Friday, January 17, 2014

Bogie, Bibi and Abdullah

Ruthie Blum

On Thursday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise trip to Amman to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II. This isn't the first time the two leaders have held clandestine conversations at the royal palace over the past five years. But the circumstances surrounding this particular visit are especially noteworthy.

Not only did it come on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's latest round of Middle East shuttling; it took place a mere two days after a scathing, off-the-record indictment of Kerry, made by Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, was published in Yedioth Ahronoth.

Though Ya'alon's remarks -- that Kerry is "obsessive" and "messianic" and should "take his Nobel prize and leave us alone" -- were spot on, he must have taken temporary leave of his senses for uttering them in the presence of a reporter and believing they would remain private.

Netanyahu wisely opted to stay out of the fray, though he was likely among those who told Ya'alon to issue a public apology, and fast. Netanyahu has had enough trouble trying to keep Kerry from imposing conditions for a Palestinian state that would spell the destruction of Israel. And just when he thought he was beginning to make a tiny bit of progress in getting it through Kerry's thick skull that Palestinian incitement to kill Jews poses an obstacle to American peace fantasies, out popped Ya'alon's sentiments about the secretary of state, giving the Obama administration yet another excuse to rap Israel on its already raw knuckles. 

This incident -- coupled with the outrage in Washington over the Israeli decision to build new apartments in a number of settlements -- meant that Netanyahu would have to act swiftly to stave off concrete consequences that could ensue during Kerry's next stopover in Jerusalem. This action took the form of strengthening a different alliance: that with Jordan.
Netanyahu has repeatedly explained to the United States that Israel cannot relinquish control over the Jordan Valley in any potential treaty with the Palestinian Authority. The PA is demanding a full Israeli withdrawal from that territory. Kerry's proposed compromise is for Israel to cede the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians, but to maintain a military presence there for 10 years, during which time Palestinian security forces would be trained to assume full control.
Netanyahu doesn't have to battle this point just yet, because the Palestinians told Kerry to take a hike with his proposal. Still, Netanyahu cannot count on Palestinian intransigence forever. And he most certainly cannot surrender the Jordan Valley, a strategic asset of the highest degree.
King Abdullah couldn't agree more.
Though the monarch of the Hashemite kingdom supports the establishment of a Palestinian state on Israel's side of the border, he wants to be rid of all the Palestinians in his own midst. To this end, he has spent years taking measures against them, such as revoking their Jordanian citizenship and trying to forbid them from running in parliamentary elections.
He fears that any political gains on their part could lead to his own downfall. This is why he flatly rejects the "Jordan is Palestine" position held by certain segments of the Israeli Right. Indeed, as far as he is concerned, "Palestine" should be established in the West Bank and Gaza, and all Palestinians should go live there and leave him and his kingdom alone.
Ironically, then, Abdullah is desperate for Israel to retain sovereignty of the Jordan Valley. Any other arrangement leaves his country wide open to infiltration by Palestinian radicals.
It is thus that Netanyahu rushed over to see him. The two needed to discuss ways of withstanding Kerry's pressure on Israel to give in to this particular Palestinian demand. Even the official statements released at the end of the tete-a-tete lead to this conclusion.
Netanyahu's office said, "The Prime Minister emphasized that Israel places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan's interests, in any future agreement."
Meanwhile Abdullah's royal court referred to the meeting as part of "continuous consultation and coordination between the king and all the parties involved in the peace process, considering His Majesty's keenness on achieving tangible progress that meets the aspirations of the Palestinian people and at the same time protects the high interests of the Jordanian kingdom."
The joke, then, is on Kerry.
While the "obsessive" and "messianic" would-be Nobel laureate flitted off to beg Europe and the Arab League to participate in his delusional farce (based on the false notion that the Palestinian leadership actually wants a state, and is willing to live alongside Israel), Netanyahu and Abdullah got down to the business of realpolitik and mutual interest.
Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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