Dec 3, 2020 - World

Israel and Jordan aim to thaw relations with secret meeting

Ashkenazi. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met secretly on Thursday with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi. The meeting took place on the Jordanian side of the Alenbi border crossing between the countries, according to two Israeli sources.

Why it matters: This is time in several years that a meeting between Israeli and Jordanian foreign ministers has been reported.

  • Both sides initially tried to keep the meeting secret and both foreign ministries declined to comment for this story.
  • Safadi and Ashkenazi discussed the path to renewing Israeli-Palestinian talks as well as bilateral economic issues.

The big picture: While Israel and Jordan have had a peace treaty in place for more than 25 years, relations between their political leaders have cooled down dramatically over the last several years.

  • Tensions rose as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stalled and, in particular, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex parts of the West Bank. Jordan also claims that Israel is not upholding its bilateral commitments on several joint projects.
  • Jordan's King Abdullah II has admitted in several interviews that relations with Israel are effectively frozen. He has refused to meet Netanyahu in recent years and has even declined on multiple occasions to accept his phone calls, according to reports in the Arab press.
  • On the other hand, security and military cooperation between Israel and Jordan are stronger than ever.

The state of play: Among senior Israeli officials, Ashkenazi was the most forceful opponent of Netanyahu’s annexation plans. He raised those reservations with top U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as with European foreign ministers.

  • That vocal opposition has improved his standing with the Jordanian government, which was very nervous about annexation.
  • Since the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Ashkenazi said publicly several times that the Israeli government has moved from an annexation policy to a policy of normalization and of renewing the peace process.

What they are saying: Safadi has said the incoming Biden administration has made it clear to Jordan that it will take steps to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He added that President-elect Biden told King Abdullah that he is committed to the issue.

  • Speaking Wednesday at a conference organized by the Italian think tank ISPI, the Jordanian foreign minister said he hopes Israel will take advantage of the normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain to make progress in the peace process with the Palestinians.
  • “The core of the conflict in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Normalization should not be a substitute for solving this conflict but a motivation for Israel to move forward," Safadi said. 

Update: After this story was published, the Jordanian foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the meeting and said Safadi told Ashkenazi that Israel must stop all measures that are undermining the peace process and two-state solution.

  • According to the statement, Safadi also told Ashkenazi that Israel must respect the status quo at the Temple Mount.

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