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King Abdullah’s warning to Israel rolls out multiple scenarios

May 19,2020 - Last updated at May 19,2020

Jordanians and Israelis were kept wondering what His Majesty King Abdullah meant by his stern warning to Israel that moving forward with annexation of parts of the West Bank “could lead to a massive conflict with Jordan.” In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel last week, the King said that “I don’t want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options. We agree with many countries in Europe and the international community that the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East.”

This was the strongest warning to Israel that King Abdullah has made in recent memory. He had admitted last year, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries that bilateral relations were at their lowest point. And last September he warned that if Israel went ahead with the annexation of the Jordan Valley, as pledged by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, then the move will have a direct impact on the Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties with Israel.

The King’s strong words, calculated as they are, coincided with a crucial visit to Israel last week by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the eve of the formation of a new Israeli government headed by Netanyahu. The US position on the issue of annexation remains unclear, it is embedded in Donald Trump’s peace vision released last January and rejected by the Palestinians as well as Arab countries, but multiple sources have suggested that Pompeo had urged Netanyahu not to move ahead with the controversial, not to mention illegal, move at this stage. That is not to say that the US had reversed its position on annexation. But sources said that the US had given the Palestinians few crucial months to engage in peace negotiations with Israel or else.

It is also suggested that annexation could take place at two stages: one that aims at extending Israeli sovereignty over key Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including parts of the so-called Area C, as early as July and no later than September, and two, which is more contentious, is the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which constitutes more than 30 percent of the area of the West Bank.

The latter is seen as a direct challenge and threat to Jordan. It signals the death of the two-state solution, ushering in multiple scenarios, including the collapse of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the forced settlement of Palestinian refugees in host countries like Jordan and the revival of Israeli far right claims that Jordan is an alternative Palestinian state. These scenarios constitute an existential threat to the national security of Jordan; a red line for the Jordanian monarch.

But what would Jordan do and what did the King mean by a “massive conflict”? The peace treaty had delineated borders between Israel and Jordan and excluded the Jordan Valley as a common border. It was understood that the Jordan Valley would constitute the borders between the future Palestinian state and the Hashemite Kingdom. The annexation of the Jordan Valley by Israel would be seen as a direct violation of the peace treaty. One option would be for Jordan to suspend the treaty while contesting the Israeli move. It is believed that this position had already been delivered to members of the Security Council.

Other options include the termination of the controversial liquid gas deal between Jordan’s national electricity company and an US-Israeli conglomerate. Legal experts in Jordan argue that the coronavirus crisis allows the kingdom to take such a move. Jordan will pursue diplomatic channels to contest Israel’s annexation while hoping that the international community will take serious steps in response, including imposing sanctions.

Jordan has “advised” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to engage the Trump administration in a bid to delay Netanyahu’s plans while awaiting the outcome of the US presidential elections next November. The Palestinians have not been forthcoming. Reports about Jordanian-Palestinian coordination in case of annexation are not credible.

Jordan’s reaction may be less confrontational if Netanyahu’s annexation excludes the Jordan Valley. The issue of extending Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements under a land swap deal has been mentioned in previous Israeli-Palestinian understandings and is actually referred to in Trump’s peace vision. But Jordan will not sit idly by if Netanyahu goes as far as annexing the Jordan Valley.

King Abdullah understands the sensitivity of the current phase in terms of Jordan’s strategic ties to the United States and changing geopolitical realties in the region and beyond. But his stern warning has echoed in both Israel and the United States. There is mounting pressure on Netanyahu by Israel’s security and military establishments not to take the confrontation with Jordan to the next level. Also there are reports that the US may engage the Palestinians through the Quartet in a bid to keep Trump’s peace vision alive.

Whatever the next few weeks will roll out, King Abdullah appears to be ready to adopt extreme measures if Netanyahu does go ahead with his annexation plans. Netanyahu must now consider his next move carefully as the fate of the peace treaty with Jordan hangs in the balance.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

 

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