Jordanian King Abdullah II has been active in the week preceding Jared Kushner’s visit to six countries in the Middle East to prepare for the second phase of his peace plan, dubbed the “Deal of the Century”.
He called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Amman for talks, then he headed to Abu Dhabi to consult with the Emirati leadership.
Kushner, a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, is leading his team to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar to further his plan, partially revealed in the Bahraini capital Manama last month.
That was the economic part, “Peace to Prosperity,” while the more contentious political part is postponed until after Israeli elections in November.
The new American peace deal is already rejected by the Palestinians, even before it is announced. Palestinians deem the plan a “liquidation” of their national cause, since it kills the two-state solution.
Jordan is wary for other reasons, the least of it siding with the Palestinians. No Palestinian state means that refugees stay where they are and Jordan takes the biggest brunt. Almost half of the population of the kingdom are Palestinians and if abandoned could pose a threat to Hashemite family rule.
Though Jordan is promised some economic benefits from the proposed deal, that can’t ease the worry. The king finds himself between a rock and hard place as he wouldn’t be able to anger the Americans — the main foreign donor to Jordan, keeping the kingdom afloat.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has few resources and has long relied on help from Washington and Gulf countries. That changed in the last few years, especially with regard to Saudi Arabia, as King Abdullah II tried to take a compromise position on issues the Saudis needed clear-cut, black or white stances.
A striking example was the boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in mid-2017 while Jordan was heading the Arab League that year.
Its Gulf allies expected it to sever relations with Qatar, but Jordan stopped short of that and withdrew its ambassador from Doha, with Qatar withdrawing its ambassador from Amman.
As the economic squeeze intensified after the fall of oil prices in 2014, many Jordanian expats returned from Gulf countries, depriving the budget of their annual remittances. That complicated Jordan’s economic hardships, and the king had to find ways to alleviate the economic burden.
Last year, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait promised Jordan $2.5 billion over coming years, but so far Amman only got $1 billion in Central Bank deposits to support the dinar. Gulf assurances of support helped as a guarantee for IMF and World Bank loans to Jordan.
Qatar quickly stepped in to offer the king half a billion dollars of direct money and promised thousands of jobs for Jordanian expats in Qatar. Recently, Amman and Doha announced the reinstatement of their respective ambassadors.
That would not be well received in Riyadh, evidenced in the number of visits the king had to make to Abu Dhabi in recent months.
The UAE has always kept close ties with Jordan, and King Abdullah II is a personal friend to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed. As Jordan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia becomes cold, the king finds warmth in Abu Dhabi.
As Gulf countries are supporting the American peace plan, Jordan finds it difficult to play the compromise role that kept the kingdom stable for decades.
Rumours that the Americans might want Saudi Arabia to take the role of “Custodian of Islamic Holy Sites” in Jerusalem is causing anxiety in Amman. That role has been exclusive to Jordan and the Hashemite ruling family for many decades.
The Emirati leadership might be understanding towards the awkward position of the Jordanian king concerning the proposed American peace deal, but there’s little to do about Amman’s rising closeness to Qatar.
The late King Hussein, father of King Abdullah II, declined joining the coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. But the days of getting away with compromise have gone.
It was King Abdullah II who first warned of rising Iranian influence in the region, coining the term “Shia Crescent” north of the Arabian Peninsula a decade ago.
But now, complicated relationships with Gulf countries could drive Jordan towards Iran, not only Qatar.
Whatever Kushner and his team have in store, Jordan will be sceptical. Jordan’s response to Kushner might further complicate Amman’s relations with Gulf countries.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Jordan-Gulf relations complicated