Jordanian officials are expressing concern that Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework could end up creating a Palestinian state in place of Jordan.
Another worry: that jihadi militants could set up camp along Jordan’s border with Israel should Israel Defense Forces troops pull out of the Jordan Valley, an idea that Kerry has reportedly been pushing.
These fears have prompted some Jordanians to question the Obama administration’s moves which are perceived as not nurturing stability in the pro-Western kingdom. Jordan escaped its neighbors’ Arab Spring convulsions relatively unscathed, though it has accepted more than half a million refugees from Syria and another half million from Iraq since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Sunday said, “Whoever thinks Jordan will become someone’s alternative state is delusional.”
“This formula and this proposal is unacceptable,” Judeh said, referring to a reported provision in Kerry’s plan that Israel will be recognized by the Palestinians as the Jewish state. Palestinian officials including President Mahmoud Abbas have stated publicly that they will never recognize Israel as the legitimate state of the Jewish people.
The Associated Press reported that Jordanian lawmakers believe a peace deal might lead to a new influx of Palestinian refugees, further tipping the demographic balance in their favor. This prospect has raised tensions domestically between Jordanians and Palestinians who comprise more than 50% of the population.
“The kingdom, a key U.S. ally, is watching warily as Secretary of State John Kerry brokers the secretive talks. Protests have broken out, the media brims with disaster scenarios, and lawmakers have held anguished debate,” the AP wrote.
“Jordan stands today at a dangerous crossroad because it will be a victim of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal,” Jordanian lawmaker Abdul-Karim Dughmi said. “I do not trust Mr. Kerry because his country is biased toward the Zionists and their expansionist plans to usurp the remaining Palestinian lands in the West Bank and force more Palestinian refugees onto Jordan.”
Foreign Minister Judeh said that Jordan will not accept “any framework which does not fully address its highest interests,” which the Times of Israel explained was “an allusion to the feared naturalization of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Jordan, as well as concerns over security arrangements along the border of a future state.”
Veteran Jerusalem Post Arab affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in a post for the Gatestone Institute that Jordan’s biggest fear is that Kerry wants to “resettle” Palestinian refugees in Jordan, though it is difficult to know if that is part of the proposal as Kerry has not made it public.
A group of retired Jordanian Army generals warned in a statement that Kerry’s plan is to “settle” Palestinians in Jordan.
“Jordan is going through a dangerous historic moment,” the statement read. “This is an American-Zionist plot to liquidate the Palestinian cause at the expense of Jordan.”
Abu Toameh reported that more than 2,000 Jordanians protested in Amman last Friday against Kerry’s “malicious conspiracy.”
He also quoted Jordanian columnist Fatin al-Baddad who wrote that Jordanians have declared an intifada [uprising] against Kerry and his proposed plan.
Al-Baddad wrote that the Jordanian people are furious because they feel that the Obama administration has “marginalized” the kingdom.
“Jordanians believe that Kerry is offering to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state,” he wrote.
As to border security, the Israeli newspaper Maariv last month quoted unnamed Western diplomats who said they believed that if Israel were to withdraw its forces from the Jordan Valley, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists could then the fill the vacuum as has occurred in Syria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The officials suggested that jihadi fighters would thus spread from Iraq to Syria and west to Jordan, posing a serious challenge to stability to the kingdom. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which is currently fighting in Iraq and Syria has stated its desire to expand the battle to Lebanon and Israel and set up sharia rule in those territories.
Israeli parliament (Knesset) member Ofir Akunis last month said that Jordan supports Israel’s position that it must maintain a military presence along the 210 mile border between the two countries.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Akunis said that Jordanian officials are alarmed that Israeli forces will withdraw from the border.
“The Jordanians are opposed to an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley out of fear that if a Palestinian state arises and is taken over by extremist elements like Hamas and Al Qaeda, this would endanger the king’s rule, not just Tel Aviv,” Akunis said.
The AP quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responding to the criticism of Kerry in Jordan, saying “the only goal of the final status agreement is to bring peace and prosperity to not only the Israeli and the Palestinian people, but to the region,” adding that “throughout every point in the process the United States has been engaged in consultations with the government of Jordan.”
Jordan watcher Khaled Abu Toameh concluded, “Kerry has managed to escalate tensions not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Jordanians and the Palestinians inside Jordan. The growing tensions in Jordan pose a threat to stability in the kingdom and could easily undermine the only stable regime in the region.”