According to the New York Times “President Trump and his advisers, venturing for the first time into the fraught world of Middle East peace-making, are developing a strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would enlist Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to break years of deadlock”.
This argument is based on the assumption that a new alignment is emerging where Israel and Sunni Arab Countries develop a joint strategy to counter Iran. If so, a parallel path towards peace with the Palestinians can be pursued.
King Abdullah visited Washington in early February and had a short unofficial meeting with President Trump, the first such visit from a Middle Eastern leader. The White House then issued a statement cautioning Israel against expanding settlements in the West Bank.
It appears that the King also managed to caution Mr. Trump against a hasty move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, explaining to him the turmoil that might follow. The reaction to this is less clear than on settlements but a White House statement reiterated America’s commitment to Jordan’s stability and security and thanked King Abdullah for his leadership in promoting peace and stability in the region.
Apart from the ever-present threat from Al-Qaeda and ISIS, Jordan remains a target for Syrian plots to destabilize Jordan.
According to documents seen by Al-Arabiya in 2012 President Bashar al-Assad and his allies sought to destabilize Jordan by manipulating peaceful demonstrations there and turning them into deadly confrontations. The King was first Arab leader to openly (2011) that the President al-Assad should stand down.
The news that the King had met President Trump made headlines news across the Middle East. A typical comment was “The King’s meeting with Trump was very significant and must be built upon for further dialogue on key issues in the region”.
The Palestinian issue is important to Jordan. Over half of Jordan’s population are Palestinians, while many of the Palestinians who live on the West Bank hold Jordanian citizenship. Jordan has historically played an important role in the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which have been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past. The King told the President that lack of progress on the peace front affect Jordan’s stability and security and the two leaders agreed that the King would make an official visit ‘to the US soon’.
Their brief conversation gave the King an early opportunity to convey Arab concerns about regional issues. Jordan is hosting the annual Arab summit on March 29 and this early meeting with Trump gives Jordan increased leverage in the region especially as it has good relations with most of the players in the Middle East.
It is interesting that US Republican Senator Bob Corker chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was quoted by US media describing King Abdullah as ‘sort of the Henry Kissinger of that part of the world,’ a reference to Jordan’s pivotal role in bringing Israel and Palestinians to the negotiation table. If Trump’s listening, and if the King has his ear, then Abdullah can be the bridge the Palestinians seem unable to build by themselves.