Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel warned by his tribe not to take the job
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Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel warned by his tribe not to take the job

The ultimatum given to Walid Obeidat says as much about loyalty to the king as it does about relations with Israel, expert says

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jordanians celebrating the country's Independence Day in Amman wave posters of King Abdullah, June 1 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)
Jordanians celebrating the country's Independence Day in Amman wave posters of King Abdullah, June 1 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

The newly appointed Jordanian ambassador to Israel has come under fire from his own tribe, whose leadership has threatened to disassociate from him if he accepts the post.

The fallout, however, indicates not only the low in Israel-Jordan relations but also the erosion of tribal loyalties to Jordan’s king.

Walid Obeidat, a member of one of the largest northern Jordanian tribes, is to take office as ambassador to Israel on October 17. The post has been vacant since ambassador Ali Al-Ayed was recalled to Amman following Operation Cast Lead — Israel’s battle against Hamas in winter 2008-9.

But a statement published by members of the Obeidat tribe on Saturday made clear that the new ambassador will pay dearly for going to Tel Aviv.

“He who accepts this post will have crossed all the red lines, and seriously harm members of his tribe who disassociate from him,” read the statement.

Jordan has largely eschewed ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations which swept the region, but rancor towards the regime has increased over the past two years, notably among the Kingdom’s tribal segments

“This tribe was and will remain loyal to its nation and will not reconcile with its enemies, in order to liberate all Palestinian land,” the statement continued. “This tribe was among the first to warn against the dangers of the Zionist project in the 1920s.”

Jordanians have largely eschewed the ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations which swept the region, but rancor towards the regime has increased over the past two years — notably among the Kingdom’s tribal segments — over issues of corruption and political reform.

Assaf David, a Jordan researcher at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said that beyond the obvious affront to Israeli-Jordanian normalization, the Obeidat statement illustrates the new low in relations between the regime and Jordanian tribes during the reign of King Abdullah II.

“This appointment [as ambassador to Israel] was always problematic, but in the past such tensions were solved quietly, not through press statements,” David told the Times of Israel. “Relations between the tribes and the regime have drastically deteriorated since the middle of the previous decade. Today, there is no dialogue between the sides.”

A case in point, David notes, was the appointment of Marwan Muashar as Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel after the two countries made peace in 1994. In his autobiography, Muashar recounts the pressure placed on him by members of his clan, causing him to refuse the appointment at first. But King Hussein diplomatically had Muashar understand that he must accept the job, while reconciling his tribe all the while.

“King Abdullah doesn’t operate that way,” David said. “He never managed to feed the tribes’ ego. It comes across looking forced.”

‘This appointment was always problematic, but in the past such tensions were solved quietly, not through press statements,’ David said

Whether or not Obeidat succumbs to the pressure and refuses to take the job, the clan’s ultimatum sets a standard for other Jordanian tribes who will be forced to display a stance no less hawkish. That, David argued, will place the regime in direct conflict with the tribes long considered the linchpin of its stability.

“It is unclear how the king can solve this predicament ” David said.

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