Jordan’s king: I was ‘very encouraged’ after meeting with Bennett, Gantz

In CNN interview, Abdullah says violent Jewish-Arab unrest in Israel during its most recent conflict with Hamas was a ‘civil war,’ should serve as ‘a wake-up call’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Jordanian King Abdullah II, right speaks to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 20, 2021, at the State Department in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm /Pool via AP)
Jordanian King Abdullah II, right speaks to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 20, 2021, at the State Department in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm /Pool via AP)

Jordanian King Abdullah said he was “encouraged” by his recent meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, though he does not anticipate any immediate progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“It was important for me not only to meet with the Palestinian leadership after a war — which I did with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] — I met the prime minister, I met General [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz. We really have to get back to the table,” said Abdullah during an interview with  CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria recorded on Friday and aired Sunday morning.

Abdullah, who met with US President Joe Biden in the White House last week, said he held such meetings “under that umbrella of how do we get Israelis and Palestinians to talk.”

However, he noted, “this government may not be the most ideal government to, in my view [advance] a two-state solution, which I think is the only solution.”

Bennett is a right-wing nationalist who opposes the two-state solution. His fragile coalition is composed of eight diverse parties, ranging from left-wing peace supporters to right-wing annexationists.

Nevertheless, the longtime Jordanian monarch said he “came out of those meetings feeling very encouraged, and I think we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, not only a better understanding between Israel and Jordan, but the voices coming out of both Israel and Palestine that we need to move forward and reset that relationship.”

The king of Jordan also noted the need to rebuild Israeli-Jordanian relations, “because it has not been good.”

Abdullah met earlier this month in Amman with Bennett, in a meeting that was originally secret and later leaked in the Israeli press. Following the meeting, Israel agreed to dramatically increase the water it supplies to Jordan, which is suffering an extreme drought.

Gantz has never publicly confirmed meeting with Abdullah; the pair reportedly met in February, before the latest election and before Bennett took office. The timing of the meeting referred to by Abdullah was not immediately clear from his remarks.

President Joe Biden, right, meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The king told CNN that he felt the recent 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Hamas in Gaza “was different.”

“Since 1948, this was the first time I feel that a civil war happened in Israel,” he said, pointing to the intense clashes between Jewish and Muslim Israelis during the conflict. “And I think that was a wake-up call for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine, that unless we move along, unless we give hope to the Palestinians… the next war will be even more damaging.”

Zakaria asked Abdullah which country he believes will be next to normalize relations with Israel, following the groundbreaking Abraham Accords last year, which led to ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

“I don’t know which country is going to be next, but I’ve noticed that a trend from Arab countries that are looking at their national security interests, with their concerns — the shadow of Iran along with a lot of the regional challenges — that see the option of having a relationship with Israel in their vested interest,” said Abdullah.

“But I think the war was a reality check to all of us,” he added, “that even though the Abraham Accords may expand, you can’t do it at the expense of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and discussions on that future. Unless we get back into getting Israelis and Palestinians together, then it’s going to be two steps forward, one step back.”

US Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi and King Abdullah II of Jordan participate in a photo op in the Speaker’s Balcony Hallway of the US Capitol on July 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (ALEX WONG/Getty Images via AFP)

Abdullah was circumspect when asked about the ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at getting Iran back in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

“There are legitimate concerns in our part of the world on a lot of portfolios that the Americans are hopefully going to be able to discuss with the Iranians,” said Abdullah.

“The nuclear program affects Israel as it does the Gulf,” he added, noting that Iranian ballistic technology has targeted much of the Middle East, including “Israel from Syria and Lebanon to an extent, and what misses Israel sometimes lands in Jordan.”

He also revealed Iranian drone attacks on Jordan, as well as “increased cyber attacks on many of our countries.”

“We do know that the talks in Vienna have been slightly postponed until this new government in Iran settles in,” Abdullah said. “I have a feeling that where the American position is and the Iranian position is — is somewhat far apart.”

But, he said, “let’s hope those talks get us to a better position where we can calm the region because we have so many challenges.”

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