The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan can and should do more on its own to promote lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. King Hussein, who made peace with Israel in October 1994, was a bold and courageous Arab leader who recognized the potential for his people and the region in embracing reconciliation with Israel. Sadly, his successor son, King Abdullah, has failed to match his father as a force for progress on the peace process. And with Jordan contributing significantly to the U.S. war on terrorism, revealed most recently by the death of a Jordanian intelligence officer in an attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan, the U.S. is less eager to fault, much less criticize, Jordan’s role in the peace process.
Abdullah’s latest lost opportunity occurred in a February 7 interview with CNN during which he again saddled the United States with the responsibility of pushing peace in the region, saying, “We are waiting for the U.S. to give its undivided attention to this issue.”
The U.S. faces several challenges in the region, such as the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the increasing profile of the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, linked to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner approaching Detroit. U.S. attention to the Middle East cannot be “undivided” and Arab leaders, including Jordan’s Abdullah, must take it upon themselves to advance the cause of peace in their own right. After all, their countries have the most to gain from a region at peace, and it is not unreasonable to expect them to make peace their priority. Waiting for the U.S. to give the peace process its “undivided attention” is simply impractical.
On CNN, Abdullah warned that if a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not found soon, the region “will be doomed to many decades of instability.” Abdullah’s pessimistic, doom-and-gloom attitude blaming outsiders for the region’s difficulties rather than having Arab leaders accept some responsibility themselves is unhelpful. Instead, he should advocate for measures that are likely to make a two-state solution more desirable and attainable.
For instance, Abdullah could recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns, which help to explain its hesitance to agree prematurely to the creation of a Palestinian state, rather than make light of its security posture. “Our challenge … is reaching out to the Israeli public and saying, ‘Do you want to continue being Fortress Israel? We want a two-state solution so that you can be accepted into the neighborhood,’” Abdullah told CNN.
Abdullah’s remarks suggest that he does not fully appreciate Israel’s security needs and that Israel is a “fortress” precisely because the Palestinians have failed to crack down on terrorists operating from within areas they control. Therein lies the justification for the West Bank security barrier, border closures with Gaza, and checkpoints in the West Bank. Israel fortifies itself with barriers and closures because it has to, not because it wants to.
Abdullah’s statement also suggests that he views Israel’s status in the “neighborhood” as conditioned on agreement to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His country’s peace treaty with Israel, however, contains no such conditionality. Rather, it requires Jordan to recognize and respect Israel’s “sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence” and not suggest that Israel’s presence in the region is anything but permanent. Abdullah should work the phones and convince his Arab counterparts to make statements and sign onto initiatives of outreach to Israel that might help Israel take further risks for peace that the creation of a Palestinian state surely would involve. Abdullah, though, evinces no such penchant for leadership or appetite for personal risk.
Abdullah also habitually exaggerates the importance of the Israel-Palestinian conflict to resolving the region’s problems. His CNN interview is only the most recent manifestation of this. He said that resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict would help solve the conflict with Iran. Last April, he said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday news program, “Any crisis you want to talk about — whether it’s al-Qaeda, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan — all comes back to the core, emotional issue that is Palestine and Jerusalem. Any conflict you pick in the region today, all roads lead back to Jerusalem.” He continued, “In Arab and Muslim minds, the most emotional aspect is the Palestinian cause and that of Jerusalem. And from there leads all the other problems. Every time you come up and show me an example of a problem, I’m going to point you back at the Palestinians and Jerusalem.”
How can Israel, a country approximate in size to New Jersey, be the root of decades-long conflicts in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan? And how can rulers such as Jordan’s Abdullah consistently get away with asserting such linkages? Rather, hatred of Israel is more often used merely as a recruitment tool by parties to some of these other conflicts than a root cause of them.
Abdullah has steered the Palestinians wrong at critical moments when they needed more calculated, cautious advice. After peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in July 2000 and only three weeks before the Palestinians launched the “Second Intifada,” Abdullah said of the Palestinians: “We will continue to support them with all our might and potential, backing their efforts to regain their legitimate rights and establish their independent state on their national soil with Jerusalem as its capital.” The Palestinians likely interpreted Abdullah’s remarks as a blanket endorsement of renewed violence, whereas he instead should have counseled them to return to negotiations prepared to compromise.
Meantime, Jordan’s relations with Israel have suffered setbacks. In a statement last October marking the 15th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, Israel’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged the “crises and problems that have beset us.” That same month, after Israel temporarily restricted access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount amid reports of planned violence by Arabs, Jordan’s foreign minister summoned Israel’s ambassador in Amman and sent letters to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council calling for pressure on Israel. The Jerusalem Post opined: “Unfortunately, by being tone deaf to reasonable Israeli concerns and oblivious to Palestinian intransigence, Amman has abdicated a more constructive role in bringing the parties closer together. It needn’t be so.”
Meantime, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 10 that Jordan is in talks with the U.S. on a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, an international treaty the U.S. Congress will have to approve, and an op-ed in the paper said that Abdullah’s regime recently approved 100 temporary laws curbing political freedoms. Should any nuclear agreement come before Congress, its members should ask tough questions about what, if any, good Jordan has achieved on the peace process or internal political reform.