The Royal Shakeup in Jordan

In early April, the Jordanian government accused King Abdullah II’s half-brother, Prince Hamzeh, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security.” That weekend, Jordan’s king charged Prince Hamzeh with attempting to stage a coup, supported by several members of his inner circle and foreign backing. The prince, not surprisingly, denied any involvement in the plot, though he did take the opportunity to point out the graft that plagues Jordan’s government.

The United States, meanwhile, is monitoring the situation closely and quickly emphasized its support for the Jordanian king. The State Department’s spokesman recently reiterated Jordan’s importance to the United States, stating that “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our [the United States’] full support.” President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke with King Abdullah to express his support and strong bilateral relations as well.

In all the turmoil and uncertainty, why is Jordan such a close friend to the U.S.?

A Stable Ally

The United States has long considered Jordan to be a close friend and partner through both Republican and Democratic administrations, lauding the Hashemite Kingdom as a bastion of stability in arguably the most volatile region in the world. Jordan was largely free from the political unrest and upheaval that raged through the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring a decade ago. Moreover, Jordan is a long-time key counterterrorism partner, globally supporting U.S. forces and security operations.

Jordan has also been a major partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and served as a “key overland conduit to Iraq” during the Iraq War. Jordan has absorbed over 1 million refugees who fled Syria during the decade-long civil war, according to Jordanian officials.

In the past, Jordan has sided with the Sunni Arab states against Iran. This proves significant to the United States as the Sunni Arab states and the United States have historically enjoyed close relations and each country views Iran as a primary adversary.

Since Jordan and the United States share close ties, recent events and any resulting instability in the Hashemite Kingdom could potentially impact the Biden administration’s approach to the larger Middle East.

Biden Wants Out

For one, Biden is “deprioritizing” the Middle East in favor of concentrating U.S. foreign policy more on the great power rivalries with China and Russia and the myriad domestic problems the U.S. is facing at home. Like the Obama and Trump administrations, despite failing to extricate the United States from the forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other commitments which have dominated U.S. Middle East policy, Biden hoped to reduce U.S. focus on and commitments to the Middle East.

To deprioritize the Middle East, the United States needs its key allies in the region onboard. When asked about the United States’ closest allies and friends in the Middle East, most analysts talk about Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and, increasingly less, Turkey. This list should always include Jordan.

Since Jordan is considered by the United States and the West to be one of the consistently stable countries in the region, the U.S. has been able to take this fact for granted. However, the royal shakeup in Jordan could impact the region’s stability. Beyond that, instability resulting from King Abdullah’s latest skirmish with his half-brother could hinder Biden’s plans to downgrade the Middle East’s centrality in U.S. foreign policy.   

The Two-State Solution

The Biden administration has indicated they wish to “re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The two-state solution has long remained the only viable solution to this conflict and calls for granting the Palestinians an independent state alongside Israel. This arduous and tedious project, which has thwarted many presidents, will not be possible unless Jordan is involved.

Jordan is a critical player in the United States’ pursuit of a two-state solution. Firstly, Jordan was one of the first Arab states to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, and has maintained relatively friendly relations ever since. Conversely, Jordan is also a “key interlocutor with Palestinians.” Today, Jordan is home to millions of Palestinians who fled to the Hashemite Kingdom after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.

As the New York Times recently noted, Jordan “is important to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.” If Jordan were to succumb to chaos and instability, whether due to the recent flare up or another set of events, the prospects of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians would seem even more remote than they already are.

Conclusion

The recent tussle within the Jordanian royal family seems to have mostly subsided. However, this series of events is a good reminder to the United States just how much a relatively stable country in an otherwise volatile region can easily upset the fragile balance. This is especially true as the Biden administration has plans to focus less on the Middle East and perhaps find a solution to the very complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.