In early 2022, the State Department of the United States gave approval for a set of possible arms sales to friendly Middle Eastern countries that include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the approved sale to Jordan alone includes a dozen F-16 C/D Block 70 fighter jets, with a value of more than $4 billion. Additionally, Jordan is approved to receive tail kits for guided missiles and other related munitions and radio equipment.
The U.S.-Jordan diplomatic relationship officially began in 1949 and has been a close and cooperative one for the past four decades, as Jordan has increasingly become a force for moderation in the region. In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab nation to conclude a peace treaty with Israel, further cementing its relationship with the U.S. In 1996, noting shared strategic and peace-keeping goals, the U.S. proclaimed Jordan a major non-NATO ally. The U.S. also continues as the single biggest provider of bilateral aid to Jordan.
Israel’s relations with Jordan remain at least stable, as well, with King Abdullah II continuing his nation’s diplomatic ties and security cooperation with the Jewish State since he came to the throne in 1999. This relationship has sometimes been more of a cold peace, particularly at points during former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long term in office. Additionally, the presence of some 3 million Palestinians within Jordan’s borders means that the king cannot build too warm of a relationship with Israel.
But, while Netanyahu more than once nettled the Jordanian government, current Israeli coalition Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a more subdued presence. Soon after taking office, Bennett doubled the water supply Israel diverts to Jordan, and has reportedly met personally with Abdullah in Amman to discuss enhancements to the relationship.
The trajectory of the Hashemite dynasty
King Abdullah II is the son and heir of the late King Hussein, who died in 1999 after a 46-year rule. Under Hussein, modernizing trends shaping the developing world took root, and his policies notably boosted the national economy and gave more Jordanians the opportunity to raise their standard of living.
As part of the carve-up of the post-World War I Ottoman Empire, the British created the emirate of Transjordan to the east of the River Jordan, flanked by what are now Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Israel (then mandatory Palestine). The Hashemite dynasty was established by that first emir, Abdullah (the current monarch’s great-grandfather), who traced his family history all the way back to the Prophet Muhammed through the Hashemite princes of Mecca. Abdullah I was the brother of Iraq’s King Faisal, and both brothers allied with adventurer T. E. Lawrence in the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. (Fans of David Lean’s epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia will recall Alec Guinness’ memorable portrayal of Prince Faisal.)
Abdullah I notably was the only Arab ruler to accept the terms of the UN’s division of mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. During the Arab countries’ war with Israel in 1948, his troops moved into the West Bank (which he annexed in 1950) and East Jerusalem, occupying them until the Six-Day War in 1967. The annexation met with vociferous anger from surrounding Arab nations, and from the Palestinians. It was a Palestinian who ended Abdullah’s reign with a bullet, at the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1951.
After Abdullah’s assassination, his grandson Hussein was chosen to take the throne after Hussein’s own father, Talal, was forced to abdicate due to his suffering from an extreme form of mental illness. It was during Talal’s brief reign, however, that Jordan was declared a constitutional monarchy.
Under this system, the king retains ultimate power over all branches of government, aided by his self-chosen prime minister and cabinet, although these appointments are subject to approval by parliament. The bicameral legislature includes senators appointed by the king and representatives elected by the people.
The constant Palestinian presence
The Palestinian presence in Jordan has been a particularly consistent thorn in the side of its kings.
After King Abdullah I’s annexation of the West Bank, numerous Palestinians came under his rule. After the founding of Israel, many more fled to Jordan. After the Six-Day War brought the West Bank and East Jerusalem under Israeli control, it also gave rise to another influx of refugees into Jordan. Palestinians now constitute an estimated more than one-fourth of the total Jordanian population.
After the loss of the West Bank, Palestinians joined rapidly proliferating fedayeen (guerrilla) organizations. In 1970, King Hussein ordered the Jordanian army into combat against fedayeen strongholds in order to prevent the toppling of his reign. The fighting was ruthless, with the result that many Palestinians continue to feel bitterness toward the Hashemite dynasty. The king reduced the influence of Palestinians in Jordan’s government beginning in 1974, when the Palestine Liberation Organization, and not Jordan, was proclaimed the official representative of the Palestinian people.
Grappling with crisis
Over the past two decades, Jordan has seen a number of attacks from al-Qaeda within and across its borders. Notably, Iraqi al-Qaeda operatives claimed responsibility for the 2005 suicide bombings at three Amman hotels that took the lives of 60 people, most of them Jordanian citizens.
The national economy is also marked by the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, with high unemployment figures across demographics. The unemployment and economic crisis is particularly hard on the many Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees in the country, a large percentage of whom remain stuck in camps.
Additionally, Jordan’s tribal alliances—traditionally a strong support for the monarchy—have become discontented with the king’s appointment of technocrats to ministerial positions. Young people are also restive in the country, which has been described by some progressive activists as a “soft dictatorship.”
And in 2021, the news got out that a half-brother of the king had attempted what amounts to a coup. The government claimed that the brother, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, sought to foment “sedition” in the country with support from foreign organizations. The prince is thought to be still under house arrest after the plot was defused.
Despite this turmoil, Jordan in fact remains among the more stable partners for peace and security in the region as far as the U.S. and the Israelis are concerned. All the more reason to watch events unfolding there with keen interest.