Jordan’s King Abdullah is reacting angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a US peace deal that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians.
Speaking to the armed forces, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?” Already facing economic discontent at home, Abdullah must navigate diplomatic moves by his US allies that are upturning a regional status-quo that has underpinned Jordan’s internal politics and foreign relations for decades.
After Israel’s creation in 1948, Jordan absorbed more Palestinians than any other country, with some estimates that they now account for more than half the population.
Any changes to the international consensus on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, long buttressed by US policy, therefore reverberate harder in Jordan than anywhere else.
US President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict is still a secret, though leaked details suggest it dumps the idea of a full Palestinian state in favor of limited self-rule in part of the Occupied Territories, which would undermine Palestinians’ right to return.
It envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, with Palestinians also having a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders, the leaks say.
Jordanian fears about what the plan portends for the region, for their Palestinian citizens, and for the politics of their own country, have been aggravated by Trump’s readiness to upturn US policy.
American officials deny contemplating making Jordan a Palestinian homeland, pushing it to take a role in governing parts of the West Bank or challenging the right of King Abdullah’s dynasty to custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
But, Trump’s radical approach to the issue, and recent statements by his ambassador to Israel, that it had a right to annex some of the West Bank, have done little to assuage Jordanian concerns.
Few subjects in Jordan are more politically charged than the role, presence and future there of Palestinians. The issue is so sensitive that the government publishes no data on how many of its 8 million citizens are also of Palestinian descent, though a recent US congressional report put it at more than half.
Despite the US denials, Jordanians fear that Trump is returning to an old Israeli theme: that Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go.
It could not have come at a worse time for the 57-year-old Abdullah, whose country is facing economic challenges that led to protests and a change of government last year.
While many Palestinians are integrated in Jordan, and many descendants of refugees have never set foot in their original homeland, some native Jordanians have never acknowledged that they will stay permanently.
They fear Trump’s plan could alter the demography and politics of a nation shaped by the presence of Palestinians, who hold full citizenship but are marginalized and seen as a political threat by some people of Jordanian descent.
But, Abdullah’s decision that Jordan should attend an economic conference that is part of the US plan showed that despite mounting alarm at home, Amman cannot ignore pressure from richer, more powerful allies in the West and the Gulf.
Maintaining unity between citizens of Jordanian and Palestinian descent has been critical to the ruling family’s role as a unifying force in a country where tribal and clan loyalties hold sway.
The king is already facing anger from the “Herak” opposition, drawn from Jordanians of native descent, who say Trump’s plans will tear apart a state patronage system that has cemented their own loyalty to the monarchy.
Retired army officers have held small weekly protests in opposition to a deal.
“No to eroding our national identity and dismantling the state,” said Saad Alaween, a prominent Herak dissident, referring to the deal.
Some warn the monarch not to accept a plan that could give their compatriots of Palestinian origin more political rights in an electoral system tilted in favor of native Jordanians.
Rumors that the plan could lead to Jordan taking in Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, or that it would merge with a rump of Palestinian territory in bits of the West Bank, have also led to alarm.
In a sign of his concerns, the king has even met lawmakers from the once outcast hardliner movement in an attempt, say officials, to win the backing of the largest opposition grouping with support in large cities and Palestinian camps.
Abdullah also inspired a shake-up in the intelligence establishment — long seen as a guardian of Jordan’s stability — to solidify the internal front and mitigate any fallout from the deal in the months to come, insiders say.
In the army — whose loyalty to the crown is deeply meshed with Jordanian national identity — there are also signs of concern.
“Jordan is a country that has sovereignty and history, and will say its word at the right moment,” said General Mahmoud al-Friehat, the army’s chief of staff.
~Reuters/Days of Palestine
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