Isaac Herzog will travel to Jordan on Wednesday for talks with King Abdullah II, the Israeli president’s office said, the latest in a flurry of high-level meetings and diplomatic activity in recent weeks.
The meeting, which will be held in public, follows closely on the heels of a visit by Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday, a visit by Abdullah to the West Bank a day earlier, and a trip to Amman by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid earlier this month. The contacts have reversed years of chilly ties between Jerusalem and Amman that were present under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The meetings are thought to be aimed at discussing efforts to lower tensions between Israelis and Palestinians ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, which begins at the beginning of April.
The confluence of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter in April has been a point of concern for the Biden administration as well, with US and Israeli officials telling The Times of Israel last month that Washington has asked Jerusalem to take steps to lower tensions and prevent an outbreak of violence similar to what occurred last May when Israel fought an 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza.
Terror attacks in Israel over the past week have claimed the lives of six Israelis, significantly ratcheting up tensions.
In a rare move, the visit was announced ahead of time and will be held in public. Most visits by Israeli officials are kept tightly under wraps and only revealed after the fact.
According to Herzog’s office, the president and the king will discuss “deepening Israeli-Jordanian relations, maintaining regional stability with an emphasis on the upcoming holiday period, strengthening peace and normalization, and the many latent opportunities in relations between Israel, Jordan, and the wider region.” There was no immediate comment from the Jordanian side.
Herzog last met with Abdullah in September, doing so covertly and only disclosing the visit after the fact.
During the Tuesday meeting between Gantz and Abdullah, the defense minister’s office said he presented the king with the steps Israel intends to take in order to maintain freedom of worship for Palestinians in Jerusalem during Ramadan, as well as other moves intended to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during their respective meeting.
Israel recently increased the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel by an additional 8,000, to a total of 20,000.
“The defense minister emphasized to him the importance of maintaining stability and calm, and the overall need to fight terror, and in particular the Islamic State organization, which is behind the recent terrorist attacks in Israel,” Gantz’s office said.
Abdullah told Gantz that “provocative actions that lead to escalation” must be prevented, the Jordanian Royal Court said.
According to the court, Abdullah reiterated Jordan’s support for a two-state solution. The monarch also pushed for Israel to remove obstacles to Palestinian “freedom of worship” for Muslims at the Temple Mount during Ramadan.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also recently met, in secret, with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. That meeting also focused on efforts to keep the calm in Jerusalem during the Muslim month of Ramadan.
Israeli ties with Jordan reached a nadir in the past few years, owing in large part to poor relations between Abdullah and Netanyahu, and both sides have worked to improve them in recent months.
But while Israeli officials have made frequent visits to Amman, senior Jordanian officials have avoided reciprocating, as part of a longstanding policy to avoid such symbolic gestures absent a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has only gone as far as to meet his Israeli counterparts at the Allenby Crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. The last time Abdullah visited Israel was in 2004 when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was readying to unilaterally pull out of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.
On Monday, he made his first visit to Ramallah in five years, telling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he was there to “listen to you and hear from you what is demanded of the Jordanians.” The meeting came at the same time as Lapid hosted foreign ministers from the US and the Arab world for a groundbreaking summit. Safadi did not attend.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report