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Israel-Palestine war: Anti-Israel rhetoric in Jordan intensifies as kingdom braces for chaos

Officials and analysts say strong words out of Amman reflect fears that protests in Jordan or fighting in West Bank could spill over borders with existential consequences
One of the daily rallies held in Amman in solidarity with Palestinians since the start of Israel's bombardment of Gaza last month (AFP)
One of the daily rallies held in Amman in solidarity with Palestinians since the start of Israel's bombardment of Gaza last month (AFP)
By Mohammad Ersan in Amman

It would be hard to miss the increasingly strong rhetoric voiced by Jordanian officials as Israel has continued to pummel Gaza.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh warned last week that the kingdom will interpret any attempts to displace Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank as “a declaration of war”.

Soon after, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, rejecting Israeli attempts to decide who will administer a post-war Gaza, described Hamas as an “idea that doesn’t die”.

“Whoever wants a different situation must meet the needs and rights of the Palestinian people and achieve comprehensive peace,” Safadi said.

“If the international community does not go in this direction and with a plan that achieves peace, a Palestinian state and the rights of its people, we will return to war every five or six years.”

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In a meeting with Jordanian officials, King Abdullah II rejected any scenario that would see Israel reoccupy parts of Gaza or establish buffer zones, stating that "it would worsen the crisis and is unacceptable, constituting an assault on Palestinian rights".

Some sources believe that an Israeli air strike near a Jordanian field hospital in Gaza on Wednesday which injured seven staffers was a sign that Jordan’s words have been heard loud and clear in Tel Aviv.

“Yes, [it was] a message…because of the strong and advanced Jordanian position,” Mohammad al-Momani, a member of the Jordanian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Middle East Eye. 

Momani said the attack was also “a blatant violation of international law and the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel”.

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Retired Major General Dhifaullah al-Daboubi, a military expert specialising in Israeli affairs, said Israel will have known that Jordan had three field hospitals - in Jenin, Nablus and Rafah - and their locations.

“This may be a message that Israel is not satisfied with this step,” he said of the kingdom’s establishment of the hospitals.

Containing chaos

Before the war, Jordan’s official position had always been that the "two-state solution" was the best way to end the conflict, that Israel should end its occupation and that a Palestinian state should be established along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The current sabre-rattling from Amman is directed, in part, at the kingdom’s vibrant pro-Palestinian protest movement in an attempt to maintain control, particularly as demonstrators push for the borders to be opened so that Jordanians can join the fight.

'What is happening in Jordan is a popular and official reassessment of relations with the occupation because Jordan's future is at risk'

- Mamdouh Abbadi, former deputy PM

Last week, Jordanian security forces arrested 25 men who were planning to hold a sit-in over Israel's continuing bombardment of Gaza at a mosque near Jordan's border with Palestine.

Since the start of the war, there have been daily protests in Amman demanding the government cancel its 1994 peace treaty with Israel as well as gas deals in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

But Jordan’s strong words, say insiders and analysts, are also a reflection of a growing fear that order in the neighbouring West Bank is falling apart, and there is a risk that chaos could spill across the border - or worse.

Former deputy prime minister, Mamdouh Abbadi, told MEE that he worries that Israel, under its current leadership, could be planning to invade Jordan, ending the 29-year-old peace treaty between the two countries.

Abbadi said he thought officials in Amman had been too moderate in their approach so far and called for Jordan to cut ties with Israel and start mandatory conscription.

“What is happening in Jordan is a popular and official reassessment of relations with the occupation because Jordan's future is at risk due to Zionist influence,” Abbadi said.

"The Jordanian state should not only cut ties with Israel but also arm the people and build strategic relationships with countries opposing the occupation, such as Syria, Iran, Russia, and China, as the West is conspiring with the Israeli occupation to create a balance."

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Saleh al-Armouti, head of the Reform Bloc, an Islamist opposition party which holds 10 seats in the 130-seat House of Representatives, told MEE that the strong response from Jordan is for “the angry domestic street”.

But it also serves Jordan, which has custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in the West Bank, to maintain its own national security, he said.

“Especially as Palestinian resistance, through Khaled Meshaal and Hamas officials, declared their support for Hashemite custodianship over the holy sites and against settlement in Jordan and displacement,” Al-Armouti said.

"When Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi says Hamas is an idea that doesn't end, and officials declare that the displacement of Palestinians is a declaration of war on Jordan, this is an advanced position.

"Our stance goes beyond sending aid to Gaza. We are the only ones who sent this assistance in unfavourable circumstances."

Mohammed Abu Rumman, former minister of youth and culture, and now director of the Institute for Political and Social Studies, said one of the major fears guiding Jordan’s response is the potential for the conflict to spread to the West Bank and draw the kingdom into further escalations.

"Possible scenarios include the collapse of the Palestinian National Authority and the occurrence of chaos and wider unrest that could lead to a new transfer to Jordan,” Abu Rumman told MEE.

Reviewing agreements

Beyond the strong words, there are tangible actions the government is now taking, including a review by the parliamentary legal committee of all agreements signed with Israel.

The review, called by House Speaker Ahmed Safadi, will present recommendations to the government of actions to be taken if Israel continues its assault on Gaza.

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This is not the first time Jordan has reviewed its agreements with Israel.

In 2017, the legal committee conducted the same review both in response to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and to the Deal of the Century. But the committee's decisions never saw the light of day.

Jordan has signed around 15 trade and tourism agreements with Israel since the signing of the peace treaty in 1994.

The most prominent of these agreements is the gas import agreement signed in 2016, which stipulated that Israel supply Jordan with approximately 45 billion cubic metres of gas over 15 years in exchange for $10bn paid by the kingdom over the same period.

The Reform Bloc has also submitted a draft law calling for the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty to be cancelled.

According to al-Armouti, the bloc’s head, if the draft proposal is approved by parliament, the government will be forced to submit a law proposing the cancellation of the agreement in the same session or the following one.

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