Jordan’s king eyes home audience in trip to West Bank

Sunday 13/08/2017
Message to home. Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 7. (AFP)

London - Jordanian King Abdullah II’s visit to the occupied West Bank may be intended more as a message for his coun­trymen, who are infuriated with Israel, than a show of solidar­ity with the Palestinian Authority leadership.
King Abdullah II travelled by helicopter to the West Bank and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki. He returned to Jordan without stop­ping in Israel.
The talks focused on “the need for preserving the historic and le­gal status quo in noble Jerusalem,” the Jordanian news agency Petra said.
Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras at the gates of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound, sparking protests in the city and Muslim worshippers boycotted the holy site.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu backtracked on the de­cision, citing security reasons, but several countries, including Jor­dan, said they had been involved in defusing the tensions.
“President Abbas praised the role of Jordan and the king in reo­pening the mosque and remov­ing the recent crisis and said that Hashemite sponsorship over Is­lamic and Christian holy sites is very important to protect them,” said Petra.
Ahead of the visit, King Abdul­lah told Jordanian lawmakers that “without the Hashemite custodi­anship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago.”
The Israeli moves had angered many people in the region but Jordanians had more reason than others to be upset. More than half of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin.
Adding fuel to fire, an Israeli guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman killed two Jordanians af­ter a 16-year-old attacked him with a screwdriver. Jordan allowed the guard to return to Israel where he received a hero’s welcome from Netanyahu, further inflaming Jor­danian public opinion.
The Jordanian media portrayed the visit as showcasing Amman’s uniqueness in defending the Pales­tinian cause at a time where other parties have abandoned it.
“Jordan [is left] alone to act and to continue to shoulder a huge re­sponsibility regarding the Palestin­ian situation,” wrote Hasan Abu Nimah in the Jordan Times. “The king’s visit to Ramallah comes as part of an ongoing, but unique, Jordanian commitment to the Pal­estinian cause since the very be­ginning of the historic conflict.”
The Jordan Times, in an edito­rial, reiterated the same message, even though many countries and organisations have expressed sup­port for the Palestinians.
King Abdullah “has often ap­peared to be the lone Arab voice in focusing consistently on this is­sue,” read the editorial. “The king’s visit to the West Bank, therefore, sends a clear message to Israel and the rest of the international com­munity that the Palestinians are not alone in their struggle for free­dom and that Jordan stands shoul­der to shoulder with them in their quest to establish their own inde­pendent state on Palestinian soil.”
In an opinion article in Israel’s daily Haaretz, Amman-based Pal­estinian journalist Daoud Kuttab noted that public outrage over the killing of the two Jordanians was on the mind of King Abdullah, even though the incident was not mentioned as being behind his trip to the West Bank.
“The pressures from Israel and the White House’s Jared Kushner to quickly release the Israeli se­curity guard — despite his alleged criminal actions — have become public knowledge in the kingdom, leaving [King] Abdullah vulnerable in the eyes of his people,” wrote Kuttab. “The beloved King Abdul­lah is facing a level of public anger he has never encountered in his 17- year rule.”
Kuttab said the visit also sent a message to Israel: “The king want­ed [the Israelis] to know that Jor­dan supports the Palestinians and that the rapprochement with Israel that has made Israeli-Jordanian peace a warm one is in real danger — not only because of al-Aqsa but also in the way the embassy issue was handled and due to continued Israeli obstacles to the two-state solution.”
Israeli commentators pointed out that Netanyahu’s warm recep­tion of the Israeli guard was embar­rassing for King Abdullah.
“Abdullah hopes his visit to Ra­mallah and show of support for the Palestinians will give him a boost at home where many Jordanians disa­greed with his decision to allow an Israeli Embassy guard who fatally shot two Jordanians last month to return to Israel,” Ben Lynfield wrote in the Jerusalem Post.
Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon said the visit had various messages in­tended for different audiences, including support for Abbas, who appears to have been sidelined in the Jerusalem crisis. “By go­ing to Ramallah, [King] Abdullah was bringing Abu Mazen (Abbas) back into the game,” he told the Jerusalem Post.