Jordan and the reconfiguration of the Middle East

By Ricardo Angoso and Miguel Angel Benedicto (from Aman, for Safe Democracy)

Ricardo Angoso and Miguel Angel Benedicto explain how Jordan could play an essential role in the reordering of the Middle East. Jordan‘s good relations with its neighbors (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the monarchies of the Gulf) are key to resolving the conflicts of the region, including the confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians. Angoso and Benedicto believe that Jordan‘s moderate regime continues to be stable, and one of Washington‘s most faithful allies in the region, despite its poor economic situation, and the threats of Islamism and international terrorism. Read on to see why King Abdullah II could have a tremendous influence in pacifying the Middle East.

Ricardo Angoso is a journalist specializing in international affairs and the general coordinator of the NGO Dialogo Europeo in Madrid. Miguel Angel Benedicto is a journalist and consultant specialized in European Affairs. He directs “Facil Consultores” and presides over the association “Ideas and Debate” based in Spain. He is the coauthor of “Europa a Debate. Veinte anos despues (1986-2006)” and “La Mayor Operacion de Solidaridad de la Historia”. With his three degrees in Law, Journalism, and Political Science, he is a teacher of postgraduate studies at the University Complutense in Madrid and the University King Juan Carlos. SINCE THE US’ SUDDEN CHANGE IN RHETORIC, and the push of the United Kingdom and the EU for a peaceful resolution of conflicts, the moderate Arab state of Jordan is emerging as a fundamental figure in the new political process opening in the Middle East.

Jordan maintains good relations with its neighbors, enjoys a certain prestige in the Arab world, and could serve as a bridge between the United States, Israel, and Syria.

It could also play a determining role in resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We should not forget that 50 percent of the population of Jordan is of Palestinian descent, and the majority of Jordanians have important connections within Palestine.

Jordan is already attempting to bring a certain peace to the region, as shown in the statements given by King Abdullah II in his official visits to Holland and the United Kingdom. The Jordanian Leader called for an immediate solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: The international community should put pressure on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. The time has come to end this problem, which has been responsible for fueling hatred, violence, and conflict year after year.

King Abdullah has been one of the main proponents of the Planned Path for Peace between Palestinians and Israelis, which many members of his parliament consider fatal. What’s more, the Peace Treaty that Jordan signed with Israel remains in place, despite its lack of popular or military support.

Sources from the Senate commented that a second International Conference, like the one celebrated in Madrid in 1991, must have a very clear agenda. We cannot allow another failure, they emphasize.

Yet, they also cannot hide the problems of the Hashemite Kingdom. Only a little more than a year ago, Islamic terrorism exploded brutally in Jordan. November 9th of 2005, 68 Jordanians and 22 foreigners died in the explosion of various bombs in three hotels in Aman. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Jordan has converted itself, now, into a target for international terrorism, due to its good relations with the Western world. Yet, the attacks on the capital have not destabilized the regime. On the contrary, they have made the Jordanian population even closer to their king, who himself is one of Washington’s most faithful allies in the region.

Sources in the Jordanian Parliament emphasized the fact that terrorism has come into Jordan from Iraq by groups financed abroad. And the entire political class is worried about the infiltration of fundamentalist elements into Jordan’s security system. We need to strengthen our security by respecting human rights, even though in many cases they have been violated. We will evaluate and avoid future violations, commented a Top Official of the Upper Chamber of Jordanian Parliament, in response to a question by Human Rights Watch about suspected abuses. Yet, given the difficulty of circumstances in Iraq, it is complicated to combine security and respect for the law, especially when the situation is dangerous and terrorism is a constant threat.

And even though in this moment, moderation is prevalent in Jordan, a strong Islamist movement does exit at high levels of politics. They still have not made the necessary transformation away from fundamentalism, indicated sources. The Parliament recently passed a law that puts the state in charge of choosing the religious leaders of Mosques.

The Islamists have been present in Congress since the elections of 2003. In that year, the Muslim Brotherhood obtained 17 seats, of the 110 that exist, and another five went out to independent Islamists. The rest of the positions are in the hands of the tribal and urban elite of Trans-Jordan that supports the monarchy.

Yet, another particularity: in Jordan, Palestinians are discriminated against in their access to government. This unfair treatment often leads them to support the Islamists, who are the only ones who can represent them.

Discrimination against Palestinians has been taboo in the Hashemite Kingdom for decades. As proof, we have the recent accusation of slander and inciting sectarianism made by the Fiscal General against Abu Odeh, head of the Royal House in 1991.

Odeh went on Al Jazeera to denounce the exclusion that Jordanians of Palestinian descent suffer in political participation.

Due to the scarcity of resources and the political instability of the region, Jordan’s economy remains one of its weakest points. Even though its GDP grew during the first semester of 2006 by 6.4 percent, this increase is offset by demographic growth. According to Jordanian military sources, close to a million and a half Iraqis have emigrated to Jordan since the beginning of the war. Their situation, along with that of thousands of excluded Jordanians, is very difficult. They make up the social base upon which Radical Islamism supports itself, using terrorism as an instrument of political action.

Jordan’s decision to raise taxes and cut subsidies has resulted in much higher prices to the dismay of the least fortunate of society. The minimum salary is 154 dollars a month, with an unemployment rate of 16 percent, although the real figure probably rounds up to about 25 percent. Scarce cooperation and ongoing violence in the region have also affected the economy negatively, as well as Jordan’s chronic inability to insert itself into the international economic structure.

The War in Iraq has also converted itself into another problem that has affected internal affairs in Jordan. The Jordanian state has called for the gradual solution of the situation with the collective efforts of unity governments in Arab countries like Jordan, Morocco, and Turkey.

Jordan maintains good relations with all of its neighbors: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the monarchies of the Gulf, where a good deal of Jordanians live. Yet, despite the rhetoric of a peaceful relationship with Israel, Jordan’s interaction with Israel is often radical and hostile, which in a certain sense is logical given the large population of Palestinians living within Jordanian territory.

The paralysis of the peace process in Israel has negatively affected Israeli-Jordanian relations.

Within the framework of the moderating role that Jordan is choosing to play in the region, they have begun an official program of intercultural dialogue to ensure that Islam is not identified with violence.

We must not only spend money on security and defense but also on education so that future generations do not think that the Arab world and Islam are violent, argued members of the senate.

We should be thankful for the addition of one more member to the growing Alliance of Civilizations.

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