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April 8, 2019 No.
1448

Concern In Jordan About 'Deal Of The Century,' Possible Harm To Jordan's Special Status In Jerusalem

By: Z. Harel*

In the recent months, U.S. presidential advisors Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt have increased their contacts with elements in the region towards finalizing the plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace known as the "Deal of the Century." Jordanian King Abdullah II has made several visits to the U.S. lately, during which he was reportedly advised about the details of the plan and consulted on Jordan's possible role in it. Ahead of the public announcement of the plan, expected to take place soon, there has been considerable apprehension about it in Jordan. This is due to leaks published in the Arab, Israeli and international media, according to which Jordan will be expected to take part in resolving the Palestinian problem in ways that could change its character and demography, such as naturalizing Palestinian refugees, forming a confederacy with the Palestinian Authority (PA), or becoming an alternative homeland for the Palestinian people. For example, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily reported on April 5 that, as part of the deal Jordan will be expected to naturalize about one million Palestinians, in return for $45 billion.

The daily speculated further that a confederation of Jordan, the PA and Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank is likely to be established, that all of Jerusalem will be annexed to Israel, and that the Israeli settlements will remain under Israeli rule.[1] In addition, the Israeli media reported that the deal could include changing Jordan's special status in Jerusalem by granting a role in the city to additional countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Morocco. This is another cause for concern in Jordan, which has led Jordanian officials to make hardline statements on the topic of Jerusalem in recent weeks. The concerns about the deal are also reflected in articles by senior Jordanian journalists, who attacked the deal and presented it as a "conspiracy," an "existential threat" to the kingdom and as an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian problem at Jordan's expense. King Abdullah himself made firm statements on the issue, clarifying that he would by no means succumb to the pressures being exerted on him.

This report reviews the position of the Jordanian regime on the Deal of the Century: its concerns about it and its expressions of refusal to bend to U.S. pressures.

Ahead Of The Deal's Announcement, King Abdullah Makes Several Visits To Washington

Recent reports indicate that the Trump administration plans to announce the details of the Deal of the Century shortly after Israel's April 9, 2019 parliamentary elections. Presidential advisors Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt have indeed been holding contacts with many regional elements, including with the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, in an attempt to market the deal.[2] Furthermore, in the recent months Jordan's King Abdalluh made several visits to the U.S. During a November 13, 2018 visit he met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo[3]; several weeks later the two met again in Amman, as part of Pompeo's Middle East tour that also included Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[4] The Jordanian media reported on the King's meetings in very general terms, saying that they dealt with the topics of strategic cooperation between Jordan and the U.S., regional developments, and efforts to end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – but it is likely that the details of the Deal of the Century were discussed as well.

King Abdullah made another visit to Washington on March 10, apparently to discuss the deal, although the Jordanian press again reported on the visit very laconically, making no mention at all of the Palestinian issue. Jordan's official news agency Petra disclosed that the King had met with U.S. State Secretary Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and with members of Congress. However, Reuters reported, citing American sources, that the meeting with Pompeo was also attended by President Trump's senior advisors Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who are involved in formulating the Deal of the Century – a fact that the Jordanian media conspicuously ignored.[5] Remarks made by King Abdullah during the visit were reported by the Palestinian daily Al-Quds, according to which the King had stressed that "Jordan's position on attaining peace has not changed: [peace] must be based on the international resolutions, and on two states existing side by side in peace and security: Israel, and Palestine on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and on a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees."[6]

The scant coverage of Abdullah's meetings in the Jordanian press may be due to his concern that the very fact of his meetings with Trump's advisors, the authors of the Deal of the Century, may spark rage in the kingdom. However, the policy of obfuscation itself aroused criticism. Jordanian journalist Maher Abu Tair, a columnist for the daily Al-Ghad, criticized the secrecy surrounding the King's contacts with the Americans. In a column titled "The Secret Contacts between Amman and Washington," he wrote: "This is a grave issue. People must be given direct, accurate and detailed information about what the U.S. administration expects of Jordan in connection with the Deal of the Century and the issues of Jerusalem and of Jordanian-Palestinian relations, and about the American perception of the solution, instead of leaving the matter to leaks by Jordanian [sources] or  the American media and other sources... We want an open diplomatic discourse, in whatever form the state chooses, for time is pressing and the matter cannot be handled in this secretive manner..."[7]

Articles In Jordanian Press: Jordan Has Already Turned Down Vast Sums Of Money For Accepting Various Proposals On The Palestinian Issue

Despite the laconic nature of the Jordanian press reports on the King's visits to Washington, it is possible to infer details about the supposed content of his talks there from the numerous Jordanian press articles warning about the dangers of the deal. Senior journalists expressed concern that the deal may involve proposals detrimental to Jordan's interests, such as turning Jordan into an alternative Palestinian homeland, naturalizing Palestinians already living in Jordan, placing the West Bank under Jordanian political or administrative control, or forming a confederation of Jordan and the PA. The articles rejected all these ideas, calling the deal a "conspiracy,"[8] an "existential threat" to Jordan and an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian problem at its expense.[9] The Al-Dustour daily stated in an editorial: "The talk... about an alternative [Palestinian] homeland will encounter nothing but [complete] disregard on our part, for Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine."[10]

 Al-Ghad columnist Marwan Al-Mu'asher wrote on March 20: "The Deal [of the Century] is, without a doubt, an existential threat to the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians, for it is an attempt to take over Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the [occupied] territories, where the [Israeli] settlements have been established... The fear is that the U.S. will try to persuade Jordan [to undertake] the administrative or political government [of the Palestinians], thereby denying the Palestinians' right to establish a state on their national land, including in Jerusalem... For Jordan, the Deal of the Century is nothing less than a real existential threat that is intended to eliminate the Palestinian cause, even at Jordan's expense. I believe that Jordan is fully aware of this truth and of its direct implications, namely that the two-state solution is being officially eliminated by the U.S. administration and Israel..."[11]   


Cartoon in Jordan's government daily Al-Rai: "No turning back from the right of return" (Al-Rai, Jordan, April 3, 2019)

The articles also claim that, as part of the talks about the Deal of the Century, Jordan was offered economic incentives for supporting the deal. Marwan Al-Mu'asher wrote: "Regardless of Jordan's close relations with the U.S., it will never agree to take part in projects that threaten its existence, no matter what economic enticements are offered it..."[12] 

Al-Rai columnist 'Isam Qadmani wrote that King Abdullah had rejected an offer of $100 billion in return for accepting certain proposals regarding the Palestinian issue, apparently as part of the Deal of the Century.[13] Former information minister Saleh Al-Qallab wrote that "some claim that a relevant Arab element was offered $250 million to accept the Deal of the Century and persuade the Palestinians to agree to it, but that is obviously untrue..." [14]   

Rage In Jordanian Regime Over Possible Harm To Jordan's Status In Jerusalem As Part Of Deal Of The Century

Another issue relevant to the Deal of the Century and highly important to Jordan, which has been recently discussed in the Israeli and global media and is arousing fury in Jordan, concerns Jerusalem. According to reports, the U.S. seeks to involve additional Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Morocco, in the oversight of Jerusalem's Islamic and Christian holy places. Jordan, for its part, rejects granting Saudi Arabia a role in Jerusalem at the expense of the Hashemite Kingdom's custodianship of the holy places, which is anchored in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement and in the 2013 agreement between the PA and Jordan.[15] The Hashemite dynasty has in fact been the custodian of the holy places since 1924, and it maintained this role even after Israel's 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem and after Jordan's official severance of all legal and administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988. In the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, Israel consolidated this role by officially recognizing Jordan's special status in Jerusalem.

Quite possibly, Jordan's anger over any attempt to change this status is behind its hardline pronouncements and decisions on the issue Jerusalem in the last few weeks. For example, King Abdulah instructed to expand the Waqf Council in Jerusalem, which is subordinate to Jordan's Ministry of Religious Endowments, from 11 members to 18, and to incorporate in it, for the first time, representatives of the PA, including Jerusalem Affairs Minister 'Adnan Al-Husseini[16] – a measure that is perceived as a gesture of defiance against Israel. Jordanian Religious Endowments Minister 'Abd Al-Nasser Abu Al-Basal said that the expansion of the council was aimed at "placing all the Jerusalem elements involved in protecting the Islamic holy places under a single roof, including renowned Palestinian figures."[17] This measure is apparently intended to underscore Jordan's status in Jerusalem, but it also strengthens the PA, which, as stated, has never been part of the Waqf Council.

Several days after the decision to expand the council, Palestinians broke into a building in the Al-Aqsa compound, near the Golden Gate, that had been closed off by Israel in 2003 due to illegal activity by the Islamic Movement and by elements identified with Hamas. The break-in attempt, which disrupted the status quo of 16 years, led to the arrest of Waqf Council members and to the reclosing of the area by order of an Israeli court, which in turn led to clashes between East Jerusalem residents and the Israeli security forces.

Jordanian officials harshly condemned Israel's measures, stating that it is the one that has violated the status quo and the peace agreement between the two countries, which recognizes Jordan's special status in Jerusalem.[18] Religious Endowments Minister 'Abd Al-Nasser Abu Al-Basal said that the arrest of the Waqf Council members was a "grave escalation" that "harmed Jordan's role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and that Israel was "playing with fire."[19]  In another statement he said that Israel's moves in the Al-Aqsa compound could set off a "religious war." [20] Jordanian Parliament Speaker 'Atef Al-Tarawneh said after the arrests that "all the terror actions of the occupation state will not dissuade Jordan from continuing to fulfill its role of defending Jerusalem."[21] Following the reclosing of the building near the Golden Gate, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said that "Jordan will not take lightly [its role of] defending Jerusalem and will not accept any Israeli measure that seeks to disrupt the status quo there." During a parliament session, MPs called to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman and recall the Jordanian ambassador from Israel.[22]


Cartoon in Jordanian government daily Al-Rai: Jerusalem – the apple of our eye (Al-Rai, Jordan, March 30, 2019)

King Abdullah: Jerusalem Is A Red Line; We Are Being Pressured, But The Answer Will Be A Resounding No!

King Abdullah knows that consenting, as part of the Deal of the Century, to any proposal that breaches the standard framework of the two-state solution, such as naturalizing Palestinian refugees in Jordan, will severely threaten his throne and Jordan's stability, and therefore expresses firm opposition to such proposals. The looming announcement of the deal, and the leaks about its details published in the Arab, Israeli and Western media, have prompted him to clarify several times in the last few weeks that he will not consent to any such proposals. After the secrecy surrounding his latest visit to Washington sparked rumors that he meant to soften his position on Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue, he took an even firmer tone. In a meeting with Al-Zarqa dignitaries on March 20, after his return from Washington, he made unequivocal statements, saying: "I will never change my position on Jerusalem... We have a historic duty towards Jerusalem and the holy places." He admitted that he was being pressured, and reiterated that "[Jerusalem] is a red line for me, and I know that the people are with me [on this]... The Hashemite state has a duty to defend the Islamic and Christian holy places. It is true that we are being pressured, but our final answer will be a resounding No!"[23]    

Several days later, in a meeting with military commanders, the King, dressed in uniform, said: "Jerusalem and the future of Palestine are a red line for Jordan. I don't think I can make it any clearer... As a Hashemite, how could I [possibly] relinquish Jerusalem? That is impossible. It is a red line. [I say] a resounding No to [relinquishing] Jerusalem, to [Jordan becoming] an alternative [Palestinian] homeland, and to naturalizing [Palestinians in Jordan]!" Criticizing those who question Jordan's firm position on these issues, he asked: "Why are [these] people talking about the Deal of the Century or about an alternative homeland [for the Palestinians in Jordan]? How? Do we have no say? We are the Arab [Jordanian] army and we have a history in Jerusalem and Palestine... We have a say and have a position."[24]


King Abdullah addressing the military commanders (image: alrai.com, March 26, 2019)

Responding to the King's statements, the pressures being exerted on him, and the proposals that have reportedly been made to Jordan, editorials and editors in the Jordanian press stated that the kingdom was in grave existential danger that justified even a military confrontation and the sacrifice of life, if necessary. Al-Rai's political editor wrote: "Today Jordan is defending its existence as a state, for the regional arrangements  are intended to bring it into the circle of ruin that has dominated the region for the past seven bad years... We all stand with King Abdullah and his alert leadership. For the sake of the homeland and Jerusalem, we are willing to sacrifice [even] our lives."[25]

An Al-Dustour editorial responded to the King's statements in his meeting with the commanders, saying: "The King's remarks, delivered to his comrades-in-arms, conveyed a clear message, that our Arab army can repel any attempt to harm the stability and security of our country. This army, cultivated upon a message of truth, will be brave and strong, as always, in the face of any greedy [aggressor]. This army, under its commander-in-chief [King Abdullah], sees Jerusalem as it sees Amman, for our situation and our fate are one, and we shall redeem Jerusalem with our blood and our souls."[26]

In addition to his declarations, the King has also taken some practical measures to demonstrate his firm position on Jerusalem.  On March 25, the Royal Court announced that he had canceled a planned visit to Romania in response to the Romanian Prime Minister's statement that her country planned to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.[27] This measure was described in the Jordanian press as practical evidence of Abdullah's statement that Jerusalem was a red line for him.[28]

In addition, on the eve of the March 31 Arab League summit in Tunisia, the King made hectic diplomatic efforts to recruit support for his position on Jerusalem and against the pressures being exerted on him as part of the Deal of the Century. For example, on March 24 he met in Cairo with Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and Iraqi PM 'Adel 'Abd Al-Mahdi.[29] On March 28, just three days before the summit, he met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI in a bid to gain his support for the Hashemite custodianship of the holy places in Jerusalem. The Moroccan King complied, saying that the Jordanian Waqf was the only legal custodian of Al-Aqsa entitled to defend it and grant access to it.[30] In a joint statement, the two stressed the supreme importance of defending Jerusalem and its holy places from any attempt to alter their historic, legal and political status.[31]

The King thus arrived at the Arab summit armed with his Moroccan counterpart's support for the Jordanian custodianship over the holy sites in Jerusalem. At the summit itself he reiterated his position on the need to "find a just and viable solution to the Palestinian problem that will realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the two-state solution, the Arab Peace Initiative and the U.N. resolutions." He also repeated his warning about "harming Jerusalem and the holy places" and stressed Jordan's custodianship of them.[32]

It appears that King Abdullah is so far determined to resist the Trump administration's pressures regarding the Deal of the Century, pressures which may in fact increase in the near future, as the date of the deal's announcement draws near.

* Z. Harel is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 5, 2019.

[2] Raialyoum.com, February 26, 2019.

[3] Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 14, 2018.

[4] Al-Ghad (Jordan), January 8, 2019.

[5] Reuters.com, March 11, 2019.

[6] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), March 13, 2019.

[7] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 20, 2019.

[8] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 14, 17, 2019; Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 20, 2019.

[9] Al-Ghad (Jordan), Al-Rai (Jordan), March 20, 2019.

[10] Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 21, 2019.

[11] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 20, 2019.

[12] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 20, 2019.

[13] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 14, 2019.

[14] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 17, 2019.

[16] Al-Quds (Jerusalem),  Al-Rai (Jordan), February 15, 2019.

[17] Al-Rai (Jordan), February 19, 2019.

[18] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 18, 24, 2019; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 20, 2019.

[19]Al-Rai (Jordan), February 24, 2019.

[20]Al-Rai (Jordan), February 20, 2019.

[21]Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 24, 2019.

[22] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 19, 2019.

[23] YouTube channel of Jordan's Royal Court, March 20, 2019; Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 21, 2019.

[24] YouTube channel of Jordan's Royal Court, March 26, 2019; Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 27, 2019. It should be mentioned that the King's firm statements and his admission that he is being pressured sparked declarations of support for him in Jordan, from all sides of the political spectrum. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, the traditional opposition to his regime, was supportive. On March 22, 2019, it organized a march in Amman in support of Jerusalem, at which participants carried signs saying "We stand with King Abdullah" and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Jordan and the recalling of the Jordanian ambassador from Israel. Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 30, 2019; albosala.com, March 29, 2019.

[25] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 24, 2019.

[26] Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 27, 2019.

[27] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 26, 2019.

[28] Al-Rai (Jordan), Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 26, 2019.

[29] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 25, 2019.

[30] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 29, 2019.

[31] Elaph.com, March 28, 2019.

[32] Al-Rai (Jordan), April 1, 2019.