Middle East Monitor / February 11, 2020
With the announcement of the “deal of the century”, Jordanian circles spoke about reversing the the decision to disengage from the West Bank, in order to maintain Jordanian influence in it, which raised the PA’s concern for fear of annexing the West Bank to Jordan. Israel allowed the Palestinians living in Israel to visit Saudi Arabia with their passport and without a temporary Jordanian passport, which paves the way to undermine Jordan’s guardianship of the sanctities in Jerusalem.
The Saudi newspaper Independent Arabia revealed on 24 January, Jordan’s intention to cancel the decision to disengage from the West Bank, which was made by the late Jordanian King Hussein in 1988. This ended the West Bank’s administrative and legal ties with Jordan.
The new Jordanian approach means the return of Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Jerusalem, to maintain Jordanian influence in them, and prevent Israel from annexing some of their lands in accordance with the “deal of the century” announced by US President Donald Trump on 28 January.
Jordanian press and political circles close to the kingdom’s decision-making circles have said that the deal of the century carries the danger of Jordan’s involvement in a functional role among Palestinians in the West Bank. This is due to the absence of a complete Palestinian state, and the transformation of the Palestinian project from a state project to merely human blocs, in need of a host state.
Perhaps what gives this news credibility is the fact that the Jordanian House of Representatives and parliament, despite the passage of more than 30 years since the decision, still have not ratified the decision of Jordan’s disengagement from the West Bank. There are many Palestinians in the West Bank who hold Jordanian citizenship, and they have investments and property in it.
Until this moment, Jordan has rejected any future role in the Palestinian arena, but if the Palestinians ask, they will find ears listening in Amman, especially if the deal does not result in a Palestinian state, even though the Jordanians are against any new wave of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom.
Moreover, Jordan is aware of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to obtain a religious role in Jerusalem, but it is insisting on its role in it, and Jordan will not accept the deal if it does not establish its right to Jerusalem.
Israeli Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri’s decision to allowed the holders of the Israeli passport to visit Saudi Arabia directly without the need for a temporary Jordanian passport, gives Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1948 an easier way to perform Hajj and Umrah.
The Israeli decision is, however, bad news for Jordan, firstly because it ends the kingdom’s guardianship over the Palestinians of Israel, secondly by undermining its management of Jerusalem’s sanctities, the thirdly by inflicting economic losses on Jordan by diverting the travel of Palestinians in Israel from Ben Gurion to Riyadh directly.
At the same time, there are some Palestinians who believe that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will eventually accept the deal, as neither of them can say no to America, and they are currently negotiating with it to improve their gains.
In an interview with France24 on 13 January, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said the kingdom would view the deal as an attempt to bring together Palestinians and Israelis. This raised concerns within the PA of Jordan giving in to American pressures and hinting at annexing the West Bank, which makes it difficult to establish a Palestinian state.
Jordan understands that any risks surrounding the Palestinians will negatively affect its situation. Therefore, Amman supports the demands of establishing an independent Palestinian state. At the same time, the Palestinians affirm the Hashemite guardianship over the sanctities in Jerusalem, and the PA is keen to describe everything that is said about a Jordanian role in the West Bank as Israeli speculation aiming to drive a wedge between the Palestinians and the Jordanians.
After the announcement of the deal of the century, the Palestinian discussion focuses on expanding Jordanian influence in the West Bank, on the one hand, and Jordan’s fear that its guardianship over Jerusalem’s sanctities will decline in favour of Saudi Arabia on the other. Meanwhile, there has been no talk about the future of Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, despite the increased Israeli talk in recent months about restoring Egypt’s administration over Gaza. This would restore the West Bank and Gaza to what it was before the 1967 war, when they were occupied by the Israeli forces.
Hamas believes that the Palestinian territories are one unit. It also believes its relationship with Jordan and Egypt is a brotherly relationship, not one of guardianship over one another.
It is clear that Jordan has publicly rejected the deal, but at the same time suffers from economic crises and needs American assistance.
Moreover, Jordan is troubled by Saudi Arabia’s behaviour in 4 regards: normalisation with Israel, negation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, support for the deal of the century, and its rivalry over Jerusalem, Meanwhile, expanding the Jordanian role in the West Bank is a test balloon launched by people close to the Royal Jordanian Palace. This is despite the fact that it is an American-Israeli plot and an expression of the alternative homeland, and the obliteration of Palestinian geography.
The Palestinians may see an increase in the Jordanian role amongst them after the announcement of the deal of the century as an alternative after they lost the hope of establishing their state and after losing their confidence in the PA as a result of its political failures. They are aspiring for Jordan to be their door to the world, but this Palestinian approach may be faced with rejection from the PA, which does not want to melt into Jordan on one hand and Jordan’s lack of enthusiasm to increase the Palestinian population within its borders on the other hand.
It is no longer a secret that Washington is trying, through the deal of the century, to enhance Saudi Arabia’s influence in Jerusalem, which is something that Palestinians and Jordanians are meeting with great anxiety. In light of the close relations between Mohammad Bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi influence in Jerusalem does not appear to be in the interest of Jerusalem or its people.
Palestinians and Jordanians agree to reject any Saudi influence over the sanctities of Jerusalem as part of the stipulations of the deal of the century, because the exclusive supervision of these sanctities is seen by the Jordanian royal family as one of the justifications and legitimacy of its rule.
Thus, regional competition to increase influence in the Holy City takes on multiple dimensions, including religious and political aspects. It is closely related to the state of regional polarisation taking place in the region amongst opposing states and axes, which culminated in the clarity of Jerusalem’s position in the American deal of the century once it was announced.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic