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From Jordan to Romania – Echoes of Conflict Escalation and Western Dependency

Photo: Reuters

The Gaza conflict has been making headlines all over the world for months, having tragically led to an immense number of deaths and an even bigger number of soon-to-be refugees. Jordan, the Sunni Islamic kingdom neighbouring both Israel and Palestine, and Syria, has stood out in recent months as the only Arab nation that supports Israel. Jordan’s role as an Israeli ally has been highlighted by Iran’s 13th of April attack: the most tangible effect of the attack was the creation of a defensive military alliance between Israel, the US, France a Jordan, and Jordan’s definitive break from its natural Arab allies (Harb 2024). Although Jordan’s queen, the idolatrized Queen Rania, who has gained an immense international following, is of Palestinian descent, Jordan jumped at the occasion of helping Israel during the tensest moment in the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, offering the Israelis and the Americans the military bases necessary to defend themselves from the Iranian attack, and even intercepting all of the Iranian missiles that entered its airspace (Shaer et al. 2024; Simardon 2024). The Jordanian Foreign Minister even cinically invited the Iranian Ambassador to a meeting that aimed to explain why Tehran should cease its illegal attacks against Israel (Times of Israel 2024). And this considering that the Iranian attack did not result in any deaths and constituted lawful self defense against the Israeli attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus according to the UN Charter and the Vienna Convention (United Nations 1945; 1961).

Although the Iranian attack did not result in any deaths, it constituted a beacon of hope for Palestinians and Muslim people everywhere, and the Jordanian perceived betrayal was not taken lightly. Jordan’s continued support of the Israeli government has been faced with protests for decades, yet protester numbers have greatly increased as a result of the government’s direct support of the Israeli army, and their suppression is proving increasingly complicated (Schwedler 2003; 2018; Shaer et al. 2024). In addition, King Abdullah II, the direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed, has declared all Palestinian symbols, including the flag, illegal in response to the pro-Palestine protests, criminalizing their display and creating even more discord between leaders and citizens. (Klarenberg 2024). Although the vast majority of Jordanians are Muslim and thus are expected to stand in solidarity with their Palestinian neighbours, the severity of these protests stands out when considering that Jordan is ranked second in the world, after Lebanon, in the ranking of countries with the highest percentage of refugees relative to the population (UNHCR 2024). In Jordan there are 2.3 million registered Palestinian refugees, approximately one-fifth of the population, this number excluding the many who have fled war and have not registered or the 1.2 million Syrian refugees (UNHCR 2024; UNRWA 2024). Thus, outrage at their governments requests that they should leave their neighbors, friends, and even families to face the horrors of war runs high among the people of Jordan. The suppression of protests has subsequently led to outrage from other neighbouring states. Kataib Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shia resistance organization, has even declared that it is ready to arm 12,000 fighters from Jordan to destroy the land connection between Jordan and Israel and defend their Palestinian ‘brothers’ (MEMO 2024). The possibility of an escalation of the Gaza conflict is thus very real and dangerous, further exacerbated by Jordan’s direct and open support for Israel’s actions.
But how did we get here? Until 1970, Jordan fought on the side of its Palestinian neighbours, but since then it has supported Israel in almost all its endeavors, forced by economic considerations to sign a peace treaty that would allow it to receive numerous economic benefits and resources from Israel and its Western allies (Winckler 2021). Jordan is the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel, after Egypt, and although it supported the accusation of Israeli genocide at the UN, since 1970 it has never de facto discouraged Israeli violence (Cunningham 1998). Why is that? Jordan is actually a rentier state, that is, a state that is dependent on a single external source of income, income controlled by an authoritarian monarch or president and his allies (Beblawi 1987). This term is usually used to describe countries dependent on natural resources, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Nigeria, and is used by academics mainly to explain why citizens do not revolt when living under an authoritarian system. However, Jordan is a special case, being the only rentier state in the world economically dependent on external aid, which of course comes from the US, the largest foreign aid donor in the world (Muasher 2011; Statista 2023; Tsantes 2013). Without the US, Jordan’s economy does not exist, as Jordan has neither natural resources (not even water!) nor a very strong industrial sector to sustain itself, but rather relies on the US’ generosity for its revenue (JT2023). Thus, analysts have declared that its foreign policy is conditioned by Washington, Jordan being unable to appease its protesters and end its support of Israel (Fishman 2022; Noureddine 2022). Jordan is thus seen as being kept in a state of perpetual poverty by the US, precisely to be the Arab ally of Israel and to continue receiving all refugees from conflicts in the Middle East (Brynen 1992), Currently, a war in Jordan would not be in the US’ interest, but tensions are rising and protests can escalate at any time, especially if Jordan will continue to receive the brunt of Palestinian refugees from the current conflict as it has done in the past. Any escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip can quickly spill over into Jordan, exacerbating the already present conflict between the Muslim citizens and the pro-Israel leadership, and forcing the rest of the Arab world to get involved.
The bellicose state of affairs in the Middle East is unfortunately not the only crisis the world is facing at the moment. Although there are numerous conflicts around the world, the other war that the world is paying most attention to and that has attracted international involvement is the war in Ukraine. Bordering NATO states and the EU, and reviving echoes of Cold War mentalities, the war in Ukraine has also proven very difficult to manage, and reports of potential spillovers have further concerned European policymakers (DiCarlo 2022; RAND 2023; Reuters 2024).
As a Romanian, it becomes increasingly hard to analyze situations around the world without comparing them to my home country. As such, I would like to enunciate some rhetorical questions, which prove a number of similarities between Jordan’s precarious situation and our own. Do we also have leaders who listen to Western powers in policy-making? Is our economy dependent on EU funds and the goodwill of multinational companies like Austria-OMV, which control our resources? Do we also support a war in our neighboring state in order to please our foreign patrons instead of advocating for peace? In a way, the situation in Romania is even more dire, as the Jordanians had no choice but to succumb to international pressures: their status as a former colony and their lack of resources or economic backbone restrained them for pursuing a sovereign future. Romania, on the other hand, boasts a sovereign past and a geography favourable to economic autonomy, and our leaders’ willingness to succumb to international pressures and support the perpetuation of war is inexcusable. Romania has the added pressures of an election-heavy year ahead: if strong leaders that are willing to pursue peace and independent policy are not elected, a perpetual crisis of the likes of Jordan can soon appear in our side of the world as well. Thus, the importance of peace is paramount, both for Jordan and Romania, and for all of the countries in the world who might be involved if current conflicts escalate: “The real and lasting victories are those of peace, not war.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
By Daria Gusa

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