Jordan prepares for annexation fallout with Israel

Officials say Amman is abandoning hope of stopping Israel from annexing parts of the occupied West Bank

A protester holds a poster of Jordan's King Abdullah as he takes part in a human chain during a sit-in against the annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel, in Amman, Jordan, June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
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After weeks of diplomatic pressure and dire warnings, Jordan is preparing for the consequences of West Bank annexation and a wider falling out with one-time peace partner Israel.

After months of lobbying US, European and Jewish groups, sources say Jordan is now abandoning hope of stopping the Israeli annexation of occupied West Bank land and instead shifting to gradually freezing relations with Israel and preparing for the next stage in their strained relationship.

Israel reportedly sent messages to Jordan saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was walking back his plan to include the Jordan Valley in his annexation bid. Annexing the area would physically cut off Jordan from the West Bank, and cross a red line Amman has said would upend their 26-year-old peace treaty.

But the sources say Jordan responded that even should Israel restrict its annexation to a single West Bank settlement bloc, such a move would be seen as killing the two-state solution, setting a precedent for further annexation and leaving Jordan solely responsible for stateless Palestinians.

Jordan insists that any annexation of West Bank territory breaks the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty.

“With any type of annexation, Israel will be committing a flagrant violation of the peace treaty and in actuality is threatening Jordan,” says Jawad Anani, former Royal Court chief and minister, who negotiated the peace treaty for Jordan.

According to sources, the Royal Palace's planned response to any annexation aims to "let Israel be the one to break the peace treaty" in the eyes of the world.

Jordan will gradually impose diplomatic and economic costs on Israel for breaking the treaty, while itself retaining both the peace treaty and broad international backing.

Should annexation take place, Jordan is preparing to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv and potentially expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman.

Also on the chopping block is the $15-billion (Dh55.09bn) natural gas deal between Jordan and Israeli-American consortium Noble Energy, which because of a plunge in oil and gas prices and the rise of new alternatives such as Iraqi oil, has become a liability for the Jordanian government. The deal was forced through in 2016 amid protests and without the required approval of the Jordanian parliament.

With MPs mounting a second attempt to challenge the agreement and a growing desire to abandon the deal to send a message to Tel Aviv, there is no longer the political will nor economic incentives in Amman for the deal to survive.

Jordan is also threatening to downgrade security co-operation, which Israel relies heavily on and Amman knows is an acute pressure point for Tel Aviv.

“Jordan’s strategic and security interests are the establishment of a Palestinian state and annexation goes directly against that,” says Mohammad Al Momani, former minister of media and an international affairs expert.

Sources say further retaliatory steps include a freeze in co-operation within the West Bank and Jerusalem, where Jordan acts as a custodian of Muslim and Christian sites, a refusal to act as a go-between for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and even urging the Palestinian leadership not to co-operate with Israel.

"Jordan carries large burdens in providing security, diffusing tensions, being a mediator and providing services in Jerusalem and the West Bank," said a source.

“If Israel wants to legitimise an apartheid state, it is time for them to feel the burdens Jordan has been carrying for them.”

Even without a final decision, officials and observers agree the annexation drama itself has already pushed ties between Jordan and Israel to an all-time low since their official end of hostilities in 1994.

King Abdullah gave a warning in May that West Bank annexation would put the two nations on course for a “massive conflict”.

The Royal Palace has refused to return several calls by Mr Netanyahu, sources confirmed.

In recent weeks, Jordan has also soured on co-prime minister Benny Gantz, who Amman had initially hoped would be a “voice of reason” and a “partner” within the Israeli government.

Now, Jordan believes that the White House sees the largely-passive Mr Gantz as giving a veneer of legitimacy to Mr Netanyahu's annexation bid. Amid this frustration, the palace rebuffed several requests by Mr Gantz to meet senior officials and the king himself in Amman.

Annexation is not only angering the palace, but it is a particularly pressing issue among the Jordanian people themselves.

In a public opinion survey conducted by the University of Jordan's Centre of Strategic Studies in mid-June, 33 per cent of Jordanians named Israel and annexation as "the greatest external threat" facing Jordan, the top reported answer.

In comparison, Covid-19 – the second-biggest perceived threat – was named by 5 per cent of Jordanians.

Jordan is also eyeing the fallout from annexation as an opportunity to recalibrate its relationship with Israel and pressure Tel Aviv to renegotiate articles of the peace treaty and co-operation.

It has long been disappointed in several treaty articles that remain unfulfilled, particularly regarding trade. Jordan still struggles to enter Palestinian markets because of tough Israeli restrictions and protectionist policies.

The kingdom's annual exports to the West Bank hover between $300 million (Dh3.1bn) and $400m in largely agricultural goods, compared to Israel’s $4bn exports to the West Bank.

Other frustrations include Israel's reversal over a pledge to share the King Hussein airport in Aqaba, and the moribund Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance project to boost desalination and save the Dead Sea.

Should Mr Netanyahu or a future Israeli government wish to return to the partnership of the peace-treaty era, sources say Jordan will demand a revision to all these areas as a precondition.