By Leila Riazi
With uprisings in Egypt, extremist groups in Lebanon and civil war in Syria, Jordan has long been Israel’s most stable neighbor. Jordan was, until 2020, one of the only Arab nations to have a formal peace agreement with Israel. The alleged coup attempt by former Crown Prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein on April 3 brought this stability into question. Although the recent Abraham Accords increased the number of Arab countries to sign peace agreements, Israel still faces many threats in the region, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. What are the ramifications of Jordan falling into instability, and what should the American response be?
Unfortunately, it is likely that instability in Jordan or potential changes in leadership would lead to a deterioration of the relationship with Israel. Although Jordan’s relationship with Israel is comparatively better than that of its neighbors, it is still shaky. In November 2019, Jordan’s King Abdullah rated his country’s relationship with Israel at “an all-time low.” The leaders of the two countries rarely meet, and neither bothered to commemorate the 25 year anniversary of the 1994 peace agreement in 2019.
Public opinion in Jordan has been unfavorable to Israel recently. In 2017, a guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman killed two Jordanians. He was viewed as a murderer in Jordan but a hero in Israel, which greatly angered Jordanians. There has been outrage over Israel seemingly backtracking on upholding the status quo around only Muslims being allowed to pray at the Holy Esplanade. The holy site is located in Israel, but controlled by Jordan’s Islamic Waqf. Lastly, Jordan stands solidly in opposition to Israel’s recent expansion into the West Bank with the Kingdom joining Egypt, Germany and France to officially oppose it. Resolving the Palestinian issue is the top foreign policy concern for Jordanians with a plurality of them supporting a two-state solution which Netenyahu’s maximalist annexation plans would render obsolete.
It is Jordan’s monarchy that has preserved the relationship with Israel in order to preserve joint security objectives, such as intelligence sharing and allowing Israel to use Jordanian airspace to carry out strikes on their mutual enemy, Iran. If the Kingdom’s monarchy were to fall, it is uncertain what the state of Jordan’s politics would be, but it is very possible that whoever were to replace King Abdullah would consider Israel’s transgressions to outweigh the benefits of their weak allyship. It is impossible to know what the specific consequences of Jordan turning against Israel would be, but there are legitimate concerns over whether Israel’s enemies would then be able to use Jordan’s territory to get closer to the former’s border. While it is good for Israel to normalize relations with as many of its neighbors as possible, this is not the only objective in the region.
But the U.S. has misstepped in supporting undemocratic regimes in the past. Throughout the 20th century to today, the U.S. has been willing to provide arms, training and intelligence to authoritarians. Should we make the same gamble with Jordan? As in many countries, in Jordan, stability is not synonymous with freedom. Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament where the king has significant power. He appoints the prime minister and can suspend or dissolve the parliament at any time. This authoritarian regime has led to severe restrictions of liberties for ordinary Jordanians. Freedom House rates Jordan as “Not Free.” This score is calculated based on political rights and civil liberties in a country, and marks a recent decline from Jordan’s score of “Partly Free” last year. Amnesty International reports serious concerns over restrictions to freedom of speech and assembly in Jordan, especially surrounding protests. There is also serious unease over Jordan’s treatment of women as well as refugees from Syria and Yemen. President Biden wants to put morality at the forefront of foreign policy under his administration. If the U.S. wants to follow through on this, we cannot justify supporting yet another authoritarian leader who mistreats his people.
The U.S. is no stranger to propping up authoritarian leaders in the name of “stability” or “security,” and in many cases, this support has been misguided. We should do what we can to avoid a similar outcome in Jordan. It is impossible to know what — if anything — will happen to Jordan’s political system in the near future, but the U.S. should make a point to support any democratic elements that may emerge. To be clear, this does not mean abandoning our commitments in Israel. The country is still an important partner, and we should be upholding our commitment to protecting them, but not at the expense of the Jordanian people.