Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was involved in efforts by the United States and Saudi Arabia to pressure Jordan’s King Abdullah II as part of the Trump administration’s promotion of its Middle East peace plan, the Washington Post reported Saturday.
The report described the efforts as having challenged Abdullah’s domestic political standing in recent years, culminating in the exposure in April of an alleged plot to “destabilize” Jordan that ensnared the king’s half-brother Prince Hamza and former senior officials Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid.
Much of the pressure reportedly concerned Jerusalem, where Abdullah is recognized as the custodian of the Temple Mount and other Muslim sites in the Old City, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel recognized the Jordanian monarchy’s status as custodian in the 1994 peace agreement between the countries.
Citing an American who knows the king, the newspaper’s columnist David Ignatius wrote that Abdullah felt the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia were trying to push him out as custodian. The report said it did not appear that US president Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Netanyahu were seeking topple the Jordanian king, but that their efforts undercut him and emboldened those who opposed Abdullah.
“It became a belief of Trump that the king was a hindrance to the peace process,” a former senior CIA official was quoted as saying.
The report noted the close relations that Trump and Jared Kushner — the US president’s son-in-law and senior adviser — forged with Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler. Abdullah was said to be concerned those expanded ties came at Jordan’s expense, with Ignatius writing that senior Jordanian officials felt the king was being sidelined due to Trump’s infatuation with the Israeli and Saudi leaders and because of his reservations over the US proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
As Kushner’s efforts to advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan picked up last year, he also hoped to help facilitate a normalization pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to the report. However, Abdullah was seen as an obstacle to such a rapprochement.
A key figure in the report was Bassem Awadallah, one of the former senior officials implicated in the alleged recent plot. Awadallah, a cabinet minister and onetime head of the royal court, moved to Saudi Arabia in 2018 at Abdullah’s encouragement and became close with the Saudi crown prince.
“A sticking point for us is al-Aqsa. The king [Abdullah] uses that to browbeat us and keep his role in the Middle East,” Awadallah was reported to say regarding the US peace push, referring to the Temple Mount compound.
An unnamed former US official also said he was told by Awadallah that “MBS is upset because he can’t get a deal because he can’t handle the reactions of Palestinians if the king holds his position on Jerusalem,” using Bin Salman’s initials.
Ignatius also quoted from a Jordanian investigative report on the alleged plot.
“Awadallah was working to promote the ‘deal of the century’ and weaken Jordan’s position and the King’s position on Palestine and the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem,” the Jordanian report said.
That same report was also said to allege that bin Zaid, the other senior Jordanian official implicated alongside Awadallah, met in 2019 with two officials from a foreign embassy in Amman “to inquire about their country’s position on supporting Prince Hamzah as an alternative to the King.” Ignatius said an unnamed Western official who gave him the report believes the embassy was likely the US mission in the Jordanian capital.
Additionally, the Washington Post report said Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies sent private messages to Abdullah when the alleged plot was exposed earlier this year, denying any Israeli role. Ignatius, citing a former US intelligence official who saw the messages, said their key point was “this is not us. It’s coming from in front of us,” which he said presumably implied Netanyahu.
Ignatius also noted a secret trip Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly made to Amman earlier this year to meet with Abdullah and his comments to supporters that “Netanyahu is an unwanted figure” in Jordan. The columnist asserted the remarks underscored concerns among Israeli security officials over the potential for instability in Jordan.
The exposure of the alleged plot came a month after a diplomatic spat between Israel and Jordan brought to the fore Jordanian frustrations with Netanyahu and tensions between the two neighbors that have simmered for years.