In March of this year, King Abdullah of Jordan met the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. By all accounts, the closed-door meeting with the Jordanian monarch, a staunch ally of the United States, was somewhat of a bumpy ride. King Abdullah is said to have expressed his deep frustration about being kept almost completely in the dark about the “ultimate deal” that is supposed to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of US President Donald Trump and the deal’s chief architect, has kept his cards close to his chest with only a handful of people, some say as few as six knowing what the plan actually includes. On the rare occasions when he has spoken publicly about the deal, as he did in early May, he has emphasised its economic benefits and praised it as a “very good business plan”. He has also sought not to address the question of Palestinian statehood since “[it] means one thing to Israelis, [and another] thing to the Palestinians, so we said, let’s just not say it”.
King Abdullah, whose country is home to nearly two million Palestinian refugees, has, it seems, been given no opportunity to contribute to or influence the Kushner deal. As a Jordanian official told the Axios news website: during the meeting, “His Majesty was asked about the plan and said he did not yet see it and therefore cannot comment. He also believes that an economic plan without a political one is not sufficient.”
Behind that succinct and acerbic statement lies a great deal of anxiety. Jordan is being pushed towards accepting a disastrous deal that will give the Israelis virtually everything they want in exchange for a chunk of the economic aid that Gulf countries are supposed to provide. The Palestinians and their regional supporters will be bought off with the promise of a bright economic future and, in the process, the issue of Palestinian statehood will be buried.
Like the Palestinians – who will be presented with an ultimatum of take it or the bad gets worse for you – King Abdullah is being left with very little wriggle room.
The Jordanian economy is close to a breaking point. The public debt stands at 28.3 billion dinars ($39.9bn), nearly equal to the country’s economic output, while unemployment is running at close to 20 percent. Last summer, as a series of protests roiled Jordan over plans to increase income tax, the Saudis led a bailout effort worth $2.5bn. With their backing, King Abdullah was able to reverse the planned increase and stabilise the situation temporarily.
Of course, it is very much in the Saudis’ interest not to see Jordan destabilised by protesters taking to the streets. The last thing they want to see is a hereditary monarch deposed. But the message is not lost on King Abdullah that Saudi Arabia has the whip hand.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has already demonstrated that he can turn the aid tap off as quickly as he turned it on. In 2017, the Saudis, annoyed with King Abdullah’s continued support for a Palestinian homeland and his failure to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, abruptly decided not to renew a Gulf aid package. It was only when Abdullah went cap in hand to Riyadh last year that the tap was turned back on again.
Another pressure point is Jordan’s acute water crisis – one of the worst in the world. Ten of the country’s 12 aquifers are massively depleted and the Jordan River and the Dead Sea are drying up.
The refugee influx from Syria has increased consumption and exacerbated the situation.
Excerpted from: ‘Kushner’s squeeze play on Jordan’s King Abdullah’.