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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Jordan lobbying for Palestinian statehood as US finalises peace plan

Jared Kushner arrived in Amman and met with King Abdullah

White House adviser Jared Kushner has visited King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan, ahead of the finalisation of the US peace plan for the Middle East. Susan Walsh / AP Photo
White House adviser Jared Kushner has visited King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan, ahead of the finalisation of the US peace plan for the Middle East. Susan Walsh / AP Photo

Jordan is lobbying for a viable Palestinian state and to secure its own interests in Jerusalem in a last-minute push to influence a United States peace plan, widely viewed as likely to favour Israel.

The much-touted American plan, spearheaded by White House adviser Jared Kushner, has so far been compiled without the input of longtime ally and mediator, Jordan.

But Mr Kushner arrived in Amman on Tuesday and met with King Abdullah II.

According to insiders, Jordan is rallying for an agreement that secures Palestinian statehood and respects the international status of Jerusalem.

The 11th-hour effort included a rare meeting between King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Amman on Monday.

It was their first known meeting since 2014 and it broke a freeze in public ties initiated after the killing of two unarmed Jordanian civilians at the Israeli embassy in Amman last year.

During the meeting with Mr Netanyahu, the Jordanian monarch stressed the importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the two-state solution model, establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders in line with UN resolutions and the 2002 Arab Peace initiative.

Observers say the meeting is part of a wider strategy by Jordan to act as the voice of reason and caution against a peace deal that lacks support among Palestinians, Jordanians and much of the Arab world.

Jordan has in recent years seen its influence wane in Israel-Palestinian affairs, despite having acted as a lynchpin and mediator for almost three decades.

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"For Jordan, any solution must be a viable two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital in line with Jordan’s national security interests," said Hassan Barari, professor of political science at the University of Jordan, an analyst and expert in Jordanian-Israeli relations.

"The impression is that Kushner is not interested in a two-state solution and what is being offered is falls short of self-determination for Palestinians."

A Palestinian medic rushes to help a protester who was shot in the face with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on June 8, 2018. Adel Hana / AP Photo
A Palestinian medic rushes to help a protester who was shot in the face with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on June 8, 2018. Adel Hana / AP Photo

So far unable to affect the outcome of any deal set to be unveiled by the Trump administration, official sources say the King and Jordan's government will attempt to stand by the popular sentiments of Palestinians and Arabs, providing a voice for their frustrations, should the proposed deal fall short of expectations.

Any deal pushed by Mr Kushner will have far-reaching consequences for Jordan. An estimated half of the country's 6.6 million population are of Palestinian origin – 2.2 million of whom are registered with the UN as refugees.

Equally critical to Jordan is the Hashemite royal family’s custodianship over Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. For decades, Jordan has acted as custodian of the holy sites, a role that is explicitly mentioned in the 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty between Jordan and Israel and which is recognised by the UN.

Jordan’s Waqf, funded by the government, presides over and maintains dozens of holy sites including the Noble Sanctuary and Al Aqsa Mosque, the most hotly contested religious site in the world and a flashpoint for conflict in the past. Through the Waqf and other Jordanian government-funded institutions, the country provides educational services for thousands Palestinians in Jerusalem.

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Palestinians left with only protests, and their bloody consequences

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After Amman, Mr Kushner's visit is expected to include Riyadh, where he could push for support for the US-proposed deal.

The visit comes at a sensitive time in Jordan, where public frustration over the rising cost of living, austerity measures and taxes boiled over earlier this month, with thousands gathering in nightly nationwide protests which brought down the government of former prime minister Hani Mulki.

Although protesters have given incoming premier Omar Razzaz a grace period to repeal some of the most unpopular taxes and measures, they maintain they are prepared to return to the streets.

Any hint of an Israeli-Palestinian deal that does not retain Jerusalem for a Palestinian state or secure the right of return for refugees in Jordan may trigger unrest.

Last August, King Abdullah received Mr Kushner for talks on the peace process, with both reportedly agreeing to relaunch serious and effective negotiations between the two sides based on "the two state solution".

However, United States President Donald Trump's declaration to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December reportedly blindsided Jordan and King Abdullah, leading to a harsh rebuke from Amman.

The public opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and a crackdown by Israeli forces on peaceful protesters in Gaza that killed dozens in May also drew Jordan's condemnation, with the government directly rebuking Mr Kushner.

Despite the disagreements, Jordan and the US retain close ties at every level of government.