Jordan prepares for annexation fallout with Israel

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - After weeks of diplomatic pressure and dire warnings, Jordan is now preparing for the fallout of West Bank annexation and a wider falling out with their one-time peace partner Israel.

After months advocating US, Europe and Jewish groups, official sources say Jordan is now abandoning hope of stopping a July Israeli annexation of occupied West Bank lands and instead shifting to gradually freeze relations with Israel and prepare for the next stage in their seriously-strained relationship.

Israel has reportedly sent messages to Jordan that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now walking back his July 1 annexation bid from including the Jordan Valley, a move that would put Israeli territory onto Jordan’s border, physically cut off Jordan from the West Bank, and cross a red-line Amman has warned would upend their 26-year-old peace treaty.

Yet official sources say Jordan has responded that even should Israel restrict its annexation to a single West Bank settlement bloc, it would see the move as killing the two-state solution, setting a precedent for further annexation, and leaving stateless Palestinians as Jordan’s full responsibility.

Legally, 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 official sources, the dominant strategy in the Royal Palace’s response to any annexation is to “let Israel to be the one to break the peace treaty” on the global stage.

In kind, Jordan will gradually impose diplomatic and economic costs on Israel while 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 natural gas deal between Jordan and Israeli-American consortium Noble Energy, which due to a plunge in oil and gas prices and the opening 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.

Palestinian protesters take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

Palestinian protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

Palestinian protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

A Palestinian youth walks down a hillside overlooking the West Bank city of Jericho. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Palestinian mayor of Jericho Salem Ghrouf speaks during an interview at his office in the West Bank city. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Palestinians pass by on a street of the West Bank city of Jericho. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Israelis hold signs as they protest against the Israeli goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

Israelis hold signs as they protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

An Israeli woman holds a sign as she protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

Protesters, wearing masks of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Defence Minister Benny Gantz, take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to denounce Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. AFP

A protester, wearing a protective mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holds placards during a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to denounce Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. AFP

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 23: An Israeli woman holds a sign that reads "Palestine should be free" as she protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

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 the economic incentive in Amman for the deal to survive.

Jordan is also threatening to downgrade security cooperation, 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 international affairs expert.

Sources say further retaliatory steps include a freeze in cooperation 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 Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and even urging the Palestinian leadership not to cooperate with Israel.

“Jordan carries large burdens in providing security, diffusing tensions, being a mediator and providing services in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” said an official source close to the decision-making process who preferred to remain unnamed.

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

The Royal Palace has refused to return multiple calls by Benjamin Netanyahu, sources confirm.

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 the largely-passive Gantz has given a veneer of legitimacy to Netanyahu’s annexation bid for the White House. Amid this frustration, the palace rebuffed multiple requests by Mr Gantz to meet with senior officials and the king himself in Amman.

Annexation is not only angering and concerning 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 released last week, 33 per cent of Jordanians named Israel and annexation as “the greatest external threat” facing Jordan, the top reported answer.

In comparison, Coronavirus - the second greatest perceived threat - was named by 5 per cent of Jordanians.

Jordan is also eyeing annexation as an opportunity to recalibrate its relationship with Israel and pressure Tel Aviv to renegotiate articles of peace treaty and cooperation.

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

Jordan’s annual exports to the West Bank hover between $300-$400 million in largely agricultural goods, compared to Israel’s $4 billion exports to the West Bank.

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

Should 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.

Updated: June 30, 2020 07:27 PM

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