Apr 14, 2019

Inside the room: King of Jordan left in the dark on Trump's peace plan

Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks to President Donald Trump during a White House visit in June 2018. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan said the White House had given him zero visibility into the most fraught part of their peace plan: how it proposes to divide Israeli and Palestinian territory.

Behind the scenes: The king seemed dissatisfied with the level of consultation and was pessimistic about the plan's prospects, two sources in the room told Axios. King Abdullah has privately told people he is frustrated by the fact that despite having numerous meetings with senior Trump administration officials, he's never been given any detail about the core political issues, in which Jordan has a huge interest.

Why it matters: Any U.S. peace plan between the Israelis and Palestinians will also impact Jordan, which borders the West Bank, has a majority Palestinian population and has a special status in Jerusalem's holy sites according to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

The sources who were in the room with King Abdullah told Axios that he meets with the committee almost every time he's in D.C., and he usually speaks with caution. But he seemed less so this time, a source in the room said.

  • "The king made it clear they have not been talking to him about it. He seemed to be critical and dismissive of the efforts," one of the sources said.
  • Another source in the room said King Abdullah "gave the impression that it was more of an economic deal rather than a peace deal."

A Jordanian official with knowledge of the discussion told Axios: "His Majesty was asked about the plan and said he did not yet see it and therefore cannot comment. He also believes that an economic plan without a political one is not sufficient."

  • A senior White House official responded: "We have met and spoken with leaders throughout the region, including King Abdullah, to share ideas and solicit their thoughts."
  • "Since the beginning, we have been clear that this is not just an economic plan. We are taking very seriously both aspects of this, the political, which deals with all the core issues, and the economic. We understand that if the political aspect does not work, the economic aspect will not create peace."
  • "But at the same time, the political aspect will not succeed without a significant economic plan to enhance Palestinian lives and the lives of others in the region."

Between the lines: Sources with direct knowledge told Axios that only five or six people in the entire U.S. government have seen the political side of the plan, making it one of few secrets the White House has been able to keep.

  • During Jared Kushner's recent tour of the region, he briefed Arab leaders on the economic side of the plan, but revealed nothing about the proposed division of land, the status of Jerusalem or whether the plan would support the creation of a Palestinian state.

The big picture: The White House's Arab partners who will need to sell a peace deal remain in the dark about its political dimensions.

  • These Arab partners — including the Saudis and Emiratis — have also complained that the Trump administration has taken steps favoring the Israelis and frustrating the Arab world, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

What's next: The White House peace plan isn't expected to be public before mid-June, and it's unclear if the White House will reveal the whole thing at once. Some on the team, according to sources in touch with them, hope to roll out the economic side first.

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