Feb 09 2014

Jordan skeptical of US-led peace plan

Published by at 1:24 pm under Articles,Jordan


By Daoud Kuttab

Jordan, which shares the longest border with the Palestinian occupied territories and hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees, is feeling the pressure of a possible US-led breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The Jordanian government has been sending mixed signals lately in regard to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission. On the one hand, Jordan is keen to be involved in the bilateral peace talks if for no other reason than to directly plead its own national interests. On the other hand, as Jordanian Palestinian columnist Orrayb Rantawi has made clear, there is no way that the framework agreement will meet the minimum expectations of the Jordanian people.

In a column published in the daily ad-Dustour, Rantawi concluded with the following: “No one can claim that Kerry’s ideas and plan meet Jordanian interests and positions, and it will be impossible to bridge this gap or to expect Kerry to extract from the Israelis any further concessions.” Rantawi assesses that Jordan is facing a moment of choice of either accepting the plan with reservations under the guise of “this is the best we can do” or rejecting it and taking responsibility for the consequences.

The possibility of Jordan, a major US ally, rejecting such an offer was thoroughly discussed in a lecture by Adnan Abu Odeh, former Jordanian chief of the royal court, who said that he is happy that Jordan is not involved in the talks so as not to bear responsibility for the outcome. Speaking in late January at the Ad-Dustour Research Center in Amman, Abu Odeh said that in the past, Jordan has had the ability to say no. He argued that at those times, the Arab world was strong, and Arab countries were ready to step forward and make up for the financial deficit that such a decision might inflict on the Jordanian economy. Abu Odeh then posed the rhetorical question, “Would Jordan be able to say no now with its huge national debt and dependency on Western aid?” The well-respected former official argued that a lot of work needs to be done to prepare the public regardless of which direction King Abdullah II and his advisers ultimately take.

Jordan’s difficult choices have not been overlooked in parliament, which has set aside two sessions for debate on Kerry’s plans and its possible ramifications for the country. Most of the parliamentary speeches have been full of rhetoric and generally reflect negativity toward the plan and its possible effects on the future of the Palestinian situation. They have also demanded more transparency from the government about the details of the plan itself.

A reply from Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour brought a surprise when he called on Palestinians to be crystal clear with Jordan. While admitting that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far been totally transparent and open with Amman, Ensour’s statement reflected lingering worries among Jordan’s political elite that the Palestinians might cut a secret deal without Jordanian interests in mind, adding that he doesn’t want Jordan to be surprised by any developments.

Marouf Bakhit, Jordan’s two-time prime minister and former military chief, had a different take on affairs. In a speech he gave at the Salt Forum Feb. 3, Bakhit outlined a number of steps that Jordan should take, including demanding that a Jordanian representative attend the Israeli-Palestinian talks so that Amman is not simply being told the results of the talks, but is part of them.

Bakhit recalled Jordan’s surprise at learning about the Oslo Accords and insisted that the Palestinians keep Jordan in the loop about all direct and backchannel talks. He also called for stronger and broader coordination with Saudi Arabia to help ensure Jordan’s independence and ability to say no to any deal that harms Jordanian national interests.

Jordan is the one country outside Palestine that will clearly be affected by any serious change in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Amman regularly mentions that its interests center on three areas: Jerusalem, borders and refugees. The refugee file is perhaps the most complicated for Jordanians in terms of how to deal with refugees who are citizens and how to ensure that the decades of hosting Palestinian refugees are not ignored in the chaos of trying to deal with the status and compensation of the refugees themselves.

In addition to financial issues, a solution to the Palestinian conflict will put Jordan in the position of looking inward in a much-delayed discussion about its identity and its future. Reform can no longer be delayed, and unequal representation cannot continue if the Palestinian issue is resolved.

King Abdullah is due to meet President Barack Obama on Feb. 14 in California. Perhaps some of these questions will be addressed at that summit.

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