October 15, 2019

Jordan’s King Torn Between His Government, His People and Israel

Jordanian King Abdullah II appears stuck between implementing an agreement reached in January to end a monthslong standoff with Israel and satisfying the will of his government and public, which both hold overwhelmingly negative views of Israel and oppose the restoration of bilateral ties.

The issue gained renewed attention last weekend after news surfaced that Jordan is expected in the near future to approve the appointment of Amir Weissbrod as Israel’s new Ambassador to the kingdom. The post has been vacant since a fatal confrontation at the Israeli Embassy in Amman last July 23, when Jordanian teenager Mohammed Al-Jawawdeh stabbed Israeli security guard Ziv Moyal, who opened fire in response, killing the attacker and the building’s owner in the crossfire.

The incident sparked a major diplomatic crisis which intensified when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feted Moyal upon his return to Israel — a move described at the time by King Abdullah as “unacceptable and provocative.”

The shooting occurred amid already heightened tensions surrounding the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, atop which sits the Al-Aqsa mosque — caused by Israel’s introduction at the holy site of additional security measures, including the installation of metal detectors, in the wake of a deadly terror attack. However, the initiative was reversed following the eruption of widespread protests throughout the Arab-Islamic world.

“[Jordan] cutting ties with Israel means having an issue with the United States.” — Oraieb Rintawi

To mend ties with Jordan, the Israeli government “expressed regret” for the loss of life at the embassy; agreed to pay compensation to the families of the victims; and acceded to a Jordanian demand to replace then-ambassador Einat Schlein. In response, Jordan vowed to “take the appropriate actions in accordance with the national interests,” while noting that the families of the “martyrs” were satisfied with Israel’s course of action.

Two months later, though, the Israeli mission in Amman remains nonoperational.

According to Saleh al-Armouti, a Jordanian parliamentarian, King Abdullah is “buying time” in an effort to convey the message that the renewal of ties with Israel was not made in haste and did not come without exacting concessions; this, despite the fact that “the actual decision was easily made a long time ago.” In this respect, he stressed that Jordan’s monarch is not only at odds with his citizenry but also with his own government, “which is unable to implement its own constitution in its own land.”

Al-Armouti’s position is shared by many Jordanians; namely, that relations with Israel should remain downgraded until such time Moyal is punished for his actions. “Re-opening the Israeli embassy in Amman without taking the killer to trial violates international law,” he said. “There is no justification for Jordan to welcome the new Israeli ambassador, especially after [Netanyahu] welcomed Moyal as a national hero.”

Al-Armouti concluded by stressing that the Jordanian parliament has yet to be informed of any final decision to reopen the Israeli embassy or to accept Weissbrod’s credentials.

Oraieb Rintawi, a Jordanian political analyst, agrees that there is a large discrepancy between King Abdullah’s realpolitik requirements and the desires of both the Jordanian government and people. “Cutting ties with Israel means having an issue with the United States,” he said, an untenable situation given Amman’s dependence on American military support and humanitarian aid.

“Most Jordanians cannot conceptualize or identify with the royals’ agenda,” Rintawi elaborated, “and instead just call for the [1994] peace deal with Israel to be canceled because of violations to Al-Aqsa mosque or over a lack of progress with the Palestinians.”

On the flip side, Gad Shimron, an Israeli political analyst, believes that Jordanian officials and citizens need to start forming opinions based on what is best for their country. “Israel supplies Jordan with water and gas, and there is a lot of [economic] cooperation,” he said. “So, Jordan needs to act as a normal state that signed a peace agreement with its neighbor and reopen the [Israeli] embassy, or it will be their loss.”