The so-called Abraham Peace Accords between Israel and four Arab states have become an unprecedented success, and not only in economic terms.
Take, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which is currently building a synagogue as part of a multi-faith complex in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is the only Arab country witnessing a growing Jewish community and even opened a kosher supermarket in December 2022.
It was originally feared that the arrival of the new right-wing Israeli government would have negative consequences for the fresh ties with the four Arab countries that are now Israel’s peace partners.
However, everything points to business as usual in the new relations between Israel and these Arab states.
The visit of the far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the Temple Mount more than three weeks ago also did not lead to tensions in the new relations.
Relations with Jordan
The same cannot be said about relations with Jordan, which strongly condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit and falsely claimed that he had “stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” desecrating its sanctity.
Egypt, Israel’s first Arab peace partner, also condemned the visit, but compared to Jordan’s reaction, one could speak of a routine condemnation. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has other things on his mind at the moment, as we shall see.
However, in Jordan Ben-Gvir’s visit was used to incite the masses first and foremost by members of the Jordanian parliament, who even threatened to respond with suicide bombings.
Ben-Gvir was called a “pig” and a “coward” while Israeli Jews were once again labeled the “sons of pigs and monkeys” by members of parliament in Jordan.
Some parliamentarians even warned that the 300-kilometer border between Israel and Jordan would turn into a frontline from which “Palestine would (eventually) be liberated.”
“Palestine” in their vernacular means all of Israel, as they also spoke of the “liberation of Tel Aviv.”
The toxic reactions in the Jordanian parliament were followed by a diplomatic incident at the entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
A week after Ben-Gvir’s visit, Ghassan Majali, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, came to the Temple Mount without coordinating his visit with the police in Jerusalem.
When Israeli police officers briefly held up Majali to ask for clarification, the furious ambassador told them to “get away” from him after which he left the Temple Mount.
A short time later, the Israeli ambassador to Amman was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jordan for a dress-down.
Media in Jordan then spread the lie that Majali had been denied entry to the Temple Mount, a distortion of the truth that was disproved by the fact that the Jordanian ambassador returned to the Temple Square a short time later and visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where he participated in the prayers.
What’s behind the difficult relations with Jordan
The incident was telling for Jordan’s long-time hostility toward Israel. Relations between Israel and Jordan slowly deteriorated after King Abdullah II took over power from his late father King Hussein.
Abdullah’s attitude toward Israel is heavily influenced by his relationship with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and by the fact that he sees himself as the patron of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
Abbas routinely condemns the visits of Jews to the Temple Mount and even repeatedly claimed that a Jew walking around the Temple complex “defiles” the ground there.
Abdullah’s anti-Israel policy is further influenced by two factors.
First, he has to deal with the masses of Palestinian Arabs in his country who make up the majority of the population.
To keep those masses somewhat calm, Abdullah sets himself up as a patron of the Palestinian national cause and as the only true custodian of the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.
Abdullah, who is wildly unpopular in Jordan because of his alleged corruption, also has to deal with growing internal unrest as Jordan suffers through a severe economic crisis despite massive foreign financial aid.
The economic crisis and Israel’s goodwill measures
At the end of 2022, unrest fueled by the ever-increasing economic crisis again broke out in Jordan.
The protests against Abdullah’s regime were led by truck drivers who went on strike until increases in fuel prices were reversed at the beginning of January 2023.
The previous Israeli government had tried to placate Jordan with natural gas supplies and an increase in the amount of water Israel supplies to the desert country.
The government of former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also concluded an agreement with Abdullah’s government on the volume of trade between Israel and Jordan.
Until December 2021, bilateral trade between the two neighboring countries was only $250 million annually.
Under the new agreement, exports of Jordanian goods to Palestinian Authority-ruled territories in Israel were significantly expanded, with trade volumes now reaching $700 million annually.
However, these goodwill measures did virtually nothing to improve relations between Jordan and Israel.
The so-called “cold peace” continues unabated and recently there has been a new deterioration in relations.
Apparently, this new deterioration caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pay a visit to Jordan where he met the Jordanian King in Amman.
According to observers, Netanyahu re-assured Abdullah about the so-called “status quo” on the Temple Mount, while the Prime Minister’s Office said regional issues were at the top of the agenda.
Claim to Temple Mount
Abdullah’s claim to the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem is solely based on Jordan’s 19 years of illegal occupation of the Israeli capital.
However, the Wadi Araba peace agreement of October 1974 between Jordan and Israel stipulated that Israel would “respect” Jordan’s “special role” in the management of “the Muslim holy sites” on the Temple Mount.
The language used in the agreement made it clear that Israel would retain its sovereign rights over the Temple Mount.
A visit by an Israeli minister to the Temple Mount is therefore not a violation of the so-called “status quo” as claimed by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, as well as a series of other countries.
Mahmoud Daifallah, the Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations, added fuel to the fire last week when he threatened a “religious war” if Israel continued to arouse the wrath of thousands of Muslims.
Daifallah too was referring to the visits of Jews to the holiest place in Judaism.
Egypt’s attitude in relations with Israel
Daifallah’s Egyptian counterpart Osama Mahmoud Abdelkhalek was much more moderate in his criticism during the same meeting of the UN Security Council and echoed the words of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Soukry.
Soukry, during a telephone conversation with his Israeli colleague Eli Cohen, asked Israel to prevent “unilateral measures” that could further complicate the situation on the Temple Mount.
The difference in Egypt’s attitude towards Israel compared to Jordan’s was already apparent when President Sisi received then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at his residence in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in September 2021.
That meeting was characterized by a friendly and respectful atmosphere, while el-Sisi, for the first time during a meeting with an Israeli leader, displayed the Israeli flag behind the place where Bennett was seated.
At the time, Bennett spoke of his hope that the meeting had helped deepen relations between Israel and Egypt, while el-Sisi revealed that there is already broad cooperation between the two countries.
However, peace with Egypt never reached the level that can now be observed in relations between Israel, Morocco, and the Arab Gulf states.
The reason for this is mainly that el-Sisi has to deal with internal resistance to further warming relations with Israel.
The people of Egypt remain mostly anti-Israel, and antisemitism in the land of the Pharaohs is a major problem.
The economic crisis in Egypt
Extending good security cooperation to economic cooperation with Israel, a Middle East economic powerhouse, would be good for Egypt, which is burdened by a deepening economic crisis.
Even before the start of the Corona crisis, 60 percent of the Egyptian population lived below the poverty line, and with inflation steadily rising to 22 percent, this percentage will now be much higher.
The government in Cairo has again received a huge loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the fourth time in six years.
However, this $3 billion loan seems like a drop in the ocean when one considers the situation in Egypt, where the majority of the population is no longer able to provide for the basic necessities of life.
El-Sisi blames the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in his country on the war in Ukraine.
While this war has certainly contributed to the devastating scope of the crisis, the economic policies pursued by the government in Cairo since taking power in 2013 are the main culprits for the dire situation.
Economic experts point to the mega projects started under el-Sisi that were solely financed with loans.
Examples are a new capital near Cairo that is currently under construction and a second Suez Canal.
Furthermore, much of the foreign aid has gone to the military, where huge amounts of money were spent on the purchase of French fighter planes and helicopter carriers, as well as American transport helicopters and German submarines.
Relations between Israel and its first two Arab peace partners will almost certainly continue to simmer at the old low ebb.
It could be argued that the blossoming of relations with the newly acquired Arab partners stemmed from the fact that these countries broke with the traditional Arab attitude that saw the path to peace with Israel as beholden to the Palestinian issue.
Egypt and Jordan in particular continue to adhere to this old line, which has caused stagnation in the Middle East for almost 75 years.
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