|The Settlement Regulation Law passed on Monday night leaves Jordan in the lurch, poses a fresh challenge to the stability of the troubled kingdom and puts more pressure on the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty.
With the majority of its population of Palestinian origin and with the kingdom’s legitimacy bound up with its role – recognized by Israel – as protector of the holy sites in Jerusalem, Jordan has a greater stake than any other country in a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Passage of the law is clear proof in Jordanian eyes that Israel is not interested in such a solution.
“The last fifty years we had the premise there is a concept of land for peace,” said Daoud Kuttab, a columnist for The Jordan Times. “Clearly now there is no concept of land for peace.”
“Now the government of Israel, the majority of the Knesset voted denying land for peace. What does Israel want to do with the Palestinians? Are they human beings? Do they deserve equal rights? Those are the questions Israelis have to answer,” Kuttab wrote.
Without even the illusion of a possible two-state solution remaining, King Abdullah becomes more vulnerable to criticism and questioning of, “Why do we have a peace treaty with a government that oppresses Palestinians?” Resistance to normalization of relations with Israel, already very strong, can only intensify.
Moreover, from the Jordanian regime’s point of view, the possibility that the absence of a peace horizon and further steps towards annexation of the West Bank will lead sooner or later to heightened violence there is very threatening since it could also raise the temperature on the East Bank, where the regime is already in a fragile situation due to civil wars swirling around Jordan in Iraq and Syria, the challenge of absorbing Syrian refugees, the threat of ISIS terrorism and a stagnant economy with soaring youth unemployment.
If Israel is intent on denying the Palestinians statehood and basic rights, including property rights, than Jordanian leaders can only share Kuttab’s question: What does Israel want to do with the Palestinians? The nightmare scenario is that Israel will drive many of them out of the West Bank to the East Bank if it can get away with it, perhaps during a war.
This becomes less inconceivable in Jordanian eyes with the growing resonance of far-right opinions in Israel as demonstrated by the passage of the law itself. For if Palestinians have no property rights, why should they have residence rights? Indeed, in a recent opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, Gilad Sharon threatened Jordan with a mass transfer of West Bank Palestinians that would spell the end of the Hashemite monarchy.
Despite its concerns, Jordan in the immediate term will probably not go beyond sharp verbal denunciations of the law because to do more is risky until the position of the Trump administration clarifies. It clearly cannot afford to alienate Washington.
Amman also wants to see if it can line up wider Arab backing for taking a tough stance vis-à-vis Israel.
The first Jordanian condemnation came yesterday and it was decidedly sharp. In a statement carried by the official Petra news agency, Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammed Momani said that Israeli “provocative acts would destroy any hope for the two state solution and peace in the region, fuel anger of Muslims and drag the region to more violence and extremism.” It added that the recent passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 indicates growing international isolation of Israel due to its “illegal and provocative” settlement activities.
In the short term, Jordan will be pinning its hopes on the High Court of Justice to strike down the Settlements Law, but even that will not be enough to assuage its worries over where the Israeli government is headed in its policies towards the Palestinians, especially if it feels emboldened by the ascendance of the Trump administration.
With Egypt, the situation is dramatically different and there is less concern of major fallout to bilateral relations from the law. In the view of Mira Tzoreff, a specialist on Egypt at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is determined to maintain and develop his relations with Israel, from which he receives vital security and intelligence assistance for his battle against ISIS insurgents in Sinai.
“He has to say something as the most important leader in the Middle East to show solidarity with the Palestinians but it will be soft and not put relations with Israel in a crisis,” Tzoreff said.
“Israel is the only state that understands Sisi and helps him [fight the insurgency] although he cries for help from the US and EU. Sisi knows he can count on Israel and he won’t endanger the relations. The Palestinian cause is not a good enough reason for him to endanger these relations,” she added.