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The United States should listen to Jordan on the Jerusalem decision

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President Trump’s December announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital produced an international backlash that isolated the United States and left his administration’s Middle East peace efforts dead in the water. As the foreign ministers from Arab governments meet this week in Cairo to discuss next steps, Jordan is a key country that the United States should watch closely if it wants to revive any hope for progress towards a lasting Middle East peace.

Some countries, like Turkey, have angrily protested Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there. Others, like Saudi Arabia, had signaled interest in advancing a peace deal, but have since backed away from visible engagement since Trump’s announcement.

{mosads}Palestinian leaders have signaled they are doubling down on a path of international recognition rather than negotiations, essentially where they have been for more than three years since the last peace efforts collapsed under then Secretary of State John Kerry.

For its part, Jordan has focused on a practical diplomatic pathway forward while working to voice concerns widely held across the region about Trump’s Jerusalem decision. With its close bilateral ties with the United States, there are a number of reasons for the United States to pay especially close attention to Jordan on Jerusalem.

First, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East, and its candid perspective has helped America devise policies aimed at stabilizing the region. For decades, Jordan has been a key ally and partner in the fight against terrorist networks far beyond Jordan’s borders.

Second, Jordan has historically been a pragmatic voice in the region. It has served as a model for inclusion and pluralism, accepting people from different religious backgrounds and hosting millions of refugees from neighboring countries like Syria and Iraq.

Third, Jordan has a special role in Jerusalem. The kingdom’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel defines clear responsibilities for Jordan as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, and Jordan considers these responsibilities crucial to fostering respect between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. That’s why when disputes in Jerusalem arose in recent years, Jordan has been particularly involved in developing appropriate policy responses.

Fourth, Jordan’s close ties with Palestinians give it an understanding of political dynamics among Palestinians that other countries lack. Many Jordanians, including King Abdullah’s wife Queen Rania, have Palestinian family ties. These issues matter to Jordanians — and therefore to Jordan’s internal stability — in way they no longer do quite so much elsewhere.

But the most important reason why Jordan’s voice should be heeded on Jerusalem is its actions since Trump’s announcement. While other nations blew off steam or sought to capitalize on resentment, Amman’s statements and actions were designed to be constructive and move the focus back to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jordan sought to keep the dialogue open and candid with the United States. The initial Jordanian government response came in a statement calling on the United States to serve as a “neutral intermediary to resolve the conflict and achieve peace on the basis of the two-state solution.” In their “very frank discussion” on Jerusalem last month, the king told Vice President Mike Pence that Washington needed to rebuild “trust and confidence” in its ability to serve as a neutral mediator after the announcement.

Over the past two months, Jordan has organized an intensive diplomatic push against the embassy move. In recent weeks King Abdullah met with leaders from across the region and the world, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saudi King Salman, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss fallout.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi has also been a driving force behind the Arab League’s response. At a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary General Aboul Gheit, Safadi announced Jordan would pursue international recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Carving out this pragmatic path exposes Jordan to considerable risk from the retrograde voices in the region. Iran and its proxies were emboldened by the Jerusalem decision. Iran’s military chief of staff said, “This measure will be defeated with the vigilance of the Muslim world while the Zionist regime will move closer to its annihilation.” Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on Arab leaders to not normalize ties with Israel, and for Palestinians to stage another intifada. Expanded Iranian influence in the region and aggression against Israel pose a serious security threat to Jordan.

Beyond security threats, the decision created domestic political turbulence and jeopardizes Jordan’s already sensitive ties with Israel. After the announcement, demonstrations took place across Amman and Palestinian refugee camps in the kingdom. Jordan’s parliament also moved unanimously to review various agreements with Israel and condemn any violations of the peace treaty.

But despite this turmoil, Jordan is likely to continue to seek a two-state solution through diplomacy, and it is likely to do so while maintaining close ties with the United States. Last week at the World Economic Forum, King Abdullah insisted that the United States is the only power that can broker a peace deal between the two parties.

In the case of Jerusalem, Jordan’s words and deeds are the most important metric of the decision’s long-term repercussions in the region. The Trump administration may have avoided widespread violence in response to the move, but that does not mean the decision is good for U.S. interests — or the interests of our allies.

Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and was a Fulbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, from 1994 to 1995.

Alia Awadallah is a research associate for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress.

Tags Donald Trump Israel Jerusalem John Kerry Jordan Middle East Mike Pence

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