Does Jordan Have a Choice? Pence Visit Signifies Moving on from Jerusalem Decision

Published January 22nd, 2018 - 03:26 GMT
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has lunch with Jordan's King Abdullah II during a visit in the capital Amman, on January 21, 2018 (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has lunch with Jordan's King Abdullah II during a visit in the capital Amman, on January 21, 2018 (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

“We agreed to disagree on the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pence said Sunday of his meeting  with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Put like that, it sounds a compromise. But is agreeing to disagree in this case simply a euphemism for one party being made to accept a situation it deeply opposes?

Prior to meeting Pence, Abdullah reiterated his support for “East Jerusalem as a capital of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure and recognized Israel.”

The Jordanian leader also directed what were described as “pointed remarks” at Pence over Trump’s announcement on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Despite increased tensions between the allies over Jerusalem - Pence told reporters they had had a “very frank discussion” - it seems Jordan is not in a position to offer much more than words of reproval, however.

Pence was not refused an audience in Amman, in contrast to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which cancelled its engagement with him. That, despite considerable pressure from Jordan’s population, including ongoing protests, to oppose U.S. policy on Israel.

Jordan is in an uncomfortable position. It is a staunch U.S. ally and heavily dependent on U.S. aid, having received more than $15 billion worth since 1950, according to the New York Times.

Its two million registered Palestinian refugees rely, too, on UNRWA for schools and other services, making last week’s announcement of a $65 million U.S. funding cut to the U.N. agency a huge blow.

That move was purportedly intended to pressure Palestinian leadership into returning to peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said following Trump's Jerusalem announcement that he “will no longer accept the U.S. as the mediator in the peace process.”

In contrast, speaking after the meeting with King Abdullah, Pence indicated that they had “agreed on [...] the need for all parties to come back to the table.”

Jordan’s king furthermore expressed a hope that the U.S. would “reach out” following the Jerusalem decision to attempt to find a way forward, saying that the visit was "to rebuild [...] trust and confidence."

The implication is that Jordan, regardless of its concerns over Trump administration policy, sees little choice but to tolerate the U.S. role as broker going forward.

“To believe that the US has no place in a future peace settlement is fanciful at best,” suggested an opinion piece in the government-owned Jordan Times last month. Jordan's approach seems to be a reluctant acceptance of that argument. 

So, what does this all mean for the Hashemite kingdom’s future role in the peace process?

Jordan remains the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a position that Pence insisted on Sunday that the U.S. will “continue to respect.”

Still, Trump’s move on Jerusalem was seen by many to disrespect and undermine that role.

Meanwhile, more and more friendly to the U.S. and even, according to multiple reports, Israel, Saudi Arabia has increased its involvement on Israel-Palestine. While publicly denouncing the Jerusalem decision, Riyadh was reportedly busy pressuring the PA to back a U.S. peace plan.

In this context, Jordan might find whatever influence it had as a regional broker seeping away as it is forced to “agree to disagree” on Jerusalem and move on.

 


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