A banner of Ahmad Daqamseh, the Jordanian soldier convicted of killing seven Israeli schoolgirls twenty years ago, hangs high above a street in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid. It welcomes him home upon his release from prison and lauds him as “the lion of the [Jordan] Valley” for his murders.
Such displays and similar Facebook posts offer fresh evidence of the unpopularity among Jordanians of Amman’s peace with Israel, signed in 1994. Government ties, though kept at low volume, are close.
Last year, Jordan signed a 15 year gas purchasing agreement with Israel valued at $10 billion.
The two countries have worked out arrangements for Jordanians to work in hotels in Eilat. And most significantly there is close security cooperation, including Israel proffering help in fighting ISIS.
But at the popular level, the peace is ice cold, without contact between the peoples and without cultural exchange.
Twenty three years after the peace was signed with great fanfare, the image Jordanians have of Israelis is of soldiers oppressing or killing Palestinians in the West Bank. The Jordanian government has done little to offer the public a basis for having a more positive image of relations.
“We need to see more done by the government,” says former ambassador to Jordan Oded Eran. “Jordanians hear complaints of what Israel did and didn’t do but they don’t hear the positives like agreement on water and natural gas and the support on security.”
For the government, trying to put a more positive spin on Israel would alienate Jordanians of Palestinian origin.
Indeed, the foremost reason the peace is chilled and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future is that the majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin and have close familial, social and emotional ties with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Arab citizens in Israel. Far from moving to a situation of betterment and independence for their brethren as was hoped when the peace treaty was signed, things seem to be moving to permanent Israeli control, annexation and even feared dislocation.
“[The Palestinian population in Jordan] are people who have a direct stake in the conflict and a Palestinian world view which is not prone to see things as if Israel and Jordan have common interests and therefore should have good relations,” says Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a Middle East specialist at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center.
“They reject any normalization and view Israel as the responsible party for the continuation of the conflict.”
Not only deaths of Palestinians and their emotional reverberations but also actions such as the Knesset’s recent passage of a law legalizing seizure of Palestinian private property add to the preexisting animosities.
Yesterday, responses to the Knesset’s preliminary passage of a bill that would ban loudspeaker use for call to prayer during early morning hours was prominent in Jordanian media coverage. Ad-Dustour reported in one of its lead articles that 45 members of Jordan’s parliament denounced the Knesset’s move, signing a memorandum condemning “the Israeli haughtiness and racist provocation and escalation in contradiction to all religions and international documents and in violation of Hashemite sponsorship of the holy sites.”
In 1994, King Hussein had the stature to make peace with Israel openly. Three years later, he made the powerful gesture of traveling to Israel after the Daqamseh murders and beseeching the bereaved families for forgiveness. He was criticized at home but his standing was such that he was able to do it.
King Abdullah does not enjoy his father’s stature.
Moreover, he must deal with the fact that twenty years later the peace is seen as stillborn and as having left the Palestinians in a worse situation.
“So he keeps relations on a low profile, visits are secret, things are kept under wraps for fear of what the public would make of it,” says Maddy-Weitzman.”The regime needs to have basic legitimacy, to constantly have its finger on the pulse of public opinion. It can’t openly spit in the face of public opinion. It’s not strong enough.”
In the view of Bar Ilan University political scientist Menachem Klein, the main obstacle to warmer Jordanian-Israeli relations are Jordanian concerns over the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam. Jordan, under agreements with Israel and the PLO, enjoys a special role at the site along with other Jerusalem shrines. Troubles on the Mount can immediately reverberate into demonstrations in Amman with calls to expel the Israeli ambassador. “The fact that Israel is cooperating against ISIS and providing Jordan with intelligence doesn’t lessen the heavy burden of the Temple Mount at the official and popular level,” says Klein.
Jordan is extremely wary of right-wing calls for Jewish prayer on the Mount, which stoke the fears of Jordanians for the site. In Klein’s view, significantly improving relations with Jordan depend on Israeli agreement that there won’t be Jewish prayer there and that the site will be under Muslim administration. And he says an overall agreement for ending Israeli control in the West Bank and establishing a Palestinian state there and in Gaza will need to also start being implemented.
He says smaller steps such as improving living conditions in the West Bank or letting Palestinians build more houses in the part of it under full Israeli military control won’t make much of a difference. “It is a false hope that a regional conference will warm things up because the problem of the Temple Mount will still be there,” he says.