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