12.08.2021 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Jordan is Washington’s Middle East Favorite

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The visit to Washington by King Abdullah of Jordan, the first Arab leader to meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House, was widely seen as a strong indication of the solid and strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States. The Oval Office talks, which encompassed expanding the strategic partnership between Amman and Washington, regional and international developments, most notably the Palestinian issue, reaffirmed Jordan’s vital regional role as a security guarantor in the volatile Middle East region. Undoubtedly, US support for the Hashemites dynasty’s custody of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem underscores Jordan’s crucial historical and religious role in this sacred city to the world.

During his visit, King Abdullah met with US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, key members of the US administration, and the leadership of Congress and committees. He also held talks with World Bank Group President David Malpass and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in separate meetings attended by Crown Prince Hussein. The two meetings discussed Jordan’s efforts to implement economic and development plans to create jobs, expand investment, and improve the business environment and essential services to achieve growth and jobs while maintaining economic stability and supporting those most affected by COVID-19. The meetings also discussed how international institutions could support Jordan’s economic recovery from the recent crisis. During his conversation with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, the focus was on strengthening the strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States, especially in the military and security areas, and international counterterrorism efforts in a holistic approach.

The Palestinian issue, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Rai emphasized, was at the center of the meeting, where King Abdullah of Jordan stressed the need to resume serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis to achieve a fair and comprehensive peace on the two-state solution. On the same occasion, President Joe Biden expressed his support for the two-state approach. While the White House heralded the visit as an opportunity to “reaffirm the enduring strength of the partnership” between the two countries, analysts saw the meeting as a sign of the US administration’s commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and a rejection of former President Donald Trump’s peace plans for the Middle East, which included recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Abraham Accords (recently signed by Israel with Bahrain, UAE, Sudan) that bypassed the Palestinians and, by extension, Jordan.

Regarding regional developments, the King stressed the need to support Iraq’s efforts to improve its security and stability, while the US president praised Jordan’s peace initiatives in the region. Efforts to combat terrorism as part of a holistic approach have also been discussed in extensive negotiations, notably through the Aqaba Process, an initiative launched by the King to strengthen coordination and cooperation among various regional and international stakeholders in combating terrorism and its root causes.

By giving the Jordanian monarch the honor of being the first Arab leader to visit the new US president, the US administration has dramatically increased Jordan’s prestige, seeking to ward off Saudi claims to protect Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. President Joe Biden may have little desire to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still, he seems determined to prevent certain third parties from taking advantage of the regional gridlock in the Middle East. This seems to be a crucial decision, specifically emphasized in Washington’s announcement that King Abdullah of Jordan was the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Biden took office. This report takes on added significance with the recent opening of trials in Amman against two high-ranking Jordanians accused of sedition to conspire with former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, Abdallah’s half-brother, to destabilize the monarchy. This message’s significance is even more dramatic now that various Muslim-majority states compete for so-called religious soft power in the Muslim world.

The alleged plot involving Prince Hamzah, along with Saudi efforts to protect one of the accused, Bassem Awadallah, has refocused attention on Saudi Arabia’s longstanding attempts to include the kingdom in the management of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif), considered the third holiest site in Islam. Awadallah, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the former head of King Abdullah’s court and served as Jordanian Finance Minister. On the Temple Mount, the holiest site of Judaism, there is also the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. According to Jewish beliefs, the Temple Mount is where God’s presence is most fully manifested. For this reason, Jews around the world turn toward the Temple Mount when praying. From the perspective of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim stakeholders, Jerusalem is the crown jewel in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam. For most of the past century, the Muslim shrines of Jerusalem have been administered by an endowment fund controlled by the Jordanian government.

Saudi Arabia bases its claim to leadership in the Muslim world on its patronage of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia’s claims, at a time when it is struggling for religious soft power, would be significantly strengthened by a stake in the management of the Temple Mount and these stakes in the struggle for control of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem are high. The Al Saud dynasty ruling in Riyadh is about strengthening its religious claim to leadership in the Muslim world. For Jordan and its Hashemite monarchs, who, unlike the Saudis, trace their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad, it is not just a question of religious authority. Given that Palestinians constitute more than 40% of Jordan’s population maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem, which most Palestinians expect will be the capital of the future Palestinian state, is key to ensuring the regime’s survival.

King Abdullah of Jordan has had a complicated relationship with Trump, who he believes undermined the peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. Biden has no plans to revoke recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by the United States. His administration has even praised agreements brokered by Trump, a rare instance in which a Democratic administration spoke positively of the former administration’s policies. According to a senior administration official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on anonymity, Biden’s advisers stressed to Abdallah that the Abraham Accords were not the “final stage” in the search for a peace agreement including the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Jordanian monarch also discussed the Syrian dossier to work out a political solution, the return of Syria to the Arab world, and the Caesar’s Act with its negative consequences for Syria and Jordan. According to him, he is very interested in Syria’s return to the Arab League. He has repeatedly told the media in a series of meetings with politicians and experts that “he is in direct contact with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Jordanian monarch pointed out that “Syria needs to return to the region and integrate into joint Arab institutions of action,” saying that “he discussed this issue with US President Joe Biden following the agenda of his visit.”

Washington noted that from the Jordanian state’s inception and throughout its first century of existence, it had based its political approach on solid premises governing its relations with other countries, both within the region and abroad. At the Arab level, the Jordanian position is characterized by respect for all Arab countries, defending their collective interests, and non-interference in their internal affairs, except for protecting their unity, sovereignty, solidarity, and national interests. According to the Jordan Times, whenever there is any misunderstanding between the Arab countries, Jordan intervenes first to eliminate this misunderstanding and strengthen inter-Arab coordination and cooperation, holding endless meetings and conferences. And whenever any Arab country needs help, whenever it is subjected to any external threat, Jordan, with its modest resources, takes the initiative to intervene. The Pan-Arabic position of Jordan is apparent, and it has been committed to general Pan-Arabic action since the early days of that state.

Internationally, it was noted in talks with US President Joe Biden that Jordan’s position is based on respect for all nations and universal values and active participation in treaties, agreements, and institutions that uphold human rights and human interests. As a result, Jordan has established good relations with all the countries that value its political orientation; and it has taken advantage of this positive reputation to develop its society, promote its own interests, and serve Arab causes, one of which is the Palestinian cause.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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