The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has long been Israel’s reluctant peace partner. Despite the two nations having formally signed a peace treaty in 1994, Jordan has maintained an ambivalent posture toward the Jewish state.
Unfortunately, in the face of Israel’s burgeoning alliances with other Arab states, Jordan’s frosty treatment seems less appropriate than ever. Nor do such strained relations serve the Hashemite rulers or the Jordanian people. Israel continues to strengthen its diplomatic ties regionally; time is not on the Jordanians’ side. Something has to give.
Recall that Jordan was part of the mass of marauding Arab armies that tried to destroy Israel in 1948 and 1967. The Hashemites wisely decided to stay out of the war in 1973, since only six years earlier in the Six-Day War they took a beating and lost their illegally acquired western buffer zone—what Israel calls Judea and Samaria.
In the ’50s and ’60s, then-King Hussein allowed terrorist attacks to emanate from Jordanian territory against Israelis, but in 1970 waged war against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), eventually ejecting the organization and thousands of Palestinians from his country.
This on-again, off-again relationship continues to this day. While contacts, especially in the area of defense and security, remain excellent, Israel is constantly attacked by senior Jordanian officials, by elected parliamentarians and in local media in ways unbecoming of an ally.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was created in 1946. Unlike nations such as Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, it has no historical precedent. The Hashemite tribe was given Transjordan by the British as a secondary prize after losing out on ruling in the Arabian Peninsula.
Today the majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian—around 70 percent. This population is constantly agitating against Israel, especially through strong anti-normalization movements in Jordan.
On the other hand, because of its fragile history and geographical location—sharing borders with Syria and Iraq—Jordan is a relatively unstable and vulnerable country. Long eyed by extremists such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, the kingdom feels constantly under existential threat.
This vulnerability makes the preservation of Jordan’s regime, borders and sovereignty a key component of Israel’s own national security. If the Jordanian monarchy fell, it would be a disaster for the Jewish state: To have international terrorist organizations, or possibly Iran, a few miles from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Coastal Plain—where the majority of Israel’s population lives—would in turn threaten the existence of the Jewish state.
This mutual need has fostered daily cooperation between both militaries. In short, the continued stability in Jordan against external threats depends to a large extent on an Israeli “security umbrella.”
That Israel is propping up the Jordanian regime is not something Jordan’s leaders are proud of, so they don’t acknowledge it to their people. Thus, any peace with Israel would be seen by the people as the king’s agreement—not theirs—and would not have widespread support. Yet little or nothing has been done to change this attitude.
While King Abdullah rarely goes too far in his criticism of Israel, he allows other senior officials to constantly berate the Jewish state. In 2017, Yahya al-Saud, a member of the Jordanian Parliament, said of an Israeli Knesset member: “The shoe of any Palestinian child is more honorable than this villain and his entity [country], and the shoe of any Arab and Muslim is better than him and his rogue entity, which has no origin and no religion.”
Relations became most strained in 2019, when King Abdullah said at an event in New York, “The Jordanian-Israeli relationship is at an all-time low.” This was around the time when Amman recalled its ambassador to Israel, and there was no joint ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement.
However, the arena that strains the relationship most surrounds the Temple Mount—Israel’s holiest site and the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
The custodianship of al-Aqsa became a Hashemite legacy in 1924, and the site has been administered by consecutive Jordanian kings. When Jordan conquered Jerusalem in 1948, it established the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf to manage and control holy sites, including the Temple Mount, something Israel left in place when it liberated the holy site during the Six-Day War.
There are differing interests at stake here, with Israel seeking to limit the influence of the Waqf, which has become increasingly extremist and intolerant of non-Muslim access to the site. On the other hand, King Abdullah has asserted a more public role as “Defender of the Holy Places in Jerusalem”—in order to cement his domestic legitimacy and Islamic bona fides, especially as the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Hamas exert efforts to control the Temple Mount.
We witnessed most recently how a spat between the two governments can escalate, when Israel prevented Jordan’s crown prince from a high-profile visit to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount because his armed retinue was much larger than had been previously agreed upon.
In retaliation, Jordan did not approve Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request to fly over Jordan for a brief, historic trip to the United Arab Emirates. The dispute received unprecedented public visibility.
Now that Israel sees in the UAE and Bahrain what a warm peace with Arab countries looks like, it should no longer accept a game in which it has to accept blows to its image and national security. While Israel needs a stable Jordan, the Jordanians need Israel’s protection far more so.
The truth is, without Israel’s security and intelligence assistance, Jordan would probably not survive in its current form. The king remains in power largely because Israel helps fend off constant attempts to depose him and his regime.
It’s time for Israel to demand that the Jordanian leadership stop its threats against Israel and start moving its people away from anti-normalization crusades and tilt them towards peace and understanding of the Jewish state.
If the relationship between Israel and Jordan is going to continue—and there are powerful reasons it should—it must be mutually honest, respectful and cordial. It must also ensure that the Jordanian people fully understand Israel’s role in their security. Along with improving alliances throughout the Middle East, Israel and the United States should press the Jordanians to end the current duplicitous and counterproductive relationship once and for all.
(James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States)