After years of tension between Amman and Washington under former US President Donald Trump, and a change of administration in the White House, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has firmly established his own authority over the long stalled Middle East settlement, as well as over other regional issues.
The tensions with Washington peaked in early 2020 when Jordan rejected Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This plan for the Jordan-Palestine scheme has long been promoted by a small group of far-right activists in Israel. However, as Amman has repeatedly stated, the previous American administration did not even discuss it with the kingdom, promoting solely the desire of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria. Under the Trump administration, Jordan not unreasonably felt increasingly alienated from the United States and Israel, with Jordanians convinced that Trump and Netanyahu were plotting to undermine the kingdom in various ways, including stripping the Jordanian royal family of their role in guarding Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
This is why Jordanians breathed a sigh of relief when the Biden administration approved the two-state solution earlier this year, showing that Trump’s plan and Netanyahu’s annexation scheme were now off the table. The rapprochement between Jordan and the United States offered opportunities to strengthen the position of Abdullah II in his homeland, in particular after the alleged coup attempt by his half-brother Prince Hamza bin Hussein. So in Jordan and the Middle East in general, King Abdullah II’s meeting in Washington in July with US President Joe Biden was met with elation, paving the way for the kingdom to return to the center of regional events, especially the Israeli-Arab conflict.
King Abdullah II was able to further restore Amman’s temporarily diminished authority and influence by visiting Moscow in August and discussing with Russian President Vladimir Putin a wide range of issues that at times transcend the boundaries of the Middle East region. Given the recent deterioration of the conflict in southern Syria, Abdullah II’s visit to Russia has taken on special significance. Despite the reconciliation reached three years ago between Russia, the US, Israel, and Jordan, the southern regions of the Arab Republic bordering the Hashemite Kingdom continue to revolt against the regime of official Damascus. The insurrection of former Syrian rebels, which, according to some reports, retains its potential in the province of Daraa, the “gateway to Jordan,” prompted the Jordanian side, that is fundamentally interested in stabilizing its borders, some time ago to close the checkpoints on the border with Syria. The Jordanian party itself has already acted as a guarantor of a peace settlement in southern Syria in 2018, when the leaders of Russia, the US, Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom managed to agree on a “bloodless handover” of the southern provinces to the control of the Syrian government army. Then, as part of this deal, the rebels who once fought against Damascus, with the multilateral support of neighboring states, expressed their willingness to lay down their arms in exchange for security guarantees and special status. The Jordanian monarch reiterated his willingness to help stabilize Syria’s southern frontiers and assist Moscow’s efforts on this issue this time, despite a number of objective difficulties that exist in Syria today.
Abdullah II hopes to bring together the US, Russia, Israel and other countries to agree on a road map for restoring Syrian sovereignty, even though Joe Biden, in his contacts with the Jordanian monarch, has not supported this proposal, since Washington has not yet worked out a strategy for engaging with Russia on Syria. However, we can hope for progress on this issue in the near future based on the experience of the countries’ cooperation on Syria, which was (quite successful) in 2018.
Despite a certain cautiousness that the US side still maintains towards political engagement with Damascus, Washington is interested in using Amman’s mediation role not only in the Syrian issue, but also in getting Lebanon out of the energy crisis it is currently facing. Much of the current US stance is grounded in a proposal by King Abdullah II to US President Joe Biden to form an international task force (involving Russian participation) to implement a common roadmap in Syria. It includes a number of points, one of which involves a shift in Washington’s position from “changing the regime in Syria” to “changing the regime’s policies” in order to achieve “stability in the country and restore its sovereignty, rid it of illegal foreign presence and resolve the crisis politically.” In this regard, the US approved an initiative to supply Lebanon with electricity from Jordan, despite sanctions and opposition in Washington, and hopes for the Jordanian monarch’s ability to resolve the “Syrian knot”.
Significant efforts have also been made in the latter period by King Abdullah II to resolve the major Middle Eastern problem – the fate of the Palestinian state. To this end, the Jordanian monarch met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on September 2. They discussed the revival of the Middle East peace process and the strengthening of the ceasefire with Israel and the “two-state solution”. They declared that the Palestinians have the right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, which Israel categorically opposes. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan also protested against the expansion of Israeli settlements and the demolition of Palestinian structures.
On August 29, King Abdullah II met with Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog in Amman to discuss “strategic issues” and build relations between the countries. In July, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett also paid an informal visit to King Abdullah II in Amman. And in February, Defense Minister Beni Ganz secretly went to Jordan. It was the first meeting between Abdullah II and Yitzhak Herzog in three years. The Israeli president’s informal visit to Amman was, according to regional media estimates, another sign of warming relations between Israel and Jordan, which have been deadlocked during the Netanyahu administration and further confirmed the Jordanian monarch’s growing “mediation potential” in recent times.
Of course, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its apparent helplessness in Iraq and northern Syria make the political game in the region increasingly dangerous and complex. But it only strengthened Jordan’s political position and its mediation role. Its geographical location has made it a focal point where the interests of various players converge, including Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Russia and the US. This carries both great risks and great opportunities. And in these circumstances, it is Amman that can contribute to reducing tensions in the region and provide the major powers with alternatives for developing peace processes in the region.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.