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Abbas’ diplomatic offensive

Jan 13,2014 - Last updated at Jan 13,2014

Long-time observers of Palestinian politics suspect that President Mahmoud Abbas may have already opened a back channel with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a peace deal.

While sources close to Abbas rule out such “rumours”, Abbas’ record of secret wheeling and dealing with Israelis is impressive. Indeed, it was the secret back channel he opened with Israelis that led to the conclusion of the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Jordanians, therefore, find it hard to trust Abbas. The running argument in Amman is that he will not hesitate to sign an agreement even if it jeopardises Jordan’s interests in the final status issues.

In fact, Abbas’ calculations are straightforward: Jordanians have no option but to support whatever deal he may sign with Israel. Therefore, he is unlikely to take into account Jordan’s interest while negotiating with the Israelis.

To be sure, the most recent public debate in Jordan has been much about whether Abbas would go it alone. Explicit in statements made by some former senior officials is that Amman must be watchful. Even the prime minister told people close to him that Secretary of State John Kerry might put pressure on Jordan in months to come. Worse, Kerry’s ideas that have been leaked fall short of what a good deal should look like.

Thus far, it is hard to tell whether Jordanians speak in one voice. The national component of the bureaucracy and East Bankers make the case that Abbas is untrustworthy and should not be supported. But, on the other hand, His Majesty King Abdullah received Abbas last week and said that he and Abbas shared the same position. It remains to be seen what that position is.

Undoubtedly, the Jordanian reactions bothered the Palestinian leaders. Abbas never imagined that Jordanians would paint him as a sellout. Therefore, he seeks to counter what appears to be a Jordanian campaign against him so that he could buy himself some time to explore a possible deal with Israel.

Abbas seems to think that his problem is not with the King or those who run Jordan’s foreign policy. For this reason, he paid a visit to the King to “coordinate” their position.

He thinks he has an image problem among the wider public, particularly the security apparatus.

In his bid to make an impact on the public debate in Jordan, he sent a delegation to meet former prime minister Marouf Bakhit and Senate President Abdur-Ra’uf S. Rawabdeh. Bakhit was the first to send the message that Jordan no longer trusts Abbas. Hence, Abbas wanted to reassure both Bakhit and Rawabdeh that he would do nothing to harm Jordanian interests.

That said, events which unfolded over the last few weeks demonstrate that Abbas would not secure a fair deal. Even with the relentless efforts made by Kerry, Netanyahu is not budging, insisting on continuing settlement activity and on incorporating the Jordan Valley into Israel.

Moreover, Netanyahu refuses to accept any framework agreement that refers to Jerusalem.

Now, with the insistence of the Israeli side to obtain the Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of the state, one wonder if there is anything Abbas can do.

In brief, it is the imbalance of power and Abbas’ futile attempt to reach a deal with the Israelis that scare Jordanians. It does not matter how much diplomacy is employed by Abbas in Jordan. Jordanians have every good reason not to trust him.

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