AMMAN, JORDAN - Arab leaders have reasserted their rejection of any attempt by Israel to annex Palestinian land in the aftermath of Israel’s election. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and President Barham Saleh of Iraq meeting at the United Nations this week say they refuse possible Israel’s annexation designs on the Jordan Valley and the area north of the Dead Sea. Saudi Arabia and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council likewise have condemned any such potential move by Israel.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only way to ensure peace in the region, the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq say after a mini summit they held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
In a statement they issued, they are also calling on the international community to put a stop to Israel’s building and expansion of illegal settlements, as well as all unilateral measures. These include changing the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites.
What has really stoked the anger of Arab leaders, though, is the pledge made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the recent election to annex parts of the West Bank, specifically the Jordan Valley and an area north of the Dead Sea, effectively putting an end to hopes of a future Palestinian state set up there.
King Abdullah already warned Israel that annexing the Jordan Valley will "directly impact" the relationship between Israel and Jordan, and Israel and Egypt, and that "these types of statements are ... a disaster to any attempt to move forward to the two-state solution" to achieve peace. This warning from Jordan and Egypt as the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state is meant to be serious.
Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace explains to VOA the predicament Jordan could face should Israel try to annex this area bordering the kingdom.
When Israel is making moves that cut off the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, that is a security threat to Jordan and an existential threat to Jordan," said Friedman. "And it’s not for nothing. A lot of people who support this Greater Israel vision of the future, if you push them, would probably say that Jordan is Palestine. They are already in the Palestinian state.
Friedman says that concerns by Israel and some of Arab Gulf states over Iran’s growing military presence in Middle East edged them closer to forming open ties with Israel in recent years, building something of a united front against Iran. However, Netanyahu’s annexation pledge drew harsh condemnation from regional leader Saudi Arabia and the rest of its Gulf allies, who called it a “very dangerous escalation.”
Declaring annexation really takes away the pretense. It rips away the fig (leaf) that there could be, or that people want there to be, a political solution on the West Bank and Gaza that resolves the claims of the Palestinians. For Arab neighbors, this has different levels of threat involved," said Friedman. "For Gulf countries, this is an issue of the symbolism of Jerusalem, the symbolism of the Palestinian struggle which is certainly less of a hot issue than it has been in past years, but for the ‘street,’ based on polling, it appears not to have gone away.
But for Jordan, this is an immediate existential threat on its border. For Lebanon, which has a population of Palestinian refugees that, simply for Lebanese demographic reasons, cannot be accommodated, it is an existential problem. And for Egypt as well. It’s the argument: What do you do with Gaza? Do we make it Egypt’s problem? Egypt doesn’t want Gaza. At the point where Israel starts announcing annexation and ripping away even the pretense of a political process for those three countries in particular, this becomes an immediate and domestic existential issue.
Human rights lawyer Zaha Hassan, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says she wonders if Benny Gantz of Israel’s Blue and White party will pull Netanyahu back from his campaign promise to annex the Jordan Valley or if there may be pressure to move ahead with it. If the only Israeli governing coalition that can be formed is a hard-right one that includes the ultra-nationalist and religious parties, she says, then annexation is almost guaranteed.