Biden hosts Jordan’s Abdullah for third time, in nod to king’s role in region

US president reaffirms backing for Amman’s custodianship of Jerusalem holy places and importance of preserving Temple Mount status quo; monarch also meets with Jewish leaders

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden (R) greets Jordan's King Abdullah (L) and Prince Hussein at the Oval Office on February 2, 2023. (White House)
US President Joe Biden (R) greets Jordan's King Abdullah (L) and Prince Hussein at the Oval Office on February 2, 2023. (White House)

US President Joe Biden hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah at the Oval Office Thursday, underlining Washington’s view of Amman as playing a critical role in maintaining regional stability, particularly regarding Israeli-Palestinian ties.

The visit was Abdullah’s third to the White House since Biden took office, making him Biden’s most frequent foreign guest. The king previously visited in July 2021 and May 2022.

During a private lunch, Biden thanked Abdullah for the role Jordan plays “as a force for stability in the Middle East,” according to a US readout on the talks.

“The leaders discussed opportunities and mechanisms to reduce tensions, particularly in the West Bank,” the White House said.

Biden “reaffirmed his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, citing the critical need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” the White House said.

Jordan’s Royal Court said in a statement that “Abdullah commended the United States’ crucial efforts in restoring calm and creating a political horizon that maintains prospects for just and comprehensive peace, based on the two-state solution.”

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the two biblical temples. It is also the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It has been a source of renewed tension between Israel, Jordan and the broader Muslim world since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to the premiership in late December.

Days after the new Israeli government was sworn in, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir toured the Temple Mount, defying warnings from Jordan of diplomatic consequences. The visit sparked widespread international condemnation and Amman summoned Israel’s ambassador for rebuke.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023 (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

Jordan stridently opposes any changes to the status quo that governs the holy site, under which non-Muslims may visit the compound but not pray there. Ben Gvir has long campaigned for altering the regulations to allow Jewish prayer. Since entering government, he has ceased such calls while still criticizing the policy as “racist.”

Netanyahu insists that Israel remains committed to upholding the status quo at the Temple Mount.

Tensions ratcheted up again weeks later when Israeli police temporarily blocked Jordan’s ambassador Ghassan Majali from visiting the site, sparking a short-lived diplomatic tussle.

Jordan saw its ties with Israel improve under the previous government after a rocky period over the previous decade with Netanyahu at the helm. In a likely sign of the sides seeking to patch things up, Abdullah hosted Netanyahu in Amman last week.

Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali (L) argues with an Israeli police officer on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on January 17, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The visit came amid heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions following an IDF raid in Jenin in which nine Palestinian gunmen were killed along with one civilian, followed by a terror attack in East Jerusalem that took the lives of seven Israeli civilians.

During the meeting, Jordan’s king “stressed the need to cease Israeli measures that undermine the two-state solution and push towards escalation,” the Royal Court said.

Aside from Biden, Abdullah held meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, new Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Congressional leaders.

The king also met with a group of executives from prominent Jewish organizations while in Washington. According to the Royal Court, the king used the opportunity to reiterate many of the same messages he shared with Biden about the importance of both sides ceasing “unilateral measures” that fan the flames of violence.

Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel has helped boost Amman’s support in Washington over the past several decades. It is the largest recipient of US bilateral assistance, receiving nearly $1.5 billion per year. (Israel receives the largest amount of defense aid at $3.8 billion per year).

The Hashemite kingdom has struggled to pull itself from an ongoing economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. The country recently saw a wave of protests over a rise in gas prices.

The US has sought to convince Jordan to join the Negev Forum initiative, which seeks to boost cooperation between the US, Israel and several Arab countries with ties to the Jewish state. Amman has thus far held off from doing so, saying it will only join if the Palestinian Authority does, which has been a non-starter for Ramallah.

Blinken raised the issue during his meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week, according to a US official, who said that Ramallah has yet to provide a response.

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