10. Beyond Arab Alliances?: Jordan’s Peace with Israel
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10 Beyond Arab Alliances? Jordan’s Peace with Israel As the smoke cleared from the 1991 Gulf war, the U.S. administration of President George Bush Sr. turned its attention to reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process.1 As the peace process began, Jordan remained essentially isolated in inter-Arab and even global politics. Iraq lay largely in ruins, facing yet another post-war reconstruction, but this time coupled with a debilitating economic sanctions regime. Jordan had survived the regional crisis and war, but remained ostracized in inter-Arab politics, especially by the most influential Arab countries: Egypt, Syria, and the Arab Gulf monarchies. When these regional powers gathered together in Damascus to launch a new Arab alignment to be known as the “Damascus Declaration,” no one thought about including the Jordanians.2 Similarly, major powers such as the U.S. and United Kingdom pointedly ignored their once-favored Arab ally. It was in this context of severe isolation, yet renewed domestic regime legitimacy and security, that the regime decided to make a fairly radical move, one that the monarchy had long desired but had never felt secure enough to accomplish: making peace with Israel. On October 26, 1994, King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel signed a peace treaty marking an official end to the state of war that had existed between their two countries for more than forty years. This chapter examines Jordan’s decision to make peace with Israel after so many years of either warfare or tacit cooperation.3 While this rapprochement is clearly not an Arab alignment, it is a major milestone in Jordanian policy, Arab politics, and Hashimite regime security. Just as importantly, this rapprochement is part of Jordanian and regional alignment politics. I will examine Jordan’s peace with Israel, therefore, in the context of alignment and foreign policy decision making. Throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jordan held the dubious distinction of being politically, militarily, and economically the weakest 146 / Chapter 10 of the Arab “front line” states in the long conflict with Israel. Of all the Arab states, Jordan shared the longest border with Israel and consequently had the most difficult front to defend. And over the years of conflict, within Jordan’s borders, the kingdom absorbed so many Palestinian refugees that the Hashimite monarchy ruled over a population more than half of which was Palestinian. These facts alone reinforced the kingdom’s chronic sense of domestic and international insecurity and helped lead Jordan’s traditionally cautious monarchs toward moderate policies in their dealings with the Jewish state. Indeed, although Jordan went to war against Israel in 1948 and 1967, and although the Hashimite regime offered a limited commitment to the war of 1973, the regime generally maintained an understanding with Israel’s various prime ministers—an understanding that was long rumored to include frequent face to face meetings between King Hussein and Israeli leaders—for decades before the peace treaty was signed. This relationship can be traced back further still, to the early contacts between King Abdullah I and Zionist leaders before the foundation of the State of Israel.4 Those sympathetic toward the Hashimite monarchy tended to view the kingdom’s approach to Jordanian-Israeli relations over the years as representing moderation; critics, in contrast, have tended to see this as collusion.5 But in either characterization, central questions remain: given the longstanding tacit understanding between Jordan and Israel, despite instances of war, why did the kingdom decide to sign a peace treaty in 1994? Why not earlier? Why sign a treaty at all? When the kingdom did finally decide to sign a full peace treaty, why did the Jordanian negotiators appear to rush headlong into the arrangement, following the initial breakthroughs barely a year earlier? Was Jordan in effect de-aligning from inter-Arab alliance politics altogether, and re-aligning with its longtime adversary, Israel? The answers to these questions require an analysis that examines more than simply the whims of King Hussein. Most writing about Jordanian policy tends to focus on the personality and proclivities of the Hashimite monarch, with King Hussein serving more or less as a proxy for Jordan as a state and society.6 While it would be impossible to ignore the role of the king in any study of Jordanian policy, this analysis examines Jordanian decision making in its broader context, taking into account the complexity of state-society relations within the kingdom. The king’s role...


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