Jordan’s King Abdullah II, one of Israel’s few remaining close allies in the Muslim world, said in remarks obtained Monday that the uprisings sweeping Arab nations have put the Jewish state in a difficult position. He also hotly rejected the notion that his country should take in Palestinians as a substitute for the creation of a state for them.
Abdullah told a closed meeting of Jordanian intellectuals and academics that Jordan and the Palestinians were now in a stronger position than Israel, whose current government fears growing isolation as a result of the Middle East’s transformative changes in the Arab Spring.
“Jordan and the future of Palestine are stronger than Israel. It is the Israelis who are worried today,” Abdullah told the audience late Sunday. A transcript of his comments was obtained from the Royal Palace Monday.
Besides Jordan, Egypt is the only other Arab nation to have signed a peace deal with Israel. But its ties with Egypt have been severely strained since the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak and the anti-Israeli sentiment that has burst into the open in the Arab world’s most populous nation – most visibly in the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo over the weekend.
Many in Israel fear that this year’s Arab uprisings – along with a diplomatic crisis with former partner Turkey and stalled peace talks with the Palestinians – have left their nation increasingly isolated. Adding to that sense, the Palestinians are taking their quest for statehood to the United Nations later this month.
King Abdullah said that during a recent visit to the United States, an Israeli intellectual told him that the Arab Spring serves Israeli interests.
“I answered: ‘On the contrary, you are today in a more difficult position than before,’” he recalled saying. He did not elaborate.
Abdullah also used unusually harsh language for him in condemning suggestions by some Israeli fringe elements that Jordan should take in Palestinians from the West Bank to substitute for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
“Jordan will never be a substitute land for anyone,” he said. “It makes no sense. … We have an army and we are ready to fight for our homeland and the future of Jordan. We should speak loudly and not allow such an idea to remain in the minds of some of us.”
“Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine,” he added.
The idea of Jordan replacing Palestine has been around for decades. It never had mainstream support in Israel, and now its backers are a tiny, extreme minority. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once a champion of Israel’s retaining control of the West Bank, grudgingly supports creation of a Palestinian state there.
A large portion of Jordan’s population has never been enthusiastic about the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Anger with Israel is running high in Jordan for a number of reasons. In particular, Netanyahu’s hard-line government is deeply distrusted in Jordan, and many Jordanians blame it for the failure of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to get off the ground two years ago.
At least half of Jordan’s 6 million people are Palestinians displaced in two wars with Israel since 1948, along with their descendants.
The rest of Jordan’s population comes from Bedouin tribes that make up the backbone of support for the royal family. They fear that a “Jordanian solution” would mean the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan, throwing off the demographic balance.
Abdullah, whose own leadership has faced some protests this year – albeit on a lesser scale than elsewhere in the Arab world – reiterated that he was pressing ahead with political reforms in the kingdom. He said Jordan will hold municipal elections this year and announced that parliamentary elections will be held in 2012.