Fri, 24 Mar 2023

Biden Hosts Jordan's King Amid Mideast Tensions

Voice of America
03 Feb 2023, 04:35 GMT+10

White House - Amid increasing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, U.S. President Joe Biden is hosting King Abdullah II of Jordan on Thursday, the second White House meeting between the leaders in less than a year and the third since Biden took office.

Smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Feb. 2, 2023. Smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Feb. 2, 2023.

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The president will thank Abdullah for "the critical role Jordan plays in defusing tensions in Jerusalem and will underscore the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount," a White House National Security Council spokesperson told VOA.

Under a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, Jordan is recognized as the custodian of the Temple Mount, also known as al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the most contentious religious site in Jerusalem, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinian Muslims walk in front of the Dome of Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Apr. 17, 2022. Palestinian Muslims walk in front of the Dome of Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Apr. 17, 2022.

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The months-old coalition under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized by many observers as the most right-wing government in that country's history, has kindled heightened sensitivity centered around the holy sites. Last month Amman summoned Israel's ambassador to protest Israeli police obstruction of Jordan's envoy during his visit to Al-Aqsa. Israeli police said the envoy arrived at the site without prior coordination.

Biden and Abdullah's Thursday meeting at the White House comes on the heels of some of the worst Middle East violence in several years, in which at least 35 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops in recent days and seven civilians were shot dead by a Palestinian attacker in Jerusalem outside a synagogue last Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shuttled between Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday, calling for calm and for parties to continue working toward the elusive two-state solution.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces following an army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023. Israeli forces killed at least nine Palestinians, including a 60-year-old woman, and wounded several others during a raid. Palestinians clash with Israeli forces following an army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023. Israeli forces killed at least nine Palestinians, including a 60-year-old woman, and wounded several others during a raid.

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High on the Biden-Abdullah agenda is how to keep those tensions from bubbling over, said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

"Jordan is directly in the crosshairs whenever there's tensions between Israelis and Palestinians," he tells VOA.

There are no specific deliverables expected from the meeting, but just as when the king visited Washington in May, Biden's public reiteration of Jordan's role as custodian of the Temple Mount is seen as key to maintaining the status quo. It also signifies the importance Washington attributes to Jordan in helping maintain regional stability, said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat who advised on Arab-Israeli negotiations and is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Despite its small size and lack of regional influence, Jordan is viewed as a key U.S. Middle East ally; and despite its increasing intolerance for domestic protest and dissent, a force of moderation in a turbulent region," he tells VOA.

Mourners carry the bodies of eight Palestinians, some draped in the flag of the Islamic Jihad group, during a joint funeral in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023. Mourners carry the bodies of eight Palestinians, some draped in the flag of the Islamic Jihad group, during a joint funeral in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023.

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The war in Ukraine is also a key concern. Jordan's economy has been hit by spillovers of multiple regional conflicts including wars in Iraq and Syria, and now by rising energy and grain prices due to the war in Ukraine.

Earlier this week Abdullah met with congressional leaders including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanking them for U.S. financial aid to Jordan.Washington is Jordan's single largest provider of bilateral assistance, providing more than $1.65 billion in FY 2021.

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