Relations between Israel and Jordan have experienced a renaissance over the past year.
After former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left office, under whose leadership relations with the Hashemite monarchy were strained and at times hostile, the two sides rediscovered each other, like a couple falling in love again after years of mutual acrimony .
Jordanians no longer hide their willingness to cooperate with Israel on a variety of issues, such as a common food program, renewable energy, the fight against radical Islam, the prevention of arms smuggling and the stabilization of the Palestinian territories.
The reciprocal effects of Jerusalem’s renewed relationship with Amman and its new ties with normalizing states remain to be seen. This is an important aspect of the normalization process, as a meaningful connection to Jordan gives the Abraham Accords geopolitical depth.
However, the situation in Jordan is complex. King Abdullah avoided sending his foreign minister to the Negev summit in March to avoid upsetting domestic opponents. Instead, he headed for Ramallah to quell the simmering unrest there. Israel understood its decision.
Israel appreciates Abdullah’s mediation because Jordan is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Both sides hoped that quiet diplomacy in Amman would prevent violence around the Al Aqsa Mosque and in the West Bank during Ramadan, Passover and Easter.
Last year, when violence erupted around Al Aqsa, thousands of Jordanians took to the streets (some reaching the Israeli border) and demanded that their government sever diplomatic ties with Israel. The king has not surrendered but is clearly concerned about the deteriorating security situation in the Palestinian territories. Senior Jordanian and Israeli officials have held numerous meetings in an effort to forge understanding and cooperation and prevent further upheaval.
This year, violence has again escalated rapidly in Al-Aqsa; despite improving relations, Jordanians harshly criticized Israel for allowing the upheaval. Parliament demanded the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador and protesters in Amman called for severing ties with Israel. Jordanian officials have made highly critical statements to appease protesters. But all parties understood that when the situation in Jerusalem returns to normal, bilateral cooperation will be back on track.
Just three years ago, when then-US President Donald Trump unveiled his “deal of the century”, Jordanians felt cheated and left out. According to them, Israel had hatched a plot against them with the cooperation of the United States.
Word spread that under the plan, control of the holy sites would shift from Jordan to Saudi Arabia. Then came the Abraham Accords. The Jordanians were not thrilled. They feared that the kingdom’s special position as a bridge between Israel and the Arab world would be eroded and that the agreements would harm both the Palestinians and themselves.
Unlike Israel’s new partners – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – Jordan is unable to disconnect from events in the West Bank. Common history, family ties, involvement in domestic politics and the question of Muslim holy sites bind Jordanians and Palestinians. An upheaval in Al-Aqsa, a change of regime in Ramallah, or any other shock would harm the Hashemite monarchy but would hardly be felt in the Gulf region.
Therein lies the main difference between the attitudes of Jordan and the Gulf States towards Israel.
The changing of the guard at the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office provided an opportunity for a strengthened and coordinated leadership by Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians and the Gulf States. Israel improved relations with Amman, sought to assuage mistrust between the two sides and showed an unusual willingness to cooperate.
Simultaneously, for the first time since the signing of the Abraham Accords, Israel is allowing Jordan to enjoy the fruits of normalization by promoting economic projects that benefit all parties. Thus, in November 2021, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates signed a trilateral agreement in which Israel would buy 600 megawatts of “green” electricity from the Jordanians (produced with the help of the Emirates) and in return would consider exporting of 200 million cubic meters. of desalinated water to Jordan.
After the hackneyed and damaging slogan “Jordan is Palestine” was no longer heard in Jerusalem or Washington, Jordan renewed its status as an important partner of the United States in the fight against radical Islam.
US President Joe Biden even moved a US military base from Qatar to Jordan. And a positive change has taken place in Amman towards the Abraham Accords and the possibility of improving cooperation with Israel. If Israel had focused solely on fostering relations with its three new partners, it would have excluded Jordan and Egypt, advancing the agreements in a vacuum, disconnected from a complex regional reality in which developments are intertwined.
Embracing the Jordanians has great significance in easing Palestinian unrest. The dire economic situation in Jordan corresponds to the deterioration of security in the Palestinian territories. Arms smuggling from Jordan is also linked to the activities of radical Islamic organizations on both sides of the border. Israel must continue to bring Jordan closer and work with it to calm the region and improve the situation in the PA.
In this context, the signatories of the Abraham Accords can play an important role in driving economic processes with Israel in Jordan and the PA. Jordan is an essential link between the regional normalization process and the Palestinian sphere. The prosperity and development of Arab-Israeli relations in the Gulf and in North Africa must also benefit the Palestinians.
The romance between Israel and Jordan must not be extinguished. Israeli politicians are enthusiastic about the immediate gains from improved ties and are less aware of the Sisyphean work of diplomats and middlemen, conducted without fanfare.
Amman is also watching the political upheaval rocking the Bennett-Lapid government and hopes the storm does not damage the delicate fabric of relationships created over the past year.
At the same time, Jordan’s political and economic embrace cannot lead to stable long-term results without a change in the hostile attitude of the Jordanian public towards Israel. Despite the great political warming, at the level of civil society – in Jordan and in the Palestinian Authority – relations with Israel remain frozen. The hostility remains intact and may even have grown.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority must take this into account. The stability and resilience of relations also depends on the ability to change the public discourse in Jordan itself. As political relations blossom while the backyard burns with rage, the prospects for an internal explosion grow.
Intergenerational change also makes the issue urgent. While the older generation of Palestinians and Jordanians strive to preserve the status quo, the younger generation has given up and moved on to a more hostile and combative stance. Only significant progress in the political field vis-à-vis the Palestinians and confidence-building measures could improve the atmosphere on both sides of the Jordan.