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Jordan: key player and regional mediator

by Anna Maria Cossiga

Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, king Abdullah is showing all of his diplomatic abilities. The renewed good relations with the US and with several other states across the region could make Jordan a valuable mediator in the MENA region.

On 3 October of this year, Jordan’s King Abdullah II received a call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the first in a decade. The call came a few days after the Hashemite Kingdom fully re-opened its border with Syria, thus restoring ties with Damascus, which had been severed during the civil war. The aim, as Jordan’s minister of industry and trade, Maha Ali, stated, was “to boost trade exchange between the two countries to achieve the interests of every party”. Jordanian officials also said that a discussion on lifting tariff barriers was on its way. Jordan’s efforts to rehabilitate diplomatic relations with Syria were also followed up by other Arab countries.

Jordan is a key country in the region. Despite being a small-size country lacking natural resources, its geographical position at the center of the Levant makes it a crucial player in the complex Middle Eastern scenario and a credible interlocutor not only for the Western countries but also a critical pillar of stability for the region.

Jordan is relevant under multiple aspects. The Hashemite kingdom is, historically, the guardian of the Muslim (and Christian) holy sights in Jerusalem, which gives to it an important source of legitimacy in the Islamic world. It represents a model of moderate Islam, and it has always shown respect for ethnic and religious diversity, both at home and abroad. In this regard, in 2004 King Abdullah launched the “Amman Message”, a statement endorsed by Islam representatives from more than 50 countries aimed at clarifying to the world the true nature of Islam and the difference between the true Muslim faith and the ideology of radical Islam.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Jordan has been involved in the fight against terrorism and is one of the leading countries in the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS. King Abdullah also launched in 2015 the Aqaba Process initiative, hosting several high level meetings to enhance security and military coordination and cooperation, as well as the exchange of expertise and information, among various regional and international stakeholders, to counter terrorism within a holistic approach. Historically, Jordan has been one of the greatest supporters of Palestinian rights and one of the key mediators with Israel. A strong supporter of the “two states” solution, it was the second Arab country after Egypt, to sign a peace agreement with Israel showing, before the Abraham Accords, that relations between Tel Aviv and the Arab countries were possible. Despite the relations between Jordan and Israel had worsened during Netanyahu’s premiership, the appointment of Naftali Bennet as prime minister paved the way for restoring full cooperation between the two countries. On October 12th a new agreement was signed in which Israel agreed to sell to Jordan 50 millions m3 of water a year, doubling the current supply.

Jordan has also managed carefully regional relations, showing a degree of foreign policy autonomy. In 2019, during the diplomatic crisis between the Arab Quartet (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein and Egypt) and Qatar, Jordan maintained diplomatic ties with Doha, even though the Arab quartet still had no relations with it. At the same time, Jordan was also able to maintain good relations with the UAE and Egypt during the rift in the Gulf while being on good terms with Turkey.

Jordan was severly hit by Covid-19 and the pandemic has worsened the economic problems of the country, already affected by the war in Syria. Nevertheless, Jordan has managed the outbreak better than many of its neighbours and has also shown a remarkable responsibility towards the large number of refugees in the country. The kingdom was already hosting 2.2 million Palestinian refugees, the majority of whom have Jordanian nationality. In addition to these, around 1.3 million Syrian refugees reside today in the country, 13% of the population (10.2 million), costing the government about $1.4 million per year. Rightly so, the UNHCR considers Jordan an “exemplary host country”, and it stressed how Jordan has included refugees in the anti-Covid vaccination programme, thus showing “a global leadership in hosting refugees”.

Jordan is also a strong American partner in the region. As such, King Abdullah’s visit to Washington in July this year was highly symbolic. Given the common concerns on Iran, during the Trump administration the US relied more on Saudi Arabia and the UAE as allies, leaving Jordan in the background. President Biden, however, has given clear signs of his willingness to restore the historic relationship with Jordan by inviting its King to visit before any other Arab leader and commending the important role Jordan plays in the wider stability of the region.

In such a volatile region, geopolitical forecasts are particularly difficult to make. However, the renewed relationship with the US, the effort of restoring relations with Israel, even with the Palestinian question still unresolved and the diplomatic abilities of its king represent an asset for Jordan as well as for neighbouring countries.

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