Like other countries in the Middle East and around the world, Jordan has been rocked to its very core by the devastating news about the Gaza Strip and the latest war between Israel and Hamas. It is no wonder that it has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and asked the Israeli ambassador not to return to Amman until the Israeli bombardment of Gaza ceases and full access by Palestinians there to humanitarian aid is fully assured. While Hamas is not a particularly popular organization in Jordan, and even less so with the Jordanian state, the suffering of the Palestinian people remains a central issue for most people across Jordan, from the palace to the street.
Reactions in Jordan to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 were decidedly mixed, with many Jordanians applauding those on Israeli Army outposts and Hamas’s blasting through the walls surrounding Gaza as akin to a prison break. However, they were not necessarily supporting the gruesome slaughter that Hamas fighters then carried out against civilians in towns, kibbutzim, and even at an outdoor concert venue in southern Israel. Hamas’s attack resulted in the killing of more than 1,400 Israelis and the abduction of some 240 others. The mixed reactions changed quickly as Israel began weeks of relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip that as of this writing culminated in the killing of over 8,800 Palestinians, more than 3,600 of whom are children, and the injury of some 22,000 others. As Israeli bombing increased, so too did Jordanian marches and demonstrations across the country, protesting day and night against the Israeli attacks.
Jordanian protesters massed by the thousands, in Amman and other cities, demanding an end to the bombing and calling for independence for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Some protesters moved west toward the border with Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Jordanian protesters massed by the thousands, in Amman and other cities, demanding an end to the bombing and calling for independence for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Some protesters moved west toward the border with Israel and the occupied West Bank, saying that they wanted to show solidarity with Palestinians. Jordanian security forces mobilized quickly to secure the border, claiming that they were trying to protect demonstrators.
The Jordanian state has for decades supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with an independent state for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Before the October 7 Hamas attacks, however, much of the attention of both the Jordanian state and the general public was on the West Bank, as state and society alike decried various transgressions by rightwing Jewish settlers against the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Mobilizing State and Society
The Hashemite monarchy has consistently emphasized its role as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and hence has been continually complaining about a series of provocations by Israeli authorities and settlers. But Jordan has also been warning against forced evictions and other changes to the status quo across the occupied West Bank. With the beginning of the massive Israeli bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip, attention of course shifted there. But the state and Jordanians in general have continued to warn that settler violence in the West Bank is also a continuing and intensifying problem.
With the beginning of the massive Israeli bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip, attention of course shifted there. But the state and Jordanians in general have continued to warn that settler violence in the West Bank is also a continuing and intensifying problem.
The Jordanian monarchy and government have preferred to deal with the Palestinian Authority rather than Hamas. The latter, in fact, has a troubled history in Jordan and has been banned from playing an active political role within the kingdom. Jordan has extensive ties to the West Bank (even beyond its role regarding the holy places), having ruled the territory from 1948 until losing it in 1967 to Israel. The late King Hussein officially disengaged from it and ended Jordan’s claim to the territory in 1988. Since then, the Hashemite state has developed its relations with the Palestinian Authority—the official, although nominal, government recognized since the Oslo Accords to run the area—but has maintained its distance from Hamas. The Jordanian government has even pressed the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan) to break ties to the militant Palestinian organization.
While the Brotherhood is now illegal in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, it split into two different organizations within Jordan—a more moderate, domestic, Jordan-centric version without ties to Hamas, and the original version, larger but no longer legally licensed, that has maintained its ties to the many other branches of the Brotherhood outside Jordan (including Hamas). Many see the two versions of the Ikhwan as also rooted in Jordan’s own complicated identity politics, with the domestic branch more heavily East Jordanian in makeup, while the latter is seen as more heavily Palestinian Jordanian. To be sure, the intra-Brotherhood rift is a reminder of Jordan’s own complicated demographics and identity politics.
As the ongoing Israeli bombing of Gaza intensified, every Jordanian was seeing the graphic and bloody result via news media and on their phones across assorted social media platforms. Palestine has long been a mobilizing issue across Jordanian society; so much so, that formerly marginal views have in many ways now been mainstreamed. In the past, only far-right East Jordanian nationalists complained about the threat of al-Watan al-Badil (the ‘Alternative Homeland’) of which many on the far right in Israel often speak—that is, the fear that Jordan would become the alternative homeland for the Palestinian people.
In the past, only far-right East Jordanian nationalists complained about the threat of al-Watan al-Badil (the ‘Alternative Homeland’) of which many on the far right in Israel often speak—that is, the fear that Jordan would become the alternative homeland for the Palestinian people.
But now many of those far-right elements are within the Israeli cabinet, and the fears of an Israeli mass expulsion of Palestinians across the river to Jordan is not just a marginal issue or conspiracy theory anymore. Rather, it shows up in mainstream political discourse and points to a general fear of an existential threat. Palestinians and Jordanians of all backgrounds fear a second Nakba, a second catastrophic expulsion of Palestinians from either Gaza or the West Bank or both. And Jordan is a country that knows something about waves of refugees—from Palestine in 1948 and 1967, from Iraq, and from Syria. Now, a potential wave from the Gaza Strip is possible if the situation for Palestinians under bombardment is allowed to get even worse.
As the Gaza bombing campaign entered a third week, Khaled Mashal—former political bureau chief and head of Hamas’s office in the diaspora—even called on Transjordanian tribes to join the fight for Palestine. Neither Mashal nor Hamas have any particular clout among Jordanian tribes, to put it mildly, but the incident does at least underscore how deeply the Gaza situation and the plight of the Palestinian people permeate Jordanian society. Indeed, the plight of Palestinians is not just a Palestinian issue in Jordan; it is everybody’s issue. Jordanians of all backgrounds care about this, and accordingly the protests grow in size and in number day after day. These have even crossed the lines of the usual protest repertoires, as massive protests have mobilized far closer to the Israeli embassy in Amman than has been permitted in the past.
Jordanian Messaging and Diplomacy
The depth of anger and frustration in Jordan is palpable. And it is shared in the highest quarters, eventually leading to the latest decision to recall ambassadors. Jordan cancelled a planned four-way summit and a visit to the kingdom by US President Joe Biden, citing a three-day mourning period over the killing of some 500 Palestinians in the bombing of the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. The cancelled Amman summit had intended to bring together Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States. But another and much larger summit soon followed, the Cairo Summit for Peace, which brought together multiple Arab and western states. That summit ultimately failed, however, as the western attendees stressed the need to condemn Hamas’s attacks on Israel, while the Arab states were focusing on the continuing civilian death toll in Gaza.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II used the Cairo forum to make clear the Jordanian position on the war, and the depth of Jordanian frustration with the inability to even secure a ceasefire. The king pointedly spoke in English, making clear his message was for the western states and audiences.
Still, Jordan’s King Abdullah II used the Cairo forum to make clear the Jordanian position on the war, and the depth of Jordanian frustration with the inability to even secure a ceasefire. The king pointedly spoke in English, making clear his message was for the western states and audiences, and called for an immediate ceasefire and a humanitarian truce in order to get aid into Gaza. The bombing, he argued, amounted to a war crime and western states were the only ones that could bring it to a halt. Forced displacement of Palestinians, he noted, including internal displacement, constituted a “red line” for Jordan that could not be crossed. He stressed that the message the Arab world hears is that Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones, and that “human rights have boundaries—they stop at borders, they stop at races, they stop at religions…The application of international law is optional.”
This message was also echoed by Jordan’s Queen Rania, herself of Palestinian background, who noted that “the silence is deafening” regarding western states. In an interview, the queen had condemned the Hamas attacks, but then asked “Are we being told that it is wrong to kill a family, an entire family, at gunpoint, but it’s Ok to shell them to death?”
Similarly, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi lobbied hard for the passage of a United Nations General Assembly resolution that Jordan tabled, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Urging the approval of the resolution, Safadi said that “We must stand for peace, our human values and the UN Charter.” He added that “History will judge us. Say no to war. Say no to the killing. Call out war crimes.” Eventually, the Jordanian resolution was adopted by 120 members of the United Nations; 14 others, including the United States, rejected it while 45 states abstained. The United States had in the meantime vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire, insisting that the draft should include a statement that Israel had the right to defend itself.
Fears of a Wider War
Jordanian fears regarding a broader escalation and regional war are real enough that the regime has asked for US support in the form of Patriot missile defense batteries. The Jordanian state has long feared rising Iranian influence in its neighborhood, especially in Iraq and Syria. But with a wider escalation potentially involving Iran, Hezbollah, or even the Houthis in Yemen, Jordan fears that it may find itself in the crossfire of a larger regional war.
Jordan’s official position on the conflict has continued to emphasize the urgent need for a ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid for Gaza. Jordan has continually argued that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs a political rather than a military solution. For the Jordanian state, that still includes a two-state solution according to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. While the Hashemite regime pushed for these measures, it also engaged in extensive shuttle diplomacy, bringing Jordan closer to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as well as other Arab states.
As Jordanian society marched, demonstrated, and protested, government officials worked available channels to try to gain at least a ceasefire in Gaza and the provision of humanitarian aid. Jordan had already offered truckloads of aid and a Jordanian field hospital was already active and working in Gaza. But in the meantime, the bombings and ground raids in Gaza continue, risking a wider regional war and even the few already-fragile peace agreements between Israel and Arab states, perhaps even including the one with Jordan.
The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors.
Featured image credit: WAFA