Adam Kredo • December 17, 2022 4:59 am
Israel’s decades-long peace with Jordan is unraveling, a development that threatens to upset a fragile regional stability that is being challenged by countries like Iran, Russia, and China, a think tank report warns.
“Since 2020, if not before then, the Jordanian peace has turned decidedly cold,” according to Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department who now works at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. While the relationship has been breaking down behind the scenes for some time, Jordan also began to publicly war with Israel in recent years, by refusing to sign the Abraham Accords peace agreements, attacking incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and threatening to fully abrogate the peace deal it signed with Israel in 1994.
Schanzer’s findings, published in a report last week, indicate the United States could be faced with a looming crisis in the Middle East that threatens to upset nearly 30 years of stability between the two former enemies. The fracture between Israel and Jordan could also empower American enemies like Russia, China, and Iran, which are all working in tandem to erode U.S. influence in the region.
“All of this should come as unwelcome news to the United States and to America’s Middle East allies. In anticipation of intensifying great power competition with China, and perhaps to a lesser extent Russia, it is crucial for Washington to project unity among allies in the Middle East,” the report says. “This is especially the case amidst the continued havoc that the Islamic Republic of Iran is exporting across the region.”
Other Middle East analysts agree that Jordan’s ties with Israel have become increasingly strained in recent years, particularly due to the stagnant peace process with the Palestinians.
“Israel perceives the creation of a Palestinian state to be a security threat, while King Abdullah [Jordan’s leader] sees frustrated Palestinians dismayed by lack of progress toward a Palestinian state as an even bigger security threat to his own hold on power,” said Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The king seeks to appease Palestinians, who make up roughly half of Jordan’s population, because he faces additional challenges from Islamists who also demonize Israel.”
Schanzer’s findings are likely to distress Jordanian officials, who have cultivated deep ties in Washington, D.C., since the Arab nation announced its peace with Israel in 1994. In many ways, Schanzer told the Washington Free Beacon, this latest analysis shatters long-standing taboos about Jordan’s fracturing peace with Israel that many in the U.S. foreign policy community have tried to ignore.
“I have observed a real reticence in this town to criticize Jordan in recent years,” Schanzer said. “Many believe Amman is both too valuable and too weak to challenge. I refuse to be bound by those constraints. I support Jordan. But I think it can do better.”
Evidence of the relationship’s breakdown spilled into public view after the election last month of conservative Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-leaning government. Following Netanyahu’s victory, “Jordan issued an unprovoked and blistering statement warning Israel not to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount, invoking its role as custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” a holy site located in Jerusalem’s Old City that is often ground zero for hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.
The statement, the report says, “signaled the likely renewal of acrimonious ties between the king and Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.”
Nicole Robinson, also with the Davis Institute, said there remain “a lot of questions and concerns about what a future administration [and] the U.S. thinks about the Palestinian issue.” With the Netanyahu government likely to consider annexing more portions of the West Bank, “there is a fear that this option could be put on the table again in this new government in Israel,” she said.
Tension between Israel and Jordan has been brewing for much longer, however, with Amman abstaining from the Abraham Accords, the peace agreements brokered by the Trump administration between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. This move also created “regional friction.”
While Jordan has leveraged its peace with Israel to become a top trading partner with the United States, significantly improving its economy, under the leadership of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, who came to power in 1999, Jordan has been much more willing to lash out at the Jewish state.
“Driven by a combination of domestic political considerations, unrealistic expectations, and both legitimate and illegitimate grievances, Amman has pulled away from Israel in recent years,” according to the report. “The official rhetoric about Israel has grown increasingly negative, if not vitriolic.”
Though Israel and Jordan are still cooperating on security issues, “diplomatic ties are in a deep freeze. Israeli officials are keenly aware of this dynamic.” Israeli government leaders have “shared their frustration in closed-door meetings,” according to the report.
The mostly stagnant peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has exacerbated these tensions. “While Jordanian officials may not say so explicitly, the animosity harbored by Jordan’s Palestinian population toward Israel has a significant influence on the kingdom’s foreign policies,” the report says.
When Israel considered annexing parts of the West Bank area in 2020, Jordan’s king discussed nullifying its peace deal with Israel, saying, “I don’t want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options.”
And when war broke out between Israel and the Iran-backed Hamas terror group in 2021, “Jordan effectively took Hamas’s side in the global battle for public opinion,” signaling that it did not care about disrupting peace ties.
This ongoing rhetoric, the report warns, “has failed to solve any of the region’s problems. If anything, it may be exacerbating them.”
To avoid a full-blown crisis, the United States must change how it manages relations with Amman, the report says. While U.S. officials “often view Jordan as beyond reproach,” this approach is failing. America, Schanzer recommends in the report, “must change this paradigm while also identifying ways to encourage economic and military ties.”