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Why Jordan is silent on Bahrain summit

Jordan has yet to officially announce its position on the US-sponsored Bahrain economic conference that is to kick off the long-awaited US Middle East peace plan.

Jordan has yet to respond to a joint US-Bahraini invitation to attend a two-day workshop in Manama on June 25 and 26 that will focus on the economic aspect of the White House's plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even though it has been 10 days since the invitation was made public May 19. 

On May 29, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and US special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt met with King Abdullah in Amman. Their tour, which included Morocco and Israel, focused on soliciting support for the planned Bahrain meeting.

So far only Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have announced that they will attend the event. Egypt is expected to announce its position soon.

The Palestinians have refused to participate in the event and on May 26, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erikat called on Arab states that have committed to attend the Bahrain economic workshop to revisit their decision.

A royal court statement said the meeting with Kushner and Greenblatt covered the latest regional developments, especially efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It added, “King Abdullah stressed the need to step up all efforts to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace on the basis of the two-state solution, guaranteeing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security, in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions.”

Pressure, both domestic and regional, is mounting on Abdullah to take a stand on the workshop. On May 27, the Royal Court announced that the king had received a call from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain during which discussions "covered current regional developments and efforts to reach political solutions to regional crises."

While there was no specific mention of the Bahrain workshop, Al-Monitor has learned that a special envoy of the Bahrain monarch was in Amman on May 28 on an announced visit, during which he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. A source told Al-Monitor that Abbas reiterated his refusal to attend the Bahrain event.

Public rejection of Trump's so-called "deal of the century" has been building for months in Jordan. But in recent weeks, Abdullah has ratcheted up his rejection of any settlement to the Palestinian issue that deviates from the two-state solution — which calls for a Palestinian state to be set up in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.

On the eve of Kushner's visit to Jordan, hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in close to the US Embassy in Amman responding to a call by the country's Islamic Movement a day earlier. And a number of Jordanian columnists had called on the government to boycott the Bahrain workshop, which they saw as an attempt to sell out the Palestinian cause.

Writing in The Jordan Times on May 27, political commentator Hassan Barari said Palestinians "are not oblivious to the fact that US President Donald Trump's administration has already fulfilled some aspects of the [proposed pace] plan. Over the last year, the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, transferred the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and tried to defund UNRWA. By doing so, the US is no longer an impartial mediator." UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East 

Barari went on to say, "It is not in the best interest of Jordan to attend Bahrain's workshop. Without an Israeli commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and a US guarantee that Israel will uphold this commitment, the workshop is a tactic to outfox the Arabs and to have them concede to Israel."

The question that pundits here are asking is how the king can justify Jordan's participation in the Bahrain event after rejecting Trump's unilateral moves on Jerusalem and the UNRWA and mobilizing his citizens to confront any plans that seek to settle Palestinian refugees or turn Jordan into an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

The only vague reference to the Manama meeting came from Safadi on May 28 during a call with his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, in which the Jordanian foreign minister was quoted as saying that no economic offer can substitute for a comprehensive political plan to execute the two-state solution.

But political commentator Maher Abu Tair says Amman cannot afford to miss the Bahrain meeting. Writing in Al-Ghad daily May 23, he said that despite the embarrassment that Jordan will feel by attending when the Palestinians are not, the kingdom can ill afford to antagonize Washington. Moreover, he said that joining the workshop does not mean that Jordan will embrace the political part of the peace plan once it is disclosed.

Observers here believe that Jordan is postponing its response to the Manama invite until after the Mecca Arab and Islamic summits that Saudi Arabia had called for — to be held May 30-31. There is hope here that a lukewarm reception to the US-Bahraini meeting may convince Kushner to postpone the event until further notice. One factor that may contribute to this is Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's drive to dissolve the Knesset and hold snap elections in September after failing to form a coalition government.

Another view here believes that Amman is trying to tie its attendance of the workshop to a Gulf commitment to support the cash-strapped kingdom financially. Jordan has requested that a Saudi-United Arab Emirates deposit in the Central Bank be turned into a long-term soft loan to support Jordan's ailing treasury.

Oraib al-Rantawi, a political commentator and head of Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told Al-Monitor that Arab states that claim to reject the political side of the US plan cannot justify their attendance of a conference that aims, under economic excuses, to liquidate the Palestinian cause. "Once these countries embrace the economic part of the deal. they will not be able to backtrack when the political component is revealed. ... It is a one-way road," he said.

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