent friend.”
Abdullah staunchly rejected former President Trump’s Middle East peace plan, the so-called deal of the century, which the king saw as posing a national security threat and undermining the Hashemite custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem, which had been a key source of legitimacy for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty for nearly a century.
During the Trump administration, Jordan, which considers itself a strategic ally to Washington, saw its role diminish as the one-term president’s relations with wealthy Gulf states took precedence.
“The Trump administration tried to abolish this role and jump over it. According to many, the Jordanian-American relationship suffered from four lean years,” explained Al Rantawi.
“What is new with the advent of the Biden administration is the recognition and renewal of the Jordanian role and the restoration of its regional roles.”
East Jerusalem’s holy sites are considered a red line for Jordan; the Hashemites see themselves as the rightful guardians of both Islamic and Christian holy sites.
Al Rantawi says all this rapprochement comes within the framework of containment and crisis management, and not in the context of searching for a serious and permanent solution to this conflict.
“It does not appear on the horizon that there is an Israeli will and willingness to resolve the conflict, and there does not appear on the horizon an American will to invest effort and resources in order to find a permanent solution.”
“Only Washington has the tools to pressure Israel to return to the negotiating table,” he said.
Article republished with permission from The Media Line.