Where do the Abraham Accords leave Jordan?
As the second Arab country to have formalised diplomatic relations with Israel, Jordan has a unique perspective on the region’s trend toward normalisation with Tel Aviv.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco’s diplomatic deals, which they signed with Israel in 2020, represent both opportunities and threats to the Hashemite Kingdom.
Ultimately, a host of factors leave Amman in a complicated position vis-à-vis the Abraham Accords, especially as the Biden administration works to expand them.
Jordan genuinely favours a lasting peace in the region that involves all parties, including Israel. Jordan and Israel have maintained a partnership that predates the Wadi Araba Treaty’s signing in 1994.
"The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco's diplomatic deals, which they signed with Israel in 2020, represent both opportunities and threats to the Hashemite Kingdom"
This relationship goes back decades earlier to a time in which Jordan and Israel shared grave concerns about Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab agenda, which threatened King Hussein in Amman.
Thus, it would be strange for Jordan to outright oppose other Arab states following suit. Moreover, Amman sees the normalisation accords as a way to open doors to cooperation with Israel and regional states in the domains of water, transportation, energy, technology, and so on.
As part of the UAE and Israel’s normalisation agreement, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had to shelve its plans of annexing the occupied West Bank.
This was welcome news in Amman, as an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley or other parts of the West Bank would serve to add countless new layers of instability to the region and within Jordan.
The Abraham Accords have also benefited Jordan by making normalisation with Israel less controversial, allowing Amman to be increasingly open about its formalised relationship with Israel.
However, Amman rigidly opposes plans for “peace” between Arab states and Israel if such dealings come at the expense of Palestinian or Jordanian interests such as the status of holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, the refugee question, or Israel’s post-1967 occupation.
“Jordan has kept some distance from the Abraham Accords. When Israel hosted the 2022 Negev summit with foreign ministers from Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, the Hashemite Kingdom declined to send Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to participate in the gathering,” Aaron Magid, who hosts the On Jordan podcast, told The New Arab.
“King Abdullah continues to insist that Israel's normalisation accords should not be used as an excuse to sideline Ramallah and consistently urges ending the occupation of Palestinian land,” he added.
“While the Abraham Accords focus on each country's bilateral relationship with the Jewish state, Jordan promotes the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for Israel's full normalisation in the region in exchange for an independent Palestinian state on 1967 boundaries. Until tangible progress occurs on the Palestinian front, Amman is unlikely to warmly promote the Abraham Accords,” Magid said.
Jordan has a special vantage point. As a country that participated in wars with Israel in the 20th century and is now host to millions of Palestinian refugees, Jordan’s historical relationship with Israel is fundamentally different from the UAE, Bahrain, or Morocco’s relationships with Tel Aviv.
Moreover, in the current period, the lack of any resolution to the Palestinian issue is a driver of instability in Jordan, which can’t be said about Arab states far more geographically, socially, economically, and politically removed from Palestine.
Public opinion in Jordan is highly relevant to King Abdullah II’s reasons for not coming across as too enthusiastic about more Arab states normalising with Tel Aviv.
"The Abraham Accords did rattle Jordan when they were announced and later signed. For Amman this was a game changer that affects its geopolitical role and the foundations of its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, occupation, and Israel"
Anti-Israel sentiments are widespread among the country’s population - roughly 50 to 60 percent of which has Palestinian origins. In 2020, 42 percent of Jordanians saw Israel as the number one foreign threat to their country’s stability (only 11 percent of Jordanians saw Iran as such) while only 12 percent of Jordanians support the Abraham Accords.
At the same time, during the 1994-2020 period, when Jordan was one of only two Arab states at peace with Israel, Amman enjoyed much more leverage in Washington due to the Hashemite Kingdom’s normalised relations with Tel Aviv.
That leverage has somewhat dissipated after the accords were signed in 2020, making Jordan just one of six Arab countries in the normalisation camp.
Jordan's ties to the Gulf
As much as Jordan has had concerns about certain aspects and dimensions of the Abraham Accords, the leadership in Amman is keen to avoid speaking out against these normalisation deals. This brings us to the Hashemite Kingdom’s relationships with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
King Abdullah II and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed are close, and their countries have strong bilateral ties.
The Emiratis are important investors in Jordan and Amman would like to see Abu Dhabi use its (real or perceived) leverage over Israel to pressure Tel Aviv into not taking actions in East Jerusalem and al-Aqsa that would harm the Hashemite Kingdom.
Jordan does not seek to upset the Emiratis or Bahrainis vis-à-vis the Abraham Accords, particularly given Arab sensitivities that surround the normalisation debate.
“The Abraham Accords did rattle Jordan when they were announced and later signed. For Amman this was a game changer that affects its geopolitical role and the foundations of its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, occupation, and Israel,” Osama al-Sharif, an Amman-based journalist and political commentator, told TNA.
“But Amman did not openly and officially criticise the accords, opting not to endanger its special relations with both Bahrain and the Emirates.”
Amman's limited means to influence the normalisation trend
Looking ahead, as the White House continues efforts to enlarge the Abraham Accords’ scope, Jordan is likely to see limited ways to gain from more Arab states normalising with Israel.
Additionally, Amman is unlikely to have any major role to play in terms of these US-driven efforts to bring other Arab-Muslim countries into normalisation deals with Tel Aviv.
By the same token, considering Jordan’s close partnerships with GCC states - chiefly the UAE - and the Hashemite Kingdom’s alliance with the US, it is unlikely Jordan will make any moves that would obstruct team Biden’s efforts to expand the Abraham Accords.
"Amman did not openly and officially criticise the accords, opting not to endanger its special relations with both Bahrain and the Emirates"
Ultimately, Amman is highly dependent on financial assistance from Washington, which for decades has helped Jordan weather internal and external pressures. In other words, even if Jordan intended to thwart the expansion of the Abraham Accords, Amman would probably not be able to do so.
Most likely, Jordanian officials will hope that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia will continue to maintain their official support for the Arab Peace Initiative and not succumb to US pressure to join the Abraham Accords before there is a just resolution to the Palestinian question.
Yet, whether Riyadh goes down the normalisation path (or not) will be a decision that Jordan is unlikely to influence. At the same time, even as Washington continues working to expand the Abraham Accords, Jordan will at least hope (even if pointlessly) that the White House will pressure Israel into avoiding a provocative annexation of the occupied West Bank.
“I don’t think the Biden administration consults with Jordan [regarding] its policies with other Arab countries. Washington recognises that Amman has limitations as was the case with the Gaza-Israel clashes this year and last year,” pointed out al-Sharif.
Ultimately, Jordan’s leverage over Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian groups is severely limited. In terms of Amman’s relationship with Washington, King Abdullah II is close to lawmakers and certain sub-committees that they serve on.
But the US government is mostly focused on its defence cooperation with and economic assistance to the Hashemite Kingdom - not questions pertaining to Israel’s conduct, Tel Aviv's position in an evolving Middle East, or the unresolved question of Palestine.
As al-Sharif explained, “Amman has little to add” when it comes to those questions.
Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.
Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero
Emily Milliken is Senior Vice President and Lead Analyst at Askari Associates
Follow her on Twitter: @EmilyMPrzy