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Middle East: Israel’s prime minister secretly visits Jordan

The visit was kept secret for ten days, but that doesn’t detract from its political significance: on June 29, the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Jordan by helicopter to meet King Abdullah II in the capital, Amman. The meeting at the palace was the first of its kind in three years.

As a visible result, Israel will double its water supplies to Jordan, which will also benefit the Palestinians in the West Bank. The agreement was announced on Thursday by Israel’s Foreign Minister Jair Lapid and his Jordanian colleague Ayman Safadi, who had previously met at the Allenby border crossing. Lapid said Israel would sell another 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan. The two also agreed to increase Jordan’s exports to the West Bank from $ 160 million to $ 700 million. The kingdom is suffering from an economic crisis as well as from increasing water scarcity.

The meeting between Bennett and Abdullah did not want to confirm the office of Prime Minister or the Jordanian court. Israeli media unanimously report, however, that Bennett personally informed King Abdullah that he would approve the water deal. The two also agreed to normalize the dialogue between the two governments and leave behind the upheavals of the past few months.

Trigger of the crisis: Donald Trump

Relations between neighboring countries entered an open crisis in March after years of tension. Ultimately, it was triggered by the Middle East plans of former US President Donald Trump and the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recently voted out of office. With the approval of his friend in the White House, he had announced that he would annex parts of the West Bank and the strategically important Jordan Valley.

While some Arab states supported the project and, for example, the United Arab Emirates normalized their relations with Israel, Jordan made a massive opposition – although the Hashemite Kingdom was the second Arab country after Egypt to make peace with the Jewish state in 1994. Jordan sees itself as representing the interests of the Palestinians. There are officially more than two million registered Palestinian refugees among the 11 million people in the kingdom. Above all, however, a large proportion of the Jordanians are descended from Palestinians who immigrated between 1948 and 1967.

First, during a planned visit by Crown Prince Hussein to the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, Israeli security forces refused entry to some of his bodyguards, whereupon the heir to the throne broke off the trip. The Hashemite royal family is the protective power of the third most important shrine for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

Back to the two-state solution

When Netanyahu wanted to fly from Amman to the United Arab Emirates a little later, Jordan refused permission to take off the Emirati aircraft. Netanyahu then closed Israeli airspace to Jordanian machines, regardless of the close security cooperation between the two states and without consulting his security cabinet, but revised the decision a little later.

Bennett’s visit to Jordan is clearly part of a realignment of Israel’s foreign and regional policy. The prime minister had also tried to improve the heavily burdened relationship with the Palestinian Authority, but suffered a setback in the process: the Covid vaccine he had offered was too close to its expiration date in the opinion of the Palestinians. Israel has now brought him into an exchange deal with South Korea. Bennett has also ordered a review of Iran policy.

In doing so, he is also reacting to the change in power in the USA and the fact that President Joe Biden wants to revive the nuclear deal with Iran and, in terms of Middle East policy, is turning back to the USA’s longstanding position of supporting a two-state solution. Bennett, like King Abdullah, is due to be received at the White House in July.

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