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Analysis

Jordan counts on support from Biden as it pushes back against Netanyahu

In delaying permission for PM to use airspace, Hashemite kingdom starts to reassert itself after keeping a low profile during Trump administration

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, left, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan, Jordanian Royal Palace)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, left, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan, Jordanian Royal Palace)

AMMAN (AFP) — When Jordan sabotaged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant pre-election trip to the United Arab Emirates last week, analysts say, it was sending him a message: stop marginalizing us.

The Hashemite kingdom — which kept a low profile during the term of former US president Donald Trump, a close Netanyahu ally — now believes the winds have shifted and Joe Biden will show a more balanced approach.

Last Thursday, Jordan delayed granting Netanyahu permission to cross its airspace to the UAE, forcing him to shelve his trip to the rich Gulf state with which Israel normalized relations in a landmark agreement last year.

The move dealt a blow to Netanyahu, who is campaigning for re-election on March 23.

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Jordan’s move “sent an abrupt and firm message to make him understand that it will no longer tolerate his way of behaving towards it,” said Ahmad Awad of the Phenix Center for Economics & Informatics Studies in Amman.

Netanyahu had been due to meet the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, to mark the historic agreement between Israel and the UAE on what would have been his first official visit to the Gulf state.

“Jordan chose the right moment to scupper what was supposed to be a show of victory and a campaign event for Netanyahu,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, director of Al Quds Center For Political Studies.

“This move has turned into a crisis between the two countries.”

‘More comfortable’

Israel’s veteran leader faces his fourth election battle in less than two years.

With an ongoing graft trial hanging over his head, he is campaigning both on a world-leading COVID vaccination drive and as a statesman who delivered diplomatic breakthroughs.

In the so-called Abraham Accords brokered by the US under Trump, Israel also established relations with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-NahyanAbraham and Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Palestinians regarded these deals as a betrayal, maintaining that Arab states should isolate Israel until the people living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have their own independent state.

Diplomatic contact had ceased between the Palestinians and Washington after Trump had given his approval for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. Jordan, home to many Palestinian refugees, had strongly opposed that idea. Israel ultimately agreed to shelve the annexation plans as part of the US-brokered agreement with the UAE.

Awad said that, “after years of deliberate marginalization of its role under an American administration further to the right than the Israeli right, Jordan is in the process of restoring the situation with the arrival of Biden.”

A Palestinian man rides a donkey on a road in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank on June 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rantawi also said that, with Trump out of the picture, “Jordan today feels more comfortable.”

“The Trump administration was threatening Jordan’s vital interests regarding the final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

He was referring to a vision of making Jordan a substitute state for the Palestinians, an idea which is unacceptable to Amman and the Palestinians.

Rantawi said while the Trump administration strongly supported Israel’s position on the long-running dispute, the Biden administration “supports the two-state solution and considers Jordan a partner.”

“It has returned to traditional American positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

‘Cold peace’

Tensions rose last week after the cancellation of a planned visit by the Jordanian crown prince to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

According to the head of Jordanian diplomacy, Ayman Safadi, Prince Hussein decided to cancel his visit after Israel had announced it would change the program at the last moment. Israel says the prince arrived with a larger than agreed security detail, carrying more weaponry than agreed.

A Muslim woman wears a mask and gloves in East Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, which was shut to prevent the spread of coronavirus during the holy month of Ramadan, May 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Underlying this is the struggle between the two countries for control of the esplanade that is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. The mosque sits atop the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical temples.

While Israel controls the eastern part of Jerusalem, the mosque is administered by the Waqf, an organization that manages Muslim property and which, for historical reasons, depends on Jordan.

Safadi explained Jordan’s position in the spat with Israel on CNN on Friday.

“You renege on an agreement with Jordan, you disrupt a religious visit, you create conditions that made this religious visit on a holy occasion impossible and then you expect to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan?” he said.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference in Berlin on March 10, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

“Let’s be serious here.”

A furious Netanyahu reportedly instructed officials to close Israeli airspace to Jordanian flights in response to Amman delaying approval for him to fly over Jordan en route to the UAE, forcing the cancelation of his trip, but backtracked before the instruction was implemented.

A Jordanian official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP that “relations with Netanyahu have been strained for many years.”

He said that King Abdullah II “refuses to receive him or answer his phone calls.” Their last officially announced meeting was in June 2018, and the one before that in 2014.

King Abdullah of Jordan has repeatedly described the peace with Israel as a “cold peace” and in late 2019 said that Israeli-Jordanian relations are at “an all-time low.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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