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Will West Bank annexation harm US-Jordan security cooperation?

There is too much at stake for Jordan to jeopardize its relations with the United States over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
A man shouts slogans during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed Middle East peace plan, and a government's agreement to import natural gas from Israel, in Amman, Jordan, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed - RC2D0F9CTTZQ

According to the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi stated his objection to any annexation of Palestinian land in a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 28. The State Department’s readout of the call, by contrast, made no mention of any discussion of the impending Israeli move to annex the Jordan River Valley.

To many in Jordan, the State Department's exclusion of Safadi’s remarks will be seen as a further dismissal of Amman’s security concerns as it greenlights annexation of parts of the West Bank, which Jordan views as a potentially destabilizing action.

“This is an existential threat to Jordan,” Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian foreign minister and previous ambassador to the United States and Israel, told Al-Monitor. “Jordan sees it as the killing of a two-state solution and as solving [the crisis] at Jordan’s expense.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that he is “considering all options” should Israel move forward with its annexation plan, which could certainly “affect the peace treaty,” Jawad Anani, former Jordanian foreign minister and coordinator of the 1994 Israeli-Jordan peace process negotiation team, told Al-Monitor.

Could any of the options Jordan is considering affect US-Jordanian ties? So far, Amman has avoided criticizing the Donald Trump administration in public statements, but the current administration’s policies are critical to “delivering the prospect of sovereignty from the Americans” in the Jordan River Valley, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel Hayom on May 28.

Jordan is one of the United States’ closest security partners in the Middle East and assists the United States in conducting military and intelligence operations in the region. Amman also acts as a stabilizing force in an otherwise tumultuous area. As of 2019, around 3,000 US soldiers were stationed in Jordan and the country’s Muwaffaq Salti air base in its northwest desert is a critical staging area for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

At the same time, Jordan is highly dependent on US foreign aid, receiving some $1.2 billion in 2019, a little over 3% of its GDP. Much of this aid is critical to its population’s well-being, with about a third of the funds going to emergency relief and water provision.

The relationship, however, is not just quid pro quo as the two countries’ security goals have historically overlapped, particularly over “counterterrorism efforts and the parameters of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace [plan],” Curtis Ryan, a professor of political science at Appalachian State University who specializes in Jordanian politics, told Al-Monitor.

Counterterrorism is likely to remain a top priority for both countries, as the United States continues to wage its war on terror in the Middle East, and the image of the Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive by IS in 2015 remains fresh in the Jordanian political consciousness.

What has changed, however, is the shared stance on the parameters for a future two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. While Jordan has not changed its position, the Trump administration has “flouted previous US policy on the issue and run roughshod over regional and global allies, [like] Jordan,” Curtis said.

Whether or not this about-face will be enough to jeopardize US-Jordanian relations hinges mostly on the United States, as Jordan’s dependency on Washington’s foreign aid and political support gives it very little leverage to coerce the Trump administration into stopping annexation.

The only scenario in which Jordan could make any sort of move to reduce cooperation with the United States is, according to Anani, for Amman to take measures — such as canceling the peace treaty — against Israel for annexation and the Trump administration punished Jordan in response. He noted that this possibility was “unlikely.” 

Further, Jordan is vital to US strategy in the Middle East and is seen as “a moderate force in an immoderate region” by policy-makers, according to Ryan. Its strategic and military value to the United States has only increased in recent years, as Washington’s ability to place troops in Iraq has become increasingly uncertain.

In addition, the United States continues to sporadically feud with Turkey — another key ally in the region — over fundamental policy differences.

Specifically, there has been speculation that the US military is looking to Jordan in its attempt to diversify its military footprint in the region. Following Turkey’s October 2019 Operation Peace Spring against the Kurds in northern Syria, US senators requested that the US Department of Defense scout for alternatives to the Incirlik air base in Turkey.

Accordingly, the Defense Department awarded a $79 million contract to expand Muwaffaq Salti on April 10, after spending $143 million in contracts to renovate the base in 2018.

On the official level, then, there seems to be little incentive for either the United States or Jordan to reduce security cooperation, regardless of efforts relating to stopping annexation. Instead, Amman is likely to engage with its extensive contacts in Washington to lobby the Trump administration to at least delay any potential Israeli actions in the West Bank, in addition to biding its time until November in the hopes for a presidential administration that is more sympathetic to its position.

On the popular level, however, any annexation move will be met with anger from Jordan’s citizens, more than half of which are of Palestinian descent. “If Israel annexes the Palestinian [Jordan River] Valley, our opposition to American policies and presence on our land will increase,” Jordanian activist Alaa al-Deen al-Omri told Al-Monitor.

However, it is unlikely that this anger will be translated into anger against the king or into significant public pressure to retaliate against the United States, as he has stridently rejected any annexation plan since the first details of Trump’s peace plan began to leak.

“The government's view on this is identical to the public mood [and] anger,” Muasher explained. “It's not going to be directed at the Jordanian government or system. It's going to be directed at Israel.”

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