Friday, June 24, 2011
Israel’s Jordanian friends
Op-ed: Jordan remains stabilizing factor, Israel committed to helping monarchy survive
President John F. Kennedy once said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. As a case in point, the so-called “Arab Spring” in the Middle East has now spread to the traditionally stable country of Jordan, a historical ally of the United States and Israel. The past few weeks have seen Jordanians take their grievances to the streets. On June 13, eyewitnesses reported seeing protesters throwing bottles and stones at King Abdullah’s motorcade in the town of Tafila, injuring some 30 police officers. During Abdullah’s 12-year rule we have rarely seen such open attacks.
While Abdullah has a reputation of moderation and progressive beliefs, he wields nearly all of his country’s political power. Many Jordanians call for him to relinquish his authority to appoint prime ministers and cabinets, and indeed, for the first time, Abdullah appears to have bowed to their demands. Earlier this month he promised to let the people elect their own cabinets, though he did not commit to a timetable, saying that such change could lead to “chaos and unrest.”
Politically, a principal domestic issue for the king, whose wife Queen Rania is Palestinian by origin, is how entrenched Palestinian politics are in Jordan. This impacts both Jordanian internal politics and Israeli foreign policy, as Abdullah remembers the events of September 1970, when Yasser Arafat and the PLO mounted a coup in an attempt to make Jordan a Palestinian state. Indeed, the monarchy has always feared a Palestinian takeover, given that 70% of Jordanians are Palestinian.
Boosting economic ties
Jerusalem’s position on Jordan has been cautiously optimistic - that is to say, quiet. Yet Abdullah’s regime ensures peace on the East Bank of the Jordan Valley, and accordingly, while the foreign ministry might not wish to say so in public, Israel should support Abdullah in every possible way.
This would include boosting economic ties, for example, expanding the “Bridging the Rift” science center, a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American center backed by Stanford and Cornell where the focus lies on science providing a common language between Israeli and Jordanian students. More Israeli support would come via shared intelligence as it relates to fighting terrorism and Islamism in both countries. Both forms of support would serve Abdullah well as he attempts to illustrate how Jordan is stable and economically viable.
Beyond the above, Israel has some leverage as it relates to the shared national interest of the Jordan Valley water, which both countries deeply depend on. Israel could expand its desalination efforts in a way that benefits Jordanians. Expanding this collaboration is something Abdullah can use to stress the added value the monarchy and the peace bring to both countries.
If East Bankers and West Bankers unite under an umbrella of hatred towards Israel and the United States, the ongoing asymmetrical warfare Israel faces will only intensify. Abdullah and his monarchy are not perfect, but they remain an island of stability in a region where no one yet knows what the future holds.
Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former IDF Liaison Officer to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan