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Jordan is boiling: How to contain the popular anger at Trump's Jerusalem decision

With tension rising, Jordanian MPs are due to put the peace agreement signed in 1994 under review in a strong message to Israel

Following US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thousands of Jordanian protesters took to the streets to express their anger at the move.

Jerusalem constitutes a very sensitive issue to Jordan for a host of security and political reasons. Jordan, which has been a constant in every peace negotiations that took place since the beginning of the political process in Madrid in 1990, today feels isolated and marginalised. Trump's decision, according to the official view, constitutes a threat to the country's identity and future.

The demographic factor

The strategic reasons have first and foremost to do with Jordan's demographics. More than half of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, including those who were displaced from Jerusalem in the wake of the 1967 war.

Additionally, the majority of residents in Amman, the capital, are either Palestinian refugees or Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship.

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There are growing fears that Trump's decision on Jerusalem could provoke massive popular turmoil in the Jordanian street similar to - or perhaps greater than - the manifestations of social anger that the kingdom witnessed when Ariel Sharon stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque in September 2000.

At the time, Jordanian protesters almost stormed the Israeli embassy in Amman and were kept at a distance of about 100 meters from the embassy gates.

A second and important factor is that Jordan has been tasked with managing the holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, by tradition and the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Jordan's King Abdullah welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the royal palace in Amman on Thursday (AFP)
Any challenge to the religious status quo in the holy city strikes at the heart of Hashemite legitimacy in Jordan and throughout the Arab world. In 2014, King Abdullah addressed the parliament stressing: "Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites."  

Accordingly, the overall perception among majority of Palestinians and Arabs is that the Hashemite monarchy is the guardian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.

Jordan marginalised?

Third, article nine of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan stipulates: "Israel should respect the present role attributed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, and when the final status negotiations are held, Israel shall give great priority to Jordan's historic role in these places." 

In other words, any change introduced to the legal status of the city in any political negotiations for a peace agreement should take Jordan into account. In this article, the late King Hussein of Jordan managed to snatch an Israeli and an American recognition of the Jordanian role in Jerusalem.

As such, Jordan should be an important party in any final negotiations for peace in the region.

Additionally, Jordan is currently under the impression that its role in the Palestinian question in particular, and in the region in general, is being marginalised. The recent rapprochement between several Arab countries - particularly in the Gulf region - and Israel did not include Jordan, something that Amman believes is a threat to the county and its identity, since the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem are being discussed without Jordan being involved in any decision-making process.

This attempt at marginalising Jordan constitutes a significant shift unprecedented since the beginning of the political process in the region at the Madrid Conference when the Jordanian delegation included the Palestinians.

More importantly, American and international moves that sideline Jordan are likely to exacerbate the country's economic crisis. The tension between Amman and Washington could affect the US aid to Jordan which currently represents about 10 percent of the country's budget.

In case the majority of parliament members approved the proposed draft, Jordan will have to suspend the peace agreement which will become invalid and void 

Also, the economic crisis has recently worsened and may be further aggravated in the future because of the Gulf crisis and the tension between Jordan and some Gulf states, where Saudi and Qatari aid was and is still absent. 

For all these reasons, Jordan is boiling.

The Jordanian monarchy considers the American decision a violation of the peace treaty signed under the auspices of Washington.

In an unprecedented move, King Abdullah has tweeted in support of Jordanian protesters against the US decision and defended Jerusalem as an Arab city and not the capital of Israel.

Reviewing the peace treaty

Containing popular anger triggered by the decision has been a top government concern especially amid the ongoing crisis between Jordan and Israel that broke out after an Israeli embassy employee killed two Jordanian citizens last July.

On an official level, the most significant move was undertaken by the parliament which decided, for the first time in its history, to review the agreements signed with Israel, including the peace treaty. Fourteen MPs have signed a letter to cancel the treaty.

By Jordanian law, any proposal that has been endorsed by 10 or more MPs must be discussed and voted in the Parliament. 

While it is not clear yet when the head of parliament will schedule it for discussion, and whether or not it will be cancelled, what is certain, however, is that it sends a strong message to Israel.

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This means that there must be a vote later on a draft that repeals the previous law ratifying the peace agreement. In case the majority of parliament members approved the proposed draft, Jordan will have to suspend the peace agreement which will become invalid and void. 

This move is by far the most significant and most serious threat to the peace treaty since it was signed in 1994.

Jordanians think that these ongoing regional arrangements are not in their favour, including the so-called "deal of the century".

Also, the outbreak of a new Intifada (revolt) in the Palestinian territories will automatically lead to a heavy security, economic, and political burden on Jordan which is now a country with a population of more than 10 million compared to only four million people when the previous intifada broke out in 2000.

Mohammad Ayesh is an Arab journalist currently based in London.The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Protesters hold a banner bearing the portrait of US President Donald Trump during a demonstration against the US president's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 8, 2017, in the Jordanian capital Amman. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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