Turmoil in Jordan over WikiLeaks cables

The recent disclosure by WikiLeaks of cables sent by the American Embassy in Amman back in 2008 has created a storm in Jordan.  The King has accused the Americans of meddling in domestic affairs by trying to force an unsolicited change in his kingdom whereby the Palestinians relinquish the "right of return" in exchange for being fully incorporated into Jordanian society.  This perceived affront caused supporters of the King to stage an unprecedented protest against America at its embassy in Amman.  This in turn was followed by calls for a "million-man protest" at the Israeli Embassy in Amman, despite Israel having no connection to the cables.

Upon review of the cables, called The Right of Return: What it Means in Jordan, the reaction of the King seems out of proportion.  After all, the cables merely reflect the known positions of the various parties that make up the Jordanian mosaic and how the unresolved issue of "the right of return" plays a central role in the internal domestic problems of Jordan.

On the one hand there are the East Bankers, native-born Jordanians comprised mainly of Bedouin tribes that consider themselves "the real Jordanians."  Holding key positions in the government and security apparatus, they distrust the Palestinians and would be happy if they would "return" to the other side of the Jordan River.  Moreover, the fact that the Palestinians have taken over large parts of the private business sector only adds fuel to the resentment that the East Bankers harbor towards them.

The Palestinians for their part are split.  There are those who have a realistic view and understand that the right of return is no longer a viable option.  They consider Jordan their home and their main concern is being fully accepted into the society and ending what they consider a policy of discrimination.  At the other end of the spectrum are those who refuse to relinquish what they consider a sacrosanct right and still dream of going back to their "homes" one day on the other side of the Jordan River.

These issues are not new, the only unique aspect being that they were openly revealed.  This being the case it appears that the King, to put it mildly, overreacted to the whole issue.  Moreover, a careful reading of the cables shows that there is no plotting or planning but rather just an airing of various views and frustrations with the current situation.  The question then is why the overreaction?

It seems the only plausible explanation is that the King, facing growing unrest and dissatisfaction in his own country, is feeling insecure about his position.  Why else would he be angry with the Americans rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of his people?  Moreover, the fact that Israel is being dragged into this seems to indicate that the King of Jordan, similar to other Arab rulers throughout the years, is playing "the Israel card" -- when the pressure is mounting and in order to divert domestic criticism.... blame Israel.

Despite the attempts by the King and his supporters, the wheels are already in motion.  Inevitable changes are on the way, the only question being what will emerge in Jordan.  Will the East Bankers together with various Islamic groups wrest the reins of power from the King and suppress the Palestinians and any hopes they have of achieving real equality?  Or will Jordan evolve into a genuine democracy with the Palestinians, the clear majority in the desert kingdom, gaining full entrance into key public positions side by side with the East Bankers?  Finally, should the latter scenario come to fruition, will Jordan eventually be transformed into a Palestinian state?

No one knows for sure what will be in Jordan but judging by the "back against the wall" response of the King it appears that a change is imminent.

Yoel Meltzer is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem. His personal blog is yoelmeltzer.com