A new government in Jordan was sworn in on October 12, 2020, and the significance of the government change deserves attention. The new prime minister, Dr. Bisher Khasawneh, who was most recently the king’s political adviser, has reportedly held extensive talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the past six months and was scheduled to meet with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince. It was also reported that he has a very close connection to Jared Kushner, President Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan architect, as well as special ties to Egyptian President al-Sisi. The implication: the new government could be an integral part of the Trump Peace Initiative. Until now, Jordan was reluctant or even hostile to Trump’s Plan and worked to improve its relations with the Palestinian Authority, emphasizing the coordination with the Palestinians on issues related to Jerusalem.
However, there is a dramatic event, not even taking place in Jordan, that may ultimately influence the possible rapprochement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government began the evacuation of an estimated 20,000 of the al-Huwaytat tribe from ancestral territory along the Red Sea coast in the Hijaz province to construct NEOM, planned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an ambitious development for high technology, a future city, and a tourism center for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Human rights advocates claim the evacuation so far has been abusive and violent.
How Is NEOM Related to Jordan?
The al-Huwaytat tribe is a large tribe that made up the Hashemite army of the Sharif of Mecca, which marched on Damascus during the great Arab revolt of Lawrence of Arabia in World War I. After their expulsion from Mecca and the Hijaz province by the Saudis, they established the Kingdom of Jordan with the help of Great Britain. Today, the members of the tribe in Jordan are worried about the fate of their brothers in the Hijaz, provoking discontent in Jordan. It is therefore assumed that in the framework of an expected rapprochement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the matter of the Saudi al-Huwaytat tribe will also be resolved through appropriate compensation.
The al-Huwaytat issue may have an impact on Jordan’s policy regarding Jerusalem. The new Jordanian government appears to have less focus on the city. Unlike the previous government, there is no minister with the Jerusalem portfolio, according to Jerusalem sources. When comparing the composition of the new government with the previous one, the last one had a minister who was a Jerusalemite; there is none now.
In presenting his government, Prime Minister Khasawneh laid out 12 planks for his government’s platform.3 The Palestinian issue and the “Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites” were only the eleventh item. His message was that Jordan now prefers economic programs to “enhance economic resilience and combating poverty and unemployment” over political activism.
These are the first signs. It remains to be seen how things develop.
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