Amid the hoopla surrounding the Abraham Accords, the fireworks accompanying the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the frustrating stalemate with the Palestinians and the darkening shadow of Iran, have we forgotten about Jordan? The small but strategic kingdom on Israel’s long eastern flank declared peace with the Jewish state 27 years ago. It has been a cold peace, to be sure. Jordanians, the majority of whom are also Palestinians, are not flocking to Tel Aviv beaches, and commerce between the two countries has been limited. But peace has endured. And Israel is the better for it.
Recently, however, relations between the two countries have begun to fray. This month, Jordan’s crown prince canceled a visit to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. That is significant because Jordan’s “special role” as guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem is a clear term in the peace treaty with Israel. Israel said the cancellation was over a disagreement about how many palace guards would be permitted to cross the border. But Jordan claims that Israel set unacceptable limits on the number of Palestinians who are allowed on the Temple Mount.
It didn’t end there. Jordan prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from using Jordanian airspace on his planned (but later aborted) flight to United Arab Emirates. The snub so infuriated Netanyahu that he reportedly ordered a halt to flights from Jordan to Israel. The possibility of escalation in these disputes must be avoided.
Israel and Jordan have accomplished much since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein signed the historic treaty in 1994. There have been significant mutual benefits, including cross-border businesses that employ thousands of Jordanians, the expansion of Israel’s sale of natural gas to the kingdom and collaboration on the allocation of scarce water resources, among others.
But Jordan is still smarting from a 2017 incident in which an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanians while responding to a terrorist attack at the Israeli Embassy in Amman. And tensions were further heightened during last year’s threats by Netanyahu to annex the West Bank. At the same time, Israel has been frustrated by Jordan’s refusal to publicly tout the gains it has achieved from close to three decades of peace.
There is also the issue of the growing American and Israeli tilt toward Saudi Arabia as the potential capstone of the Abraham Accords. That’s a problem because the Saudis make no secret of wanting to supplant the Hashemites, the Jordanian royal family, as the keepers of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places, just as the Saudis kicked the Hashemites out of Mecca after World War I, even though the Hashemites had ruled Mecca for some 1,000 years.
All of this is cause for concern. Perhaps the U.S. can help by including the kingdom in any future Israeli-Arab normalization deals. Or maybe Israel needs to figure out some way to acknowledge its historic peace partner. In all events, Jordan should not be taken for granted, and should be brought in from the cold.