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Netanyahu’s reckless actions take ties with Jordan to the brink

Mar 17,2021 - Last updated at Mar 17,2021

Last week’s showdown between Jordan and Israel over the obstruction of a previously agreed on visit by HRH Crown Prince Hussein to Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to mark a Muslim holy occasion and Amman’s retaliation by scuttling a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to the UAE has taken ties between the two countries to the brink.

Israel claimed that the cancellation of Crown Prince Hussein’s visit was due to disagreements over security issues related to protecting the heir to the Jordanian Throne. But Jordan immediately responded, through Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi, by pointing the finger at Israel for violating arrival protocols at Al Haram Al Sharif and trying to impose complications to hinder Jerusalemites’ entry to the mosque. In retaliation, the Jordanian authorities refused to give clearance to Netanyahu to come to Amman and board a private jet to take him on a historic visit to Abu Dhabi. When the clearance was finally given it was too late and Netanyahu had to cancel his trip.

Tensions between Amman and Tel Aviv, particularly over Al Haram Al Sharif, had been brewing for years. But the latest incidents represent a new low in ties between the two countries that share a 25-year-old peace treaty. Netanyahu had reneged on agreements and understandings with His Majesty King Abdullah many times that the Jordanian monarch has refused to meet or receive calls from the Israeli premier for years.

But this time the level of Jordanian anger has reached a new height. The visit would have been the first by a Jordanian royal to East Jerusalem since the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994. Jordan wanted to underline its right, under the peace treaty, to have full access as custodian to Muslim holy places in East Jerusalem — and this exactly why Netanyahu, on the eve of a fourth Knesset election where his political future is at stake, wanted to abort the visit. It had nothing to do with disagreements over security. It was a political stunt aimed at appeasing far right Jewish voters.

The Jordanian reaction was equally measured. If Netanyahu wanted to take a victory lap by flying to the UAE to mark the exchange of diplomatic ties between the two countries at the expense of Amman then he would be strongly rebuffed. Jordan was angry, as Safadi put it, when Netanyahu reneged on an agreement and disrupted a religious visit and created conditions that made the visit impossible and then expected to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan.

The Jordanian reaction was meant to send a clear message to Netanyahu and his camp of extremist followers: Jordan’s custodianship of Al Haram Al Sharif is a red line and will not be challenged.  The Israeli stunt not only violates the 1994 peace treaty but also a 2014 agreement brokered by then US Secretary of State John Kerry between Jordan and Israel to “reaffirm commitment to the status quo at Al Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount compound”. That agreement recognises again Jordan’s custodianship of the compound.

That custodianship is also recognised by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and reaffirmed time and again by the Arab League, Muslim countries and the international community. But Israel, especially under Netanyahu, had violated such agreements and understandings so many times in the past decade. It allowed Jewish extremists, including Israeli officials, to enter the compound and perform prayers. Some of the groups allowed to enter include ones that vow to destroy Al Aqsa Mosque in order to build a Jewish temple in its place. Over the past decade there have been many provocations by the Netanyahu government relating to Al Haram Al Sharif. Every time that happened Jordan would protest.

Over the years, Netanyahu had ignored these protests and in the words of his political rivals and Israel’s top security officials he has severely damaged ties with Jordan, which they consider a strategic partner. A number of incidents that include the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli diplomat at the Israeli embassy in Amman in 2017 had deepened King Abdullah’s distrust of Netanyahu who had promised him to put the diplomat on trial in Israel.

I was told by a trusted source that the US administration had backed Crown Prince Hussein’s visit to Jerusalem. The outcome of this crisis will reflect not only on Jordanian-Israeli ties but on the position of the White House over the issue when King Abdullah visits Washington in the near future.

The reneging by Netanyahu on agreements with a peace partner for more than 25 years should resonate with Israel’s newly found friends in the region. Netanyahu is an opportunist who looks only for his own interests and not even those of Israel and its partners in the region. He cannot be trusted and while his political fate remains unknown his departure from the stage would be a positive thing for the region as a whole.  

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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