After a Century, Jordan Has Outlived Expectations, but Remains Precarious

In the past several days, the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz has mentioned repeatedly the importance of Jerusalem’s strategic relationship with Amman. While observers have been predicting Jordan’s imminent demise since at least the 1950s, the kingdom recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and, compared to neighboring Iraq and Syria, appears stable and successful. Even the still-mysterious conflict between King Abdullah and his half-brother that came to the surface in April seems to have been resolved, at least for now. Asher Susser takes stock:

In one critical feature Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon differed markedly from Jordan, and it was this feature that spelled their undoing. All three were heterogeneous conglomerates of multiple sects that did not exist in Jordan. Jordan is 90-95 percent Sunni Muslim and Arab. In this respect, Jordan is more similar to homogeneous Egypt than to its heterogeneous neighbors in the Fertile Crescent, whose sectarian conflicts have led to their destruction.

Jordan is indeed divided between the original East Bank Transjordanians and its large Palestinian population, [made up of descendants of refugees from Israel’s War of Independence]. But these are relatively new national identities that have only taken root in the latter part of the 20th century. They are historically shallow in comparison to the sectarian identities that originate in the early 7th century. . . . There are real and palpable tensions between Jordanians and Palestinians, but in these days of more emphatic sectarian schisms their sectarian common ground tends to outweigh their national divisions.

This dynamic, Susser explains, has begun to reverse itself in recent years, with Abdullah alienating many East Bankers while earning increasing respect from the Palestinians:

In the eyes of many East Bankers Abdullah was an outsider, too Western and not really one of them. There were some who said of him that he was more comfortable in the company of foreigners than with other Arabs. Abdullah, in appointing officials, believed also in merit and not just loyalty. Tribal East Bankers complained that instead of traditional loyalists like them, Abdullah preferred “the digital crowd.” Abdullah, in turn, had his frustrations with East Bankers, and thus his angry reference to tribal elders as “dinosaurs,” who were holding Jordan back.

Jordan’s problems—the tensions within the [royal] family and the cracks in the political elite, coupled with the country’s endemic corruption, socioeconomic distress, and popular political disaffection, [are] far from over. There [are] no miraculous solutions for Jordan’s structural economic problems. They [go] beyond corruption and stemmed, in the main, from the underlying imbalance between population and resources.

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More about: Jordan, Palestinians

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship