Hard choice for Jordan

Hard choice for Jordan

Baku, Azerbaijan, April 24

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

Despite a strong pressure Jordan faces due to à la Trump way for the solution of the Palestine-Israeli issue, the country continues to defend its traditional political stance, which coincides with the policy upheld by the majority of the world countries.

Jordan's position remains unchanged, as Amman rejects any peace plan unless it is based on the relevant UN resolutions stipulating that two states are established within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestine, and that return of Palestinian refugees is ensured.

Compared to other Arab leaders, King Abdullah II of Jordan is experiencing perhaps the greatest pressure, as Jordan for many reasons (historical, political and ethno-demographic) takes a central place in this long-lasting conflict.

According to the latest media leaks, Trump's peace plan carries a number of political risks for the future of the Hashemite monarchy. Moreover, Jordan’s economy, as is well-known, strongly depends on the financial aid from both the US and the Gulf Arab monarchies, whereas this aid can be made conditional on Amman’s fulfillment of political terms of the peace plan for resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

There are both political and economic risks that can lead to distress in Jordanian society and put under question the legitimacy of the ruling elite. The core issue is to understand, which of the risks are more dangerous for the country’s leadership.

The bloody events of "Black September" of 1970 clearly demonstrated to the Hashemite monarchy the danger of "palestinization" for Jordan. Since then, the granting of Jordanian nationality to Palestinian refugees has been suspended, and so far the Jordanian Palestinians, many of whom openly support the Hamas ideology, are perceived by the country’s authorities as potentially disloyal residents.

Today, according to various sources, Jordanians of Palestinian origin, i.e., refugees since 1948 and their descendants who have numerous relatives in the West Bank, represent from 55 to 70 percent of the country’s population.

The Hashemite elite and native Bedouin tribes fear that any new resettlement of Palestinians from the West bank, or any form of confederation with the Palestinian Autonomy will lead to irreversible changes in the country’s demographic composition, where indigenous Jordanians may find themselves to be in significant minority. This, accordingly, will pose a direct threat for the ruling dynasty and the very existence of the Kingdom in its present form.

Another sensitive point for Amman is the status of Jerusalem and its holy sites. No wonder King Abdullah does not get tired to emphasize that it is the “red line” for him. If Jordan's status as a guardian of the holy sites is somehow altered, it would undermine legitimacy of the Royal House in the eyes of the Arab world.

Along with political challenges, people’s discontent with the Kingdom’s economic situation has been one of the key concerns for the Jordanian leadership. Mass protests in 2018 stirred up by a draft tax bill and grown utility and fuel prices are still fresh in everyone’s memory.

The country’s public debt, which accounted for about $20 billion in 2010, has doubled by 2019 making nearly 100 percent of GDP. Persistent unemployment that reached 18.7 percent in early 2019 and heavy weight of the Syrian refugee inflow (thank you, Mr. Assad) are among other formidable challenges facing the Jordanian economy.

According to the latest report of the World Economic Forum, almost half of those who form the labor force in the country remain unemployed in Jordan.

Another issue of concern is the growing earnings-related polarization of Jordanian society. Some 15.7 percent of the population (1.1 million people) live in extreme poverty, according to the latest survey conducted by the government, says a report from the Middle East Monitor.

A number of factors including the US decision that it will no longer fund The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Gulf countries’ refraining from allocating financial aid, which they previously promised to provide to Jordan, and the decrease in remittances from the Gulf economies have led to shrinkage of external financial support aid and potentially explosive situation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Meanwhile, Amman is seeking support for its position not only among Arab countries including Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, but also among the superpowers. Recently, Jordanian foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi discussed the US peace plan with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

“We discussed with my Russian colleague how the Americans and other international players should not act in order not to undermine the well-known international legal framework,” al-Safadi said.

Jordan is also looking for alternative (to US and the Gulf States) financial sources to maintain an unsteady economic situation by holding consultations with the World Bank with the intention to obtain a $1 billion loan as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to reduce its high debt burden.

At a meeting with the EU ambassadors to Jordan in early April 2019, Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said that the economic difficulties facing the country can be overcome only with the support of "real partners such as the EU". The parties discussed opportunities to support Jordan's economy within the London Initiative.

It should be noted, though, that Jordan can not afford to lose the United States, as an ally providing indispensable financial and military support. At the same time, the country seems to be not ready for the possible changes announced recently by the media and allegedly provided for by the Trump’s peace plan.

King Abdullah will have to make perhaps the most difficult and truly historic choice, finding a way out of the mess of contradictory circumstances. The difficulty of choice is aggravated by the close interdependence of the political and economic risks facing the country.

It is almost clear, however, that his position can, or even will, have a crucial impact on the entire Middle East region.

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