“The political trust is goneâ€¦.Economically, we were better off in trade and in movement before my father signed the peace treaty” – King Abdullah on relations between Israel and Jordan. In a The Wall Street Journal interview, King Abdullah offered a rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, charging that his policy of building homes for Jewish families in East Jerusalem has pushed Jordanian-Israeli relations to their lowest point since a 1994 peace treaty. [source]
You can read the full interview here. Suffice to say, this is a fairly interesting interview from my point view, if nothing than for it being one of the few candid interviews with regards to the Israel issue. The tradition has always been to hold the steady line that things between Jordan and Israel are great, even though realities on the ground suggest otherwise. This maybe the first time I’ve heard HM King Abdullah actually come out and say that not only are things bad, but they’ve worst they’ve ever been. In fact, economically-speaking, King Abdullah states Jordan was better off before the signing of the peace treaty:
WSJ: When you talk about Jordanian-Israeli relations at a low, it’s just because there has not been that trust on this issue?
HM: The political trust is gone, there is no real economic relationship between Jordan and Israel, for Israeli businessmen to get into Jordan he takes a visa that day; it is almost impossible for a Jordanian businessmen to enter Israel. So economically we were better off in trade and in movement before my father signed the peace treaty. I mean, obviously there was the golden period of the wonderful relationship between my father and Prime Minister Rabin, and after the death of PM Rabin, again there was a resurgence with PM Barak, but it’s just been a decline since then.
Another interesting part is in the depiction of Netanyahu:
WSJ: Considering the history between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and you and your father, do you think he can deliver in the peace process?
HM: I think the overlap that happened between me and Prime Minister Netanyahu 10 or 11 years ago was not very pleasant. It was actually the three most unpleasant months in the relationship between Jordan and Israel. I met Benjamin Netanyahu; he was sitting here this time last year. I was extremely optimistic by the vision he had for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Arabs. However, I have to say that over the past 12 months, everything I’ve seen on the ground has made me extremely skeptical, and I’m probably one of the more optimistic people you will meet in this part of the world. And therefore, there’s been a lot of words, but the actions on the ground have made me extremely concerned about how straightforward Israeli policy is. And at the same time we have continued provocations in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem specifically engages Jordan because we are the custodians of the Muslim and Christian holy places and this is a flashpoint that goes beyond Jordanian-Israeli relations. This is something that could ignite Muslim frustration and anger, which we do not need today. So there are elements that are playing with fire and so, this has been an uphill struggle for the past couple of months. And unfortunately, for the first time since my father made peace with Israel, our relationship with Israel is at an all bottom low. It hasn’t been as bad as it is today and as tense as it is today.
It is interesting to note that much of Israel’s actions, specifically in Jerusalem have somewhat continuously eroded the legitimacy and credibility of the Hashemite role in the holy city, as “custodians of the Muslim and Christian holy places”. Every infringement on those territories have been met with nothing more than a stern word from the Jordanian government, and little else. Continuous reprimands tend to lose their value when the other side ignores them completely and pursues its agenda regardless. It sends a strong signal that whatever role Jordan plays in Jerusalem is of absolutely no value. And that perception is not far off from reality.
On the alternative homeland issue, which has been an issue plaguing this country for quite some time, but more so recently:
HM: …In America specifically, you hear, well, why doesn’t Jordan take the Palestinians into our country? â€¦ That would create tremendous instability. So if the Israelis want to push the Palestinians into Jordan, I don’t see how that makes sense and how the international community will accept that because that would be an exodus of 1.8 million Palestinians from their homes into Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. And that would bring even more instability on their borders. But it still does not solve their long-term problem … because the Arab-Israeli population in Israel proper, in eight to ten years, will be 50% of Israel. The Israelis have a major challenge on the future of their existence.
WSJ: What do you think when you look at Iran and international policy. There’s a lot of talk now about how active Iran is in Iraq as far as trying to push their political clients. Do you see it active in Hezbollah/Lebanon? In the Palestinian territories? Is the engagement track working?
HM: Again, I look at it from a different angle. If there are those that are saying that Iran is playing mischief, then I say it is being allowed to play mischief. The platform they use is the injustice of the Palestinians and Jerusalem. So if you start taking those cards off the table, then Iranian influence on the Mediterranean through Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza diminishes or becomes non existent. My view is that I am really against any military action in Iran, that is Pandora’s box. But by dealing with the core issue, that’s when you start taking cards away from the Iranian regime.
This is a long way from the fear-inducing message of the geo-political “shiite crescent” a few years back. Instead another message emerges: if Israel attacks it will be disastrous, and the only way to diminish Iran’s role is to take away the issues that empower it, mainly by solving them.
Say what you will about this interview, it is comparatively some of the toughest language launched at Israel from Jordan that I’ve ever seen coming from King Abdullah. The alternative homeland is a never-ending rumor inside the kingdom, and even now it threatens the government’s decentralization plan for Jordanian governorates – a plan that was abandoned a few years back when the issue of the alternative homeland was thrown in the mix an the government was accused by tribalists and nationalists that their intention was to weaken Jordan in preparation for an alternative homeland. Again, this is something that the King has taken off the table, but even now this issue continues to linger locally. Perceptions on the ground tend to lean towards the belief that the US and Israel can generally make this happen if they will it, which is something that is historically accurate, but in this of all issues, the idea of creating an alternative homeland for Palestinians in the Kingdom will likely result in – as the King alluded to – one of the most destabilizing moves in the region since God knows when. However, it is not only another exodus of Palestinians in the West Bank or various other external elements the King referred to that are cause for concern. Domestically and internally there’s another issue to consider. The Jordanian army, consisting primarily of Jordanian tribalists and nationalists, will simply not allow the manifestation of an alternative homeland to happen on Jordanian soil without a fight, one that would likely spill over westward.
It is a move that no party wants to see happen except for a few rambling idiotic diplomats in Washington that have as much knowledge of the region as they do nuclear physics.