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A bleak future ahead for Jordan-Israel relations 

A bleak future ahead for Jordan-Israel relations 
6 min read
01 December, 2022
Analysis: Despite deep strategic ties, Israel's new far-right government could threaten Jordan's custodianship over holy sites in Jerusalem and jeopardise the fragile peace agreement between both countries.

With Israel’s most right-wing parliament now in session and headed by Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, analysts fear Jordan’s relations with Tel Aviv are at risk of deterioration. 

“Jordan represents the most likely and the most dangerous point of escalation or deterioration in Israel’s foreign policy,” said Gil Murciano, the CEO of Mitvim, an Israel-based foreign policy think tank. 

There is “continued mistrust” between Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Murciano told The New Arab, referencing the all-time-low Jordan-Israeli relations reached during Netanyahu’s former 12 years as prime minister. 

Among the many points of tension under Netanyahu’s previous term was a tit-for-tat row last year when Netanyahu cancelled the Jordanian Crown Prince’s visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque and in retaliation, Amman denied Netanyahu’s helicopter access to Jordanian airspace. 

The year prior, the 1994 Wadi Araba treaty — which established Jordan and Israel’s diplomatic relations — was nearly ruptured when Netanyahu proposed a plan to annex the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley. 

And these disputes occurred when Netanyahu had a much more centrist government. Today, with religious and political extremism entering Israel’s mainstream, radical and once fringe politicians now sit in the Knesset majority.

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“The far-right government has an agenda which harms Jordan’s top national interests. There will be no effort to restore any kind of negotiations for the peace process or the two-state solution,” Oraib Rantawi, the director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told The New Arab.

Israel’s Religious Zionist Party, headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, won 14 seats in the recent election and is now the third-largest political force in Israel. The party attracts immense support from settlers with its overt agenda to expel Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.

“Ben Gvir’s government uses annexation as not only a slogan, but as a policy plan — a policy plan that makes collision with Jordan immediate,” said Murciano. 

A man cycles near a concrete block bearing posters depicting Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) far-right party, in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on 1 November 2022. [Getty]

Tensions to escalate  

Under the Netanyahu government, with a majority of ultranationalist, fervently zionist politicians, tensions in Israel and the occupied West Bank are expected to escalate.

And with the majority of Jordan’s population vehemently opposed to the Israeli occupation, an escalation may likely spill over into the Kingdom, according to Rantawi. 

Soon after Ben Gvir’s election victory he led a rampage in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, where thousands of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinians and destroyed their shops and vehicles — one of the largest attacks on record in the occupied city. 

Dima Tahboub, a spokesperson for the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in Jordan, told The New Arab that in Jordan there is a “national steadfastness” with the Palestinian cause. “You can always feel that anything that happens in Palestine is always echoed here in Jordan,” she said. 

A March public opinion poll found that most Jordanians viewed Israel as the greatest threat to Jordan’s national security and to the Arab world, and the vast majority opposed normalisation with Israel. 

“The polls prove that people in Jordan have not really approved of the so-called peace process or the Wadi Arab agreement,” Tahboub said.

Meanwhile, Israel has seen a radicalisation of its right-wing politicians, who now increasingly see Jordan as a hostile country, according to Barak Ravid, an Israeli veteran journalist and political analyst. In the Israeli coalition “the majority of its members don’t think Jordan should exist as a country”, Ravid told The New Arab

Under the new right-wing government, a high point of conflict will be at al-Haram al-Sharif, said Murciano; the sacred compound where Jordan exercises its custodian role over holy sites.

Ben Gvir’s far-right coalition has called for full prayer rights for Jews at the mosque site, the third holiest site in Islam and where Jews believe the biblical Jewish temples once stood.

This would disrupt the sensitive status quo agreement that Jordan has worked to maintain for decades, threatening a key piece of the Hashemite regime’s domestic and international legitimacy. 

There will be “almost no room for the Hashemite custodianship of Al Aqsa” in Israel’s new government, said Rantawi.

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Deep strategic ties 

Despite the widespread public anger towards the Israeli occupation in Jordan, on a strategic level, Jordan’s ties with Israel run deep. The two neighbours cooperate on water and gas deals and their security apparatuses have long worked together to counter Iranian proxies and secure their shared border. 

“Jordan does not want to see its relationship with Israel deteriorate,” said Rantawi. 

The King called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his new post as prime minister, a move Rantawi said could have been part of efforts to maintain “business as normal”. 

Under the new far-right Israeli government, a high point of conflict will be at al-Haram al-Sharif. [Getty]

The United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, recently offered Jordan the longest and largest aid package, at $10.15 billion over the next seven years. “Jordan is not in a position to risk it [Israeli relations],” Rantawi stated, referencing the financial support and strategic benefits attached to Jordan’s ties with Israel. 

The two countries are moving forward with a water-for-energy deal, which would see Jordan providing solar energy to Israel in return for water, despite widespread protests in Jordan against the deal. Jordan and Israel also recently signed a cooperation agreement to protect their shared Jordan River.

“There is a great interest in coordination [between Israel and Jordan],” said Murciano. “But the political setting I believe will define it… I am afraid and concerned about the resilience of the relations that we saw last year.” 

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UAE to the rescue? 

With a bleak future ahead for Jordan-Israel relations, some analysts pin hope on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to prevent an Israeli-Jordanian conflict or Israeli policies that may spark an outbreak of public discontent in the Kingdom. 

Netanyahu values the relationship with the UAE, the first signatory of the Abraham Accords, as his “biggest achievement in his political career”, Ravid noted, adding that King Abdullah and UAE President Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ) also enjoy close relations. 

“Jordan is likely to use this strong relationship with the UAE to try to press or dissuade Israel from taking a step that might undermine the security of Jordan,” Ravid said. 

Today in Jordan, there is “a great deal of anger among the public”, Rantawi said, adding that an escalation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories may “revive a protest either in solidarity with the Palestinians or to achieve something else, with other goals”. 

Murciano pointed out that among the Israeli public there is a general understanding of the “fragility of Jordan” and fear of the “total collapse of the Kingdom and the rise of radical parties”. 

The majority of Israelis attach great importance to strengthening relations with Jordan, according to a 2022 Mitvim poll. The poll also found that the majority of Israelis support a joint coordination mechanism to prevent escalation in Jerusalem, in cooperation with Palestinians and Jordan - a step away from the radical views of the politicians now in the Knesset. 

“Jordan is very eager to see a source of truce, calm,” said Rantawi, noting that if Palestine and Israel were to slide into serious clashes there may be the impetus for larger, anti-regime protests to break out in Jordan. 

“We really need to put our home [Jordan] in order to be well prepared to face the upcoming Israel-Palestine developments,” Rantawi said. 

Hanna Davis is a freelance journalist reporting on politics, foreign policy, and humanitarian affairs.

Follow her on Twitter: @hannadavis341