How Jordan Could Provide A Way Out Of The Gaza Conflict
As the war in Gaza grows bloodier by the day, the search for potential mediators in the region is crucial. Jordan is uniquely situated with a special relationship with the Palestinians, decades of peace with Israel, and the nation's king with a historic standing in the Muslim world.
The minister chose harsh words. Israel is "losing its humanity" as its attacks on Gaza continue, said Jordan's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi in an interview with the British broadcaster Sky News. "We're watching with tremendous shock what Israel is bringing about on Gazans."
When asked why he'd said in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Antony Blinken, that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, Safadi replied that this was simply: "statements of fact."
This criticism of Israel does not come from an enemy of the Jewish state, but from one of its most important Arab partners. There's no denying that small, poor Jordan plays a key role in the current conflict. On Monday, it was reported that Jordanian planes were dropping aid supplies over Gaza, thanks to an accord with Israel.
The fact that Jerusalem is authorizing the mission is also due to Israel's special relationship with Jordan. When the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin concluded the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians in the early 1990s, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and limited Palestinian control over the occupied territories, Israel also made peace with Jordan.
Bordering Israel and the West Bank to the east, Jordan is also a key mediator between Israel and the Palestinians for other reasons. Until the occupation by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, what is now the West Bank belonged to Jordan. Even before that, Jordan was considered an important guardian of Palestinian interests. After all, depending on how you calculate it, around about one-third to just over half of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin.
Because they are comparatively urban and well educated, the Palestinians were also an important driver of development for Jordan, which is traditionally rural and Bedouin. Today, the approximately 11 million Jordanians only generate an annual gross national product of around 4,000 euros per capita.
At the same time, the country is home to almost 800,000 refugees, more than 80% of whom come from its northern neighbor Syria. This makes Jordan the country with the second-highest proportion of refugees to the total population in the world. Western politicians therefore repeatedly fear for the stability of the kingdom.
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze recently visited Jordan with a pledge o 41 million euros for the care of refugees, and the German government also wants to help improve the water supply in the perennially dry country with loans worth 125 million euros.
Jordan's government has no sympathy for Hamas.
In addition to these structural problems, Jordan is particularly vulnerable in the current Gaza crisis and at the same time particularly important — precisely because of its role vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Despite its anchoring as a Western partner and its comparatively good relations with Israel, there have been large demonstrations critical of Israel in Jordan since the beginning of Israel's operations in Gaza. Some of these have taken place directly on the border with the Occupied Territories.
The government may not want to prevent these demonstrations, but in any case it may not be able to do so without incurring the wrath of a large part of the population — which could threaten the country's stability. Minister Safadi's harsh comments on the Gaza war can therefore also be understood as a way to ensure the country's domestic cohesion.
Prestige in the Arab world
The fact that Israel still allows Jordan to fly aid missions over Gaza also shows Jerusalem's trust in the leadership in Amman.
Because one thing is certain: Jordan's government has no sympathy for Hamas. On the contrary, the international Muslim Brotherhood network, to which Hamas also belongs, has always been a threat to Jordan. The Jordanian authorities have always been particularly tough in their fight against Islam-inspired terrorist networks.
The kingdom's role as influential regional mediator can also be traced to the historical role and prestige of the royal family itself. The Hashemite dynasty, to which King Abdullah II belongs, traces its lineage back to the Prophet Mohammed himself, and once ruled in Mecca.
Hashemites were finally able to consolidate their power in Jordan (then called Transjordan) with the help of Britain as a compensation for the loss of their power in the Arabian Peninsula after the rise of the House of Saud there, which ousted the Hashemites from power in the 1920s.
But although the Saudis are now much more influential financially and politically, the Jordanians' descent from the Prophet still gives their king special prestige in the Arab world.
When it comes to Palestine, this special role could become particularly sensitive at this time. Because of the religious prestige of the Hashemites, Jordan still has nominal sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount in old city of Jerusalem.
U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, King Abdullah II of Jordan, center, and Crown Prince Al Hussein, right, during discussion with Arab leaders on humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza on Nov. 4 in Amman, Jordan.
Tension around Temple Mount
In the shadow of the Gaza war, violence is also escalating in the West Bank. In the occupied territories around Jerusalem, Jewish settlers and Israeli security forces have recently been engaged in increasingly violent clashes with the Palestinian civilian population and militants, some of whom are close to Hamas, but some of whom are also acting on their own account.
Should the violence affect the Temple Mount, the crisis could become international.
Should the violence escalate here and affect the Temple Mount, the crisis could become international, as an attack on Al-Aqsa or an Israeli action interpreted as such could enrage Muslims around the world and force their governments to act. Jordan does not want to find itself in this situation, though its relations with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu have deteriorated noticeably in recent years — primarily due to Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.
What does Israel want?
The Israelis now need Jordan as a mediator, and Jordan must hope for moderation from the Israeli government.
Amman is likely to have a clear agenda in these talks.
This is because Jordan continues to see the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his secular Fatah as the main point of contact in the Occupied Territories. Jordan will therefore advocate handing Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority following a Hamas defeat and strengthening the Palestinian Authority so that it can meet the challenge.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken has already indicated that Washington sees things similarly, which could also be due to Blinken's talks in Amman.
This may not be the scenario Netanyahu prefers. But what Israel is planning for the future in its relationship with the Palestinians is currently quite unclear. This is where the opportunity emerges for mediators like Jordan — but only if it happens before rising domestic opposition to Israel makes it impossible.
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