President Trump released his “deal of the century” plan for Middle East peace, called Peace to Prosperity, on Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Noticeably absent from the unveiling ceremony was any representative from the Palestinian Authority or the Kingdom of Jordan.
The absence of any Jordanian officials is telling for how the proposal is being received in the Kingdom. The long-awaited 181-page plan, spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, is unapologetically pro-Israeli and differs sharply from past peace initiatives offered by previous administrations of both political parties. Its centerpiece revolves around economic incentives of $50 billion worth of international investment without taking into account how it will hurt Palestinian and Jordanian interests.
A major flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians is the status of Jerusalem. This point of contention dates back to the conflict in 1948 after the state of Israel was created. Jordan’s Hashemite Monarchy has always been most concerned with the final status of Jerusalem. As a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, King Abdullah II plays a unique historical role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Jordan’s special role as a guarantor over these important historical and religious sites was codified in the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement of 1994, which ended decades of open hostilities.
Trump’s proposal does not explicitly define Jordan’s status and that could have long term implications for the Kingdom going forward. “Any change of the Jordanian custodianship of the holy sites would affect Jordan’s stability and is bound to have significant negative effects on the Jordan-Israel peace treaty,” Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told Fox News.
According to the Peace to Prosperity proposal, Jerusalem would remain the “undivided capital” of Israel while the Palestinians would claim some sections on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas categorically rejected the offer, calling it a conspiracy and asserting that the rights of the Palestinian people were not for sale. Protests in response to the announced peace proposal broke out across the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the risk of a contagion effect inside Jordan is a possibility.
The administration’s blueprint also effectively endorsed the Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, which Israel seized in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the settlements upends decades of stated U.S. policy against Israeli settlement expansion across Democratic and Republican administrations. A newly created State of Palestine would be non-contiguous and have hundreds of thousands of these settlements spread across the proposed country. Settlement expansion in the West Bank has always been extremely unpopular to Jordan’s nationalist Palestinian refugee population and has further frustrated their desires of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.
Jordan’s longtime position is that any negotiation leading to a Palestinian state must be negotiated by both parties and be based on the 1967 borders. Just prior to the rollout of the plan, King Abdullah came out and opposed the elements of the plan at Jordan’s expense. However, Jordan’s concerns go deeper than its public statements would suggest.
“Jordan wants a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Many Jordanians saw the Trump administration’s effort as a missed opportunity because it so completely embraced Netanyahu’s position that there was no prospect that it would bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table,” Tom Warrick, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Fox News.
Amman clearly has been concerned with the viability of the long-dormant “two-state solution” given the favorability toward Israel seen in the deal, and according to al-Omari, the collapse of the two-state solution could affect Jordan in two ways. “The instability that would ensue in the West Bank could spill over into Jordan. More worryingly, such a collapse would impact the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, which is of strategic importance for Jordan and Israel,” al-Omari told Fox News.
Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood might also capitalize on the public outcry against the proposal and apply greater pressure on the monarchy. “The idea of a two-state solution underpins Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, which is publicly unpopular. A collapse of the two-state solution would create public pressure to cancel the treaty,” al-Omari added. If the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty were to be terminated, it could seriously jeopardize the tight security relationship between Israel and Jordan that has been so crucial to Middle East peace.
Jordan’s security establishment has been concerned about the peace proposal’s implications for relations between the two countries. Security officials have worried that if Israel were to annex the Jordan Valley, as some analysts have speculated, it could pose the most serious risk to the 1994 peace treaty.
Warrick, however, cautioned that although relations between Israel and Jordan have plummeted, it did not mean the agreement is necessarily at risk. “There’s no reason to think that the Trump proposal itself will strain the 1994 peace treaty. Relations are already strained, but a war between Israel and Jordan is unthinkable today,” Warrick told Fox News.
The response from the Gulf and Arab states has been mixed, at best.
Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) all sent representatives to the ceremony, but that had more to do with pleasing the United States and reinforcing tight relations with Washington than an enthusiastic endorsement of the plan, analysts said. Saudi Arabia and Egypt also showed signs of willingness; however, these states and many others have been seen as more concerned with jihadist terrorism and an assertive Iran than the rights of the Palestinian people. On this issue, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have shared common security interests with Israel.
Many analysts also have questioned the timing of the announcement and said political calculations were at play on both sides.
Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges the day the peace proposal was announced. He’s touting the deal as a massive victory on the campaign trail and has been portraying himself as a peacemaker in the conflict in the hopes that it would stave off a defeat in another round of parliamentary elections in March. Netanyahu clearly has hoped that the generous terms offered to Israel would stir up his nationalist base, a crucial voting bloc integral to winning.
Trump, who became only the third president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, has been on trial in the Senate and is likely to face a tight reelection bid in November. The president’s pro-Israel posture has been seen as yet another move to sure up his evangelical base for the upcoming election.
“The announcement’s chosen timing, specific staging, limited participants and, indeed, its substance make clear that it has less to do with a good faith effort to reach peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and more to do with the immediate legal and electoral challenges that confront both leaders,” said William Wechsler, a director of the Rafik Hariri Center at the Atlantic Council.
Over the long term, Trump’s proposition is likely to strengthen the perception for the Palestinians that the United States has not been a neutral arbiter of the conflict, and never intended to be. It’s likely Palestinian leaders will dig their heels in further and refuse to accept further negotiations in the near or long term, so long as the current political circumstances remain.
Whatever comes of the agreement, whether it is agreed upon or not — and most signs indicate it will not be accepted — Jordan has remained in a precarious position on multiple fronts. It’s been seen as essential that Jordan maintains close security cooperation with Israel to ensure the survival of the monarchy. Amman also would need to be careful not to upset the United States and Trump, as Jordan has been deeply dependent on U.S. foreign and military aid. If Jordan were to respond to the agreement unfavorably and take measures hostile to Israel, the Jordanians may be on the receiving end of Trump’s ire and have security aid withheld, something Trump has done with other countries in the past. Jordan clearly must balance these pragmatic security and diplomatic considerations with the real sense of injustice felt among its restive Palestinian population.
“In the coming days, we should expect the Palestinian Authority to be working very hard to get the Arab League states, including Jordan, to back the Palestinian position,” al-Omari said.