(CNSNews.com) – As nations involved in the widening circle of Israeli-Arab cooperation meet in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the glaring absence of Jordan is highlighting again a deep hostility towards Israel in the kingdom, a U.S. ally and leading recipient of U.S. financial assistance.
A large interagency delegation from the U.S. will take part in two days of meetings of the “Negev Forum,” a Biden administration initiative building on its predecessor’s normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries (the “Abraham Accords.”)
Joining the U.S. representatives will be teams from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt. Jordan will be the only Arab country that has full diplomatic relations with Israel to stay away.
The kingdom, which declined to send diplomatic representatives to the Abraham Accords signing ceremony at the White House in September 2020, has similarly refused to join the Negev process until the Palestinians also participate.
However, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) has refused to join, opposing Arab normalization with the Jewish state until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
The Negev Forum held its inaugural meeting in Israel’s Negev desert in March last year, a historic gathering that entailed the first visits to Israel by Emirati, Bahraini and Moroccan foreign ministers. Joining them were Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers – but not Jordan’s.
Warm exchanges saw Israel’s then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hailing the building of “a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security, and intelligence cooperation,” while Blinken “commend[ed] the courage of those willing to break down barriers.”
The forum met again at senior officials-level in Bahrain in June and virtually in October. This week’s meeting in the UAE aims to advance work in six key areas – regional security; food and water security; clean energy; health; education and coexistence; and tourism.
In a phone conversation Friday with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, Blinken “reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to regional stability and integration, including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [and] the Negev Forum,” the State Department said.
Since Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994 bilateral cooperation had largely blossomed, but relatively recently ties have become strained.
King Abdullah II has had a long and sometimes difficult relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who recently returned to the helm in Jerusalem.
Jordan was far from alone among Arab countries to condemn a brief visit last week by Israel’s new police minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to the sensitive Jerusalem compound revered by Jews and Muslims, but the public statements of some Jordanian lawmakers point to deep levels of ill will.
In parliamentary speeches translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) one lawmaker, directing his remarks at Ben-Gvir, said, “Let us remind you, you coward, you pig, that Jordan’s border with Palestine is more than 300 kilometers long. It is a time bomb that will explode in your face and in the faces of people like you, you coward.”
Another said, “the sons of apes and pigs” should know that the Jordanians and the Palestinians will react to his visit “with bullets, soon, Allah willing.” (Descendants of “apes and swine” is an epithet sometimes used by Muslims aimed at Jews, based on a reference in the Qur’an.)
“We will sacrifice our souls for Jerusalem and the holy places,” said a third Jordanian lawmaker. “We will give it all we have. We are prepared to be martyrs, and be the first ones to use sticks, bombs, and guns against this plundering entity.”
The compound known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims was occupied by Jordan from 1948 until the 1967 Six Day War. Although under Israeli sovereignty since then, Israel has permitted a Muslim trust controlled by Jordan to continue to oversee the site, which is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest in Islam.
The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, the location of the biblical First and Second Temples. Jews are permitted to visit under restrictions, included an enforced prohibition on overt prayer.
Although Ben-Gvir has campaigned on changing that “status quo,” the Netanyahu coalition government that he belongs to has pledged to retain it. When the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session last week on Ben-Gvir’s visit, however, many delegates – including the U.S. representative – voiced concern about purported threats to the status quo.
In an interview with CNN aired two weeks ago, Abdullah was asked if he felt the Haram al-Sharif status quo and Jordan’s role as custodian were under threat.
“You’re always going to get those people that will try and push that, and that is a concern, but I don’t think those individuals are under just a Jordanian microscope. They’re under an international microscope,” he said.
“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” Abdullah said. “I always like to believe that, ‘let’s look at the glass half full.’ But we have certain red lines, and if people want to push those red lines, that we will deal with that.”
The king acknowledged that Israel’s integration into the region was “extremely important,” but added, “That’s not going to happen unless there’s a future for the Palestinians.”
He did not refer to, neither was he asked about, the Negev process.
Jordan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $2.4 billion in military and economic assistance in fiscal year 2020.
In a memorandum of understanding signed last fall, the U.S. undertook to provide $1.45 billion a year to Jordan, beginning this year and running through 2029.
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