Can the U.S. and Jordan Keep the Two-State Solution Alive?
King Abdullah's recent visit to Washington will become even more important if it leads to concrete steps that advance stability, peace, and regional cooperation.
In the wake of the formation of the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan has publicly voiced concerns and warnings. King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan visited the White House on February 2, days after the United States voiced concerns of its own during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s government took office after a few years in which Jordan-Israel relations were improving. Israel’s Bennett-Lapid government acknowledged the strategic importance of Jordan, managed to restore trust and good working relations with the king, and expanded the scope of cooperation between both countries.
This was in stark contrast to the previous lack of communication between Abdullah and Netanyahu, which led the king to declare in 2019 that Jordan’s relations with Israel were at an all-time low. Jordan’s lack of trust in Netanyahu derived from several negative experiences, ranging from the 1997 Israeli attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan (during Netanyahu’s first term) to Netanyahu’s 2017 public embrace of the Israeli security guard involved in a shooting incident at the Israeli embassy in Amman.
Jordan’s concern about the Netanyahu government is not only about the prime minister. It is also about the far-right composition of the government, and the fact that it includes key members who believe that "Jordan is Palestine” and seek to change the status quo in Jerusalem through provocative actions.
Jordan is also worried by the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian escalation, as it is the country that is impacted the most—for better or for worse—by developments in these relations. Just as the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 paved the way for Jordan to sign a peace treaty with Israel the following year, tensions between Israel and the Palestinians repeatedly stir public demonstrations and opposition in Jordan and are considered by the regime as a threat to stability.
For Jordan, the Palestinian issue is not merely a diplomatic one—it is also a significant security issue. Throughout the years, this has led to multiple efforts by Jordan to push Israeli-Palestinian relations in a better direction. It was King Hussein who assisted U.S. mediation attempts between Netanyahu and Arafat in 1998 at the Wye Plantation summit, and it was King Abdullah who mobilized international opposition to Netanyahu’s annexation plan in 2020 and led efforts in 2022 to prevent escalation in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan.
Jordan is also part—together with Egypt, France, and Germany—of the Munich Group, a non-formal grouping that was formed in early 2020 to keep the idea of a two-state solution alive in response to then-President Donald Trump’s plan.
With Netanyahu back in office, and despite its deep concerns and past grievances with him, Jordan chose to engage. King Abdullah congratulated Netanyahu upon his election victory and hosted him in Amman in January (Netanyahu’s first visit abroad since taking office). On the practical level, Jordan has kept bilateral relations with Israel on track, including the implementation of the water and electricity deal that the two countries jointly signed with the United Arab Emirates. Even the tense incident that took place in January near the al-Aqsa Mosque between the Jordanian ambassador and an Israeli security guard did not change this trend.
Cooperation with Israel serves the central economic and security needs of Jordan, and it seeks to preserve this, as long as Israeli-Palestinian relations do not deteriorate to a level that leads Jordan to downgrade ties with Israel. It was in this context—preventing Israeli-Palestinian deterioration—that King Abdullah visited the White House in early February, his third visit of President Joe Biden’s presidency.
The visit took place amid a rise in violent incidents between Israelis and Palestinians. It reflected the important role that the U.S. administration attributes to Jordan in advancing regional stability and indicated an American interest in cooperation. The Abdullah-Biden meeting was also an opportunity for the United States to reiterate its commitment to maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem—an issue it should also press the Israeli government on—and Jordan’s custodianship of the Islamic holy places in the city.
The United States, the single-largest provider of aid to Jordan, also emphasized following the White House meeting that both countries are committed to advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that regard, the visit will become even more important if it leads to concrete steps that advance stability, peace, and regional cooperation.
The United States and Jordan should prepare for the sensitive overlap between Ramadan and Passover this coming April by coordinating their efforts, dividing the labor, and utilizing their leverage over Israel and the Palestinian Authority, respectively, to lower the risk of escalation.
They should also work to create a new alliance of international actors that care about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and are committed to taking action to prevent escalation and advance peacemaking. The Middle East Quartet—composed of the United States, Russia, the European Union (EU), and the United Nations (UN)—has not been effective for years. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it does not even convene anymore. A new international mechanism is needed, even if informally at first.
Jordan can bring on board the other Munich Group members, while the United States can invite the EU and the UN, its allies in the Quartet. Switzerland and Norway, whose special envoys to the region recently visited Jerusalem, can also be incorporated, alongside Turkey, given its recent rapprochement with Israel and good relations with the Palestinians. Putting in place such a mechanism will require in-depth policy planning regarding its goals, composition, and conduct to ensure it will be more successful than previous initiatives.
On the regional level, the United States should stop trying to convince Jordan to join the Negev Forum, a regional grouping composed of the United States, Israel, and a number of Arab states. Instead, it should respect Jordan’s decision to stay out until there is progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. In the meantime, Washington should make sure that the interests of Jordan and the Palestinians are considered during the upcoming Negev Summit in Morocco. Additionally, Washington should link Jordan and the Palestinians as much as possible to regional projects enabled by the Abraham Accords.
The United States can also encourage Jordan and Saudi Arabia to work together on updating the Arab Peace Initiative, bringing it in line with recent regional developments and making it a more effective incentive for peace. Conditions seem ripe for this. Amman played a key role in the drafting of the initiative over twenty years ago, and it may want to do so again. The Saudis repeatedly emphasize their commitment to the initiative, notably convening a multilateral gathering aimed at updating the initiative on the sidelines of the 2022 UN General Assembly.
Finally, the United States can help Israel and Jordan put in place a crisis-management mechanism that will enable the two neighbors to deal with the consequences of any Israeli-Palestinian escalation and prevent the collapse of bilateral ties. Such a model will also be needed between Israel and Turkey, and the United States can help it happen.
For these efforts to begin, and for the administration to be able to effectively follow up on last week’s meeting, the Senate must quickly confirm Yael Lempart, Biden’s recently-announced appointee, as ambassador to Jordan.
Dr. Nimrod Goren is the Senior Fellow for Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, President of the Mitvim Institute, and Co-Founder of Diplomeds.
Image: Flickr/White House.