Interview with Middle East expert Andre Bank

"Jordan consistently hedges its bets"

Many of King Abdullah II's regional policies are unpopular with Jordanians because they are perceived to be selling out Arab interests. In an interview with Diana Hodali, Middle East expert Andre Bank explains why this is so

What role does Jordan play in the current geopolitical situation in the Middle East?

Andre Bank: The Hashemite monarchy consistently aims to adopt the role of mediator whenever conflict flares up in the region, refusing to come down clearly on one particular side. This is partly due to the country’s location at the heart of the Middle East, which sees it directly affected by many conflicts such as those in Syria, Palestine and Iraq. In addition, its dependence on resources from abroad means that the financial survival of the state of Jordan is for the most part assured through external donors. As a result, Jordan is unable to take a clear stance against many nations.

Such as?

Bank: It can’t take a stand against Israel, for instance, because a peace treaty has existed between both nations since 1994. This is extremely important for relations with western countries, such as its main financier, the USA, but also with the EU, including Germany. Nor can it afford to position itself against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Jordan’s most important financiers in the region.

Have Israeli-Jordanian relations changed since 1994?

Bank: The peace has remained a cold peace. There hasn’t been any direct confrontation between the two countries. But relations – especially since the advent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuʹs right-wing government – have cooled considerably. On the other hand, Israel is important to Jordan from an economic perspective. The Jordanian people, however, remain extremely wary of Israel and of its government in particular.

Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty: King Hussein of Jordan (left), U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israelʹs Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Ever a cold peace: on 26 October 1994, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Israeli-Jordan Peace Treaty. Since then, there has been no direct confrontation between the two countries. However, relations – especially since the advent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuʹs right-wing government – have cooled considerably

Israel and the Gulf States – in particular Saudi Arabia – have been moving closer together for a while. Does this affect Jordan?

Bank: At the very least, this could mean that Jordan would not be able to act as a mediator, as has often been its wont in Israeli-Saudi relations or in relations between Israel and other Gulf states. Having said that, its geographical location is where it is – and it retains a central role for the future of Syria, for the stabilisation of Palestine and also for good ties with Egypt.

The Gulf states provide financial support to Jordan, as does the USA. Is Jordan economically dependent on the Gulf states?

Bank: Because of the scarcity of resources, population growth and an inadequately diversified economy, Jordan is extremely dependent on such support. This means that Jordan can never openly position itself against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. But the government is also striving to find a compensatory policy approach and according to the situation, attempting to improve its relations with states such as Qatar, Kuwait and other financially-robust Gulf nations, as a way of opening up alternative sources. There are regular efforts to secure flows of cash into the country, which the monarchy can then channel to key social groups.

But King Abdullah II is unlikely to want to be as isolated as his father was during the Second Gulf War, when the latter failed to join the Arab-American war alliance against Saddam Hussein.

Bank: If you look back at the past decades of Jordanian Middle East policy, 1990/91 is certainly the exception to the rule. At that time, King Hussein behaved at least neutrally towards Saddam Hussein, something that was essentially viewed as taking the side of the dictator. As a result, Jordan was put under pressure by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and also Israel, whereupon it expedited the peace process with Israel as way of relieving this massive isolation.

The majority of King Abdullah II’s regional policies are unpopular with much of the population because they are seen as selling out Arab interests – first and foremost in relation to Israel, but also to Syria. When Bashar al Assad looked to be about to fall, King Abdullah II was the first Arab head of state to demand his resignation. Now, with Assad having survived politically, the Jordanians are re-opening the most important border crossing. They are attempting to be among the first to profit economically from the relative stabilisation of the situation in Syria. It’s always a case of waiting to see which way the wind is blowing.

Symbolic image of Intifada (photo: Reuters)
Consistent in its appeals for calm: "what Jordan doesn’t want is a third Intifada, as this would be accompanied by huge levels of violence. Of course there is the domestic policy dimension as well – after all if violence escalates in Palestine, this is immediately followed up by solidarity demos in Jordan, which are aimed in part at the monarchy and King Abdullah II," says Andre Bank

Many Palestinians live in Jordan; Jordan is directly affected by the Middle East conflict. To what extent is Jordan interested in a Palestinian state?

Bank:  Officially, and this is also Jordanian state doctrine, the two-state solution applies. What Jordan doesn’t want is a third Intifada, as this would be accompanied by huge levels of violence. The Hashemite monarchy is always in favour of calming the situation. This does of course also have a domestic policy dimension – after all if violence escalates in Palestine, this is immediately followed up by solidarity demos in Jordan, which are aimed in part at the monarchy and King Abdullah II. Jordan may officially be an advocate of the two-state solution, but it knows that it can do very little to achieve it. Jordan is aware that with this U.S. government, with this Israeli government and these Fatah and Hamas leadership groups there will no peace in the foreseeable future.

Jordan has partially re-opened its border with Syria. How is the situation in Syria affecting Jordan’s stability?

Bank: Hundreds of thousands of Syrians live in Jordan. And the northern territories of Jordan in particular, which were especially closely interconnected with Syria, suffered economically as a result of the 2014 border closure. On the other hand, the geostrategic importance of a stable Jordan has massively increased as a result of the war in Syria. Because of this, the Jordanian government has received a great deal of money – from the USA and Europe, as well as the Gulf States – to ensure that the Syrian conflict doesn’t expand into a regional conflagration across the entire Middle East.

Interview conducted by Diana Hodali

© Deutsche Welle/ 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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