'Who is Jordanian?': Ghaith al-Omari, Senior Fellow Washington Institute

Published November 12th, 2018 - 11:23 GMT
Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Irwin Levy Family Program (Al Bawaba)
Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Irwin Levy Family Program (Al Bawaba)

Interview by Hayder al-Shakarchi

 

The following interview is part of a series published by Al Bawaba News, exploring the viewpoints, convictions, partisanship and consensus that exists in Washington D.C. around Middle East issues.

This author of this series will speak to analysts, policymakers and experts in their own words. Our aim is to provide a sense of the discussions taking place in the world's most powerful capital. This does not in any way imply an editorial edorsement of the individuals or policy proposols put forward. Al Bawaba is indepenent and does not align with any existing political party or ideological group.

Hayder al-Shakarchi is an Arab-American journalist and an international news analyst based in Washington, D.C.

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Al-Shakarchi: Recently, Israel has been solidifying its alliances with Gulf countries. What could be gained from this?

Al-Omari: “This is a trend that has been going on for a while in which different international Arab actors have been recognizing that Israel is part of the region. We saw it with Oman, we saw it with the two countries that have peace treaties with Israel… We need to remember that Israel had representative offices in Qatar and Morocco until 2000 and so this is basically picking up from what we had in the 90’s. Ultimately, this is recognition of the reality that Israel is one of the actors in the region.”

Al-Shakarchi: In terms of the ongoing feud between Israel and Iran, how strongly will recent developments impact Gulf-Israeli relations?

Al-Omari: “It’s at the very core of the developments that we’re seeing in the region since it’s not only Israeli-Iranian tension, but also Gulf-Iranian tension. Iran is considered as a destabilizing actor by Israel and the Gulf countries and this is their point of mutual interest. Hence, this is something that I consider to be at the very core of power politics in the region that pits Iran against almost everyone else. As long as the Iranian front continues, one can expect closer and closer cooperation from all the other countries that are threatened by Iran.”

Al-Shakarchi: How does Qatar fit into this equation?

Al-Omari: “The country that has most interactions with Israel in the Gulf region is Qatar. Yet, they make sure that they do it in a way that doesn’t seem like full diplomatic relations. Thus, they have a Qatari representative between Ramallah and Gaza who spends most of his time in Tel Aviv. And although these relations exist, I don’t think that any Arab country is ready for a full-fledged diplomatic relation with Israel. Every country that has relations with Israel does it for its own significant reasons. The Qataris understand that they have to work with Israel to be able to support Hamas and Gaza while the Saudis and the Emiratis look at Israel in terms of what they have to offer in security… There are real interests at play here.”

Al-Shakarchi: Could the recent developments between Israel and various Arab states affect the possibility of a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel?

Al-Omari: “There is a fear that with all of these developments, the Palestinian issue will become a second-hand concern to the region… Much of it depends on how well the Palestinians play regional diplomacy by ensuring that all these regional developments, which are inevitable, are done in a way that supports their aspirations. Right now, there’s much of a challenge to Palestinian diplomacy on whether or not they can make use of these developments, which are happening no matter what. Currently, the Palestinians are not well-positioned to make use of this, but if they do not get their act together soon, they will be bypassed.”

Al-Shakarchi: Where does Jordan currently stand regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Al-Omari: “Jordan has a long-standing peace treaty with Israel, it has very deep security relations with Israel. The bilateral relations are solid and even when there are crises, as we saw now, as we saw after the embassy incident a year or so ago, the relationship survived… This gives Jordan a lot of input into the way that Israelis think. At the same time, the Jordanians are probably the one country right now, at the leadership level, that continues to have good relations with the Palestinian leadership and has many shared points of interests with the Palestinian authority, be it about Jerusalem or a two-state solution, which is seen by the Jordanians as part of their national security. Jordan can play an important role as a mediator if you have cases of tension.”

Al-Shakarchi: As Jordan maintains its ties with Israel, it continues to provide refuge to the Palestinians. What makes Jordan so open?

Al-Omari: “Along with the Palestinians, Jordan has been quite willing to accept refugees from many other countries as well, such as Syria and Iraq... It’s part of Jordan’s national character. It’s also important to note that in the past, Jordan had its own aspirations when it came to control over the West Bank and such. This has created a situation in which two people, the Jordanians and the Palestinians, have developed a number of relations that makes it very difficult to separate the two.”

Al-Shakarchi: Is there precedent to separate the Jordanians and the Palestinians in terms of a possible two-state solution between Palestine and Israel?

Al-Omari: “I believe that there is an uncertainty in Jordan regarding the ultimate character of the state. That’s why a two-state solution is key for Jordan… It would settle the question of ‘Who is Jordanian?’ once and for all. Today, many Jordanians of Palestinian origin still have aspirations of going back to a Palestinian state. Once you have a two-state solution, people will have to choose: Are they Jordanian, or are they Palestinian?”

Al-Shakarchi: Pakistan’s president pledged that his country would not be supporting Israel. What other countries could be expected to join by in standing firmly against Israel?

Al-Omari: “In terms of Pakistan and some of the countries outside of the region, it’s easier for them to do that. At the end of the day, the Arab countries look at Israel as part of the package that they’re dealing with in their own backyard. Therefore, they have to deal with it in a realistic way. For a country like Pakistan, it’s an extremely distant issue. Among the Arabs, those who are likely to continue holding the traditional line would namely be Syria, especially now under the Iranian influence, Lebanon, and possibly some of the distant countries like Algeria.

But I would expect all Gulf countries, including Qatar, to have some form or relations with Israel, short of full normalized diplomatic relations. I expect most of these Arab countries to continue as they are with very minor holdouts other than the traditional holdouts and the distant actors. The more distant, the easier it is, with the exception of Syria and Lebanon because that’s more of an ideological stance.”

Al-Shakarchi: At previous panel discussions, you’ve mentioned that we need leaders who have the courage to “go to the public and give them assurance.” Do you see any current leaders doing that?

Al-Omari: “In the context of Oman, I think that what Sultan Qaboos [Sultan of Oman] did was exactly the right thing to do. If you’re going to have relations with Israel, do it publicly. If you want to have relations with Israel, do it in a way that will trigger the kind of public discourse that has been triggered by the Omani move and let the public decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing.”

Al-Shakarchi: Could another country follow in Oman’s footsteps?

Al-Omari: “It’s very hard for me to answer that since no one knows what’s really happening behind the scenes. However, if there is one candidate, it would probably be Bahrain.”
 

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Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Irwin Levy Family Program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship, is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. He served as advisor to the negotiating team during the 1999–2001 permanent-status talks in addition to holding various other positions within the Palestinian Authority.

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