After the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank until the Israelis began occupying the land amid the 1967 war. By 1988, Jordan ceded all claims to the West Bank to the Palestinians before the Hashemite Kingdom signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994. Officially, Jordan and Israel have been at peace for the past 26 years.
In recent years, however, the relationship between the Jordanian and Israeli governments has suffered significantly. The most recent development that further damaged bilateral ties came when Israel declared that, as of July 1, it will start annexing parts of the West Bank — including all Israeli settlements in this occupied territory and the Jordan Valley, amounting to 30 to 40 percent of the West Bank — based on the agreement reached between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz.
Recently, 50 U.N. human rights experts signed a joint statement calling on countries worldwide to oppose Israel’s annexation plans, which would quickly transform the remainder of the West Bank into a “Palestinian Bantustan.” From both a Jordanian and Palestinian perspective, this unilateral move would be extremely dangerous. There is no doubt that the Israeli annexation plan poses a grave threat to stability in Jordan, which hosts many Palestinian refugees who have been denied by Israel the right of return. More than 50,000 Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley, which produces more than 60 percent of the vegetables consumed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as the valley is deemed the food basket, or the source of food security, for Palestinians.
Furthermore, according to the 2015 census, 70 percent of those in the Hashemite Kingdom are Palestinian, which makes it difficult to imagine how Israel annexing parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley would not fuel widespread anger and unrest across Jordan. This annexation would lead to more Palestinians entering Jordan as refugees, representing even more of a strain on public services and infrastructure following decades of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees coming into Jordan.
Religious variables are in the equation too. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has religious custodianship of Muslim/Christian sites in Jerusalem. Ever since the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the battle for this holy city has become the source of growing anger for Jordanians.
On top of formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump’s administration has taken a host of other steps that underscore how closely aligned this White House is with virtually every aspect of Netanyahu’s agenda. Such moves include U.S. recognition of the Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory, ending all U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington. All of this has upset Jordan, which sees Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s Israel/Palestine policies as severely threatening Amman’s basic interests.
King Abdullah II has warned that any Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley would lead to a “massive conflict.” The king warned that forcing a one-state solution would hurt the whole region. Last month, he told Der Spiegel: “Leaders who advocate a one-state solution do not understand what that would mean. What would happen if the Palestinian National Authority collapsed? There would be more chaos and extremism in the region. If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”
Since both countries signed the Jordanian-Israeli Wadi Araba peace treaty in 1994, the Israelis have benefitted from their cooperation with Jordanian security forces and intelligence agencies. Yet, if Israel continues with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley, Jordan will most likely review its peace agreement with Israel and could recall its ambassador to Israel. This of course would likely entail ceasing or freezing security cooperation between the two countries.
Some historical context is useful for understanding the loss of Jordanian patience with this treaty. When delegations representing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians went to Madrid in 1991, their first goal was not to restore the Golan Heights to Syria, nor end Israel’s occupation of Lebanese territories. Rather, their main objective was to end Israeli control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and to give the Palestinian people the right of self-determination. While the Arabs were unable to regain the occupied territories by force, there perhaps seemed, at least at the time, to be a glimmer of hope for a political solution and peaceful recovery of this land under international cover for having an Israeli state and a Palestinian state as per U.N. resolutions 242 and 338.
Mainly for those reasons, the Jordanians signed their 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Eight years later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia launched the Arab Peace Initiative, not to satisfy Israel, nor to achieve individual gains for any Arab regime, but instead to establish a viable Palestinian state.
However, the political processes behind the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords, signed by the Israeli government and Palestinians in 1993 and 1995, were just a mirage. Therefore, it is essential to ask what these agreements actually mean, if anything at all.
Amman enjoys a positive global standing which would help gain international momentum in opposition to Israel’s plans for the West Bank. Such support from governments and civil societies worldwide will drive Jordan to review its 26-year-old treaty with Israel, creating the serious impression that Israel cannot unilaterally undertake such measures without suffering serious and negative consequences for taking land that exists outside of the country’s U.N.-recognized borders. Simply, Israel cannot take this action and expect neighboring Jordan to carry on with business as usual.
The region is heading in a dangerous direction as the world awaits to see what Israel does next. In 2020, it’s clear that all the traditional means to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict have been exhausted. There are not many options left for the Palestinian National Authority.
It would be difficult to exaggerate how much Amman has at stake. Jordan’s leadership has long warned of Israeli efforts to establish “an alternative homeland” for Palestinians in the Hashemite Kingdom. An Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley would only add to such concerns. There is every reason to worry about the fate of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Jordan because they could find themselves increasingly marginalized.
Within this context, significant domestic pressure is mounting on the King of Jordan to tear the Jordanian-Israeli Wadi Araba peace treaty to shreds. Nonetheless, such a move would inevitably add significant tension to U.S.-Jordan relations, which have suffered under the Trump presidency. Given that Jordan receives $1.8 billion a year in aid from Washington, King Abdullah II will have to weigh his options carefully.