King Abdullah reasserts Jordanian position on Jerusalem

No concessions will be made, Jordanian monarch tells citizens amid rumours of US pressure

King Abdullah of Jordan (R) arrives for a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the US Capitol  in Washington, DC on March 12, 2019.  / AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
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Amid rumours of forced concessions in a US plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and alleged pressure from Washington, Jordan’s King Abdullah has pledged to his people he will not budge on Jerusalem.

Less than a week after returning from a trip to Washington, Jordan’s king struck a defiant tone in a speech to both reassure Jordanians and warn the US that he and Jordan would not waver on Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood.

“To me, Jerusalem is a red line and all my people are with me,” King Abdullah said in an address to residents of Zarqa, north of Amman, late on Wednesday. “My position on Jerusalem is unwavering.”

“No one can pressure Jordan on this matter, and the answer will be no. All Jordanians stand with me on Jerusalem,” the king said, according to a transcript released by the Hashemite Royal Court. “At the end of the day, Arabs and Muslims will stand with us as well.”

King Abdullah also confronted rumours of attempts to withdraw the right of return of Palestinians in Jordan, join the West Bank to the kingdom in a confederation, or declare Jordan the homeland for Palestinians – the various scenarios under the so-called “alternative homeland” project rumoured to be part of the US solution drawn up by White House adviser Jared Kushner and President Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

“To anyone who speaks about an alternative homeland, the answer is no,” the king said.

Although directed to Jordanians, observers say the monarch’s speech also contained a message to the Trump administration: too much pressure on Jordan would be “risky” for its stability, and that the kingdom was not willing to compromise on Jerusalem or Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Mr Trump angered Palestinians and US allies in the Middle East by deciding to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital even though Palestinians seek the historic eastern half of the city as the capital of their future state.

“The king made it clear that yes, there is pressure from one or more of its most important allies and there is a dispute, but for us Jerusalem is the red line and there is no change,” says Oraib Rantawi, director of Al Quds Centre for Political Studies.

“The king reassured Jordanians and he promised not to change his position on Jerusalem ever,” Mr Rantawi said. “This was very much welcomed by the public as it showed there are no gaps in the official stance, the king’s stance and the public’s stance on Jerusalem and Palestine.”

Insiders say the issue of Jerusalem, the status of Palestinian refugees, and Palestine has been “all-consuming” for both the monarch and the Jordanian government for the past two years as the Trump administration attempts to shake up the status quo and align ever closer with the Israeli government.

King Abdullah, like his father the late King Hussein before him, refuses to be the leader who “surrenders Jerusalem” to complete Israeli control, they say. King Abdullah’s defence of Jerusalem is more than just posturing or patriotic duty.

The custodianship of Al Aqsa and other Christian and Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem falls explicitly under Hashemite custodianship, not the Jordanian state or government, dating back to Sharif Hussein, King Abdullah’s great great grandfather, in the early 20th century.

It is a custodianship recognised by the Palestinian Authority itself in 2013 and enshrined in Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

It also stems from the belief that the care of the site of the Isra and Miraj, and the first qibla, or direction in which Muslims pray, should be under the Hashemites – descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

“The custodianship of Jerusalem is part of the regime’s legitimacy, any weakness in this area would pose a serious threat to the credibility and legitimacy of the regime,” said Mr Rantawi.

Jordan has been more vocal and assertive on its role in Jerusalem in recent months, particularly over the Bab Al Rahmeh in the Al Aqsa complex. The subsequent arrest of the director of the Waqf, an official of the Jordanian government who has the rank of minister, has drawn near daily condemnation from Jordanian officials. He was held briefly before being released.

Changes to the status quo in the occupied territories would pose an existential crisis to Jordan, home to 2.2 million Palestinian refugees registered by the UN.

The monarch’s speech came 24 hours after the latest alleged leaks of the so-called "ultimate deal" for Israelis and Palestinians pushed by Mr Kushner; this one claiming that it entails Jordan surrendering land adjoining the West Bank to form an eventual Palestinian homeland.

In the book Kushner, Inc: Greed. Ambition. Corruption by British journalist Vicky Ward, published this week, the author claimed that at one stage Mr Kushner's plan included land swaps under which "Jordan would give land to the Palestinian territories. In return, Jordan would get land from Saudi Arabia."

Mr Greenblatt tweeted in response that “whoever made these claims has bad info” and dismissed them as “misinformation”.