The Israeli occupation forces’ abrasive and uncalculated measures in Jerusalem have definitely not put Jordan in an enviable situation. Being in part the custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem since 1924 and at the same time bound up with a peace treaty with Israel since 1994, one can understand the Jordanian dilemma in light of the recent Israeli escalation in the Old City.
With regard to the closure of the gates of al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli forces, Jordan has expressed strong denouncement, describing in a daringly-worded statement announced by its Islamic Affairs minister, Hayel al-Daoud, the Israeli unilateral measures as “state terrorism” and “barbaric action.” The kingdom’s Islamic Affairs minister, Hayel al-Daoud, has been quoted by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, as calling on the international community to exercise pressure on Israel “to raise the terrorist blockade” it had imposed on the Mosque compound.
Israel is fully aware of this deteriorating Arab situation and is acting accordingly on JerusalemRaed Omari
In fact, Jordan’s “verbal escalation” with Israel has peaked with King Abdullah’s recent talk about the existence of “Zionist extremism.” The king’s remarks came before the recent closure of al-Aqsa Mosque compound in reaction to Israel’s never-ending assaults on Islam’s third holiest site. With his Hashemite dynasty being the official custodian of the Islamic and Christian holy sites of Jerusalem, the king’s remarks have carried ager and dismay over the Israeli ongoing assaults on the Old City.
Oddly enough, the Israeli escalation in Jerusalem has come during the time Jordan and Israel are remembering the peace deal they signed in October 1994. With the Israeli press hailing the Wadi Araba peace accord, opposition powers in Jordan have raised their voices loudly, demanding the deal be abolished, citing Tel Aviv’s disregard and disrespect of its terms. The deal recognizes Jordan’s custodianship over Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Debating Israel’s sovereignty
At the time the Israeli Knesset was preparing to debate Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound, Jordan’s Islamic Action Front party, the largest opposition power, has called on the government to freeze the 1994 peace treaty. This also adds to Jordan’s current uneasiness with Israel. Amman is in part unable to remain silent over the Israeli escalation and at the same time unable to take a practical “convincing” step to alleviate the partisan and public anger.
The difficulty in balancing relationships with internal and external powers has been a major challenge to Jordan, especially when it comes to Israel. Unlike Egypt, the Jordanian-Israeli relationship has long been marked with “coy” diplomacy, so to speak, even after the signing of the peace deal in 1994. The official Jordan, which is linked to diplomatic ties with Israel, has to deal “cautiously” with the public that still perceives Israel as an enemy and occupying power. In many cases, Jordan had to recall the Israeli ambassador in Amman or its ambassador in Tel Aviv but it never reached the “ambassador expulsion” level.
But the situation is now different. The Israelis are acting in Jerusalem with complete sovereignty, provoking Jordan and the entire Muslim world. Will Jordan exceed the verbal escalation level to the practical level, manifested in freezing its peace deal with Israel? The answer is probably no, at least currently.
Jordan is less likely to act unilaterally on Israel without from an Arab consensus. An affirmative stance from the kingdom on the Israeli escalation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza requires a unified and collective Arab position which is so far far-reaching taking into account the deteriorating situation of the Arab world. Each Arab state is busy with its internal dilemmas. Israel, on the other hand, is fully aware of this deteriorating Arab situation and is acting accordingly on Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
In fact, Jordan has never acted unilaterally on Israel aside from within the Arab context. The kingdom’s decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 came after the Palestinians signed their Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993.
However, there are other voices in Jordan, saying that the Israeli escalations were meant by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing party to push Jordan to unilaterally freeze the peace deal. Advocates of such Jordanian perspective argue that Israel seeks to get rid of the obligations stipulated in the Wadi Araba peace deal with Jordan which ties it up and means it is thus unable to move ahead with its scheme to transform Jordan into a “substitute homeland” for Palestinians.
There is much sense in such rationale anyway. But one major reason behind Amman’s choice to sign a peace treaty with Israel is to draw internationally recognized borders to its relationship with Tel Aviv and to oblige Israel to abide by them. In other words, Jordan sought an international legal framework from a U.S.-patronized peace deal with Israel to “embarrass” Tel Aviv if it decides one day to move ahead with hidden scheme” and “evil intention” towards Amman.
All in all, I see the recent Israeli escalation in Jerusalem as a “testing the waters” attempt. Definitely, Israel has a long-term plan for al-Aqsa Mosque compound and, from the never-ending escalation there, it always weights the scope of reaction and counter-escalation that would rise if it decides to adopt a daring measure.
One would argue against such rationale, saying that the mosque’s gates closure was a security measure taken after the shooting of a Jewish hardliner late Wednesday. But I wonder why the Palestinians are always collectively and massively punished if an individual incident occurs here and there, take for example the heavy bombardment of Gaza.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2