Exclusive'The future is entirely up to Israel'

Jordanian king tells US lawmakers he’s trying to get Abbas back to peace talks

In virtual briefings, Abdullah also warns congressional leaders that Netanyahu’s annexation plan would bolster Hamas

Jordanian King Abdullah II delivers a speech at the European Parliament on January 15, 2020 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (Frederick Florin/AFP)
Jordanian King Abdullah II delivers a speech at the European Parliament on January 15, 2020 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (Frederick Florin/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Jordan’s king has been warning congressional leaders that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank would strengthen Hamas and damage Israel’s ability to normalize relations with the rest of the region, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

King Abdullah II has been leading a lobbying campaign against Israeli plans to begin annexing the West Bank settlements and the entire Jordan Valley under the Trump administration’s peace proposal, taking his case to US lawmakers in multiple teleconference meetings this week.

Abdullah told the lawmakers that he has been encouraging Palestinians to negotiate with Israel; the Palestinian Authority has refused to engage with the White House since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying it tarnished the team’s ability to act as honest mediators. Talks with Israel have been stalled since 2014. “He shared that he had been encouraging Palestinians to negotiate with Israel,” the Washington-based source told The Times of Israel.

The king “urged members to understand that annexation would affect the daily lives of Palestinians and that he feared that it would radicalize Palestinians and empower violent extremists. Hamas would benefit from annexation,” the source said.

Hamas, a terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, is a chief rival to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. Abbas recently partially cut off security coordination between Israel and the PA, which had been seen as a key element in tamping down Hamas terror activities in the West Bank.

Israeli defense officials and others have privately expressed worries that the annexation move could spark violent protests and snowball into a popular uprising.

Abdullah’s pleas for US lawmakers to block Netanyahu’s proposal comes less than two weeks ahead of the Israeli premier’s self-imposed July 1 deadline to start the process. Netanyahu has vowed to keep to the date, despite logistical challenges and growing pressure from Europe, parts of the Arab world and some within his own governing coalition.

The Jordanian leader has reportedly refused to speak to Netanyahu or Defense Minister Benny Gantz and has seemingly shifted attention to attempting to convince Washington to pull support for the idea.

“The king bluntly told members that Israeli annexation would be a mistake if Israel expected to build relationships in the region,” the source explained. “He said that ‘the future is entirely up to Israel.'”

Abdullah spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among other leading senators and representatives, and appeared virtually before the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees.

The appeals signal the severity of his concerns about Netanyahu moving forward on his plan to annex substantial parts of the West Bank — the 30% allocated to Israel under the Trump peace plan — with US backing.

The Hashemite Kingdom released a statement Wednesday that said Abdullah warned that “any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable and undermines the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East.”

In this December 7, 2017 file photo, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan. (Khalil Mazraawi/Pool Photo via AP, File)

In recent weeks, multiple Jordanian officials have stated that the Kingdom would re-evaluate its 1994 peace treaty with Israel if it were to bring its annexation plans to fruition. That includes Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States, Dina Kawar, during a virtual conference with the American Jewish Committee.

Jordan not only has a large population of Palestinian refugees, it also borders Israel and the West Bank, making the possibility of any violent eruptions over annexation a national security concern to the country.

Under a coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz, Israel’s government can pursue annexation starting July 1.

The Trump administration has indicated it will not oppose Israeli moves to annex lands that would become part of the country under its peace plan, which conditionally envisions a Palestinian state on the remaining roughly 70% of the West Bank, albeit pockmarked with Israeli settlement panhandles and enclaves.

The move, if enacted, would be a major turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians, foreign leaders, US lawmakers and veteran peace negotiators saying it would severely weaken the prospects of the internationally long-endorsed two-state solution.

Democrats have been fairly unified in opposing the action.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden holds his notes as he speaks to members of the clergy and community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, June 1, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Pelosi, and the vast majority of the party’s members of the House and Senate have spoken out against the proposal.

Last month, 19 Democratic senators signed onto a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz, saying annexation “would have a clear impact on both Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.”

In December, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution mostly along partisan lines opposing the move and supporting a two-state solution.

No Republicans on Capitol Hill have thus far criticized Netanyahu’s annexation hopes. Some have suggested support for it .

“Israel is an ally and a sovereign nation entitled to make this decision for itself,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently tweeted. “Far too many in America have been presumptuous in trying to dictate the terms of peace to them.”

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