The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, delivered a speech on September 11, in which he mentioned the Jordanian civil war of 1970 for the first time ever: “There are not any issues we are too embarrassed to discuss, even if there is someone who wants to discuss the incidents of 1970, this is a part of history; let us think of the future and not the past.”
Commenting on the fear of Jordan’s Bedouin minority — who make up the king’s military and are the protected class — that Jordan might become the Palestinian majority’s homeland — a plan dubbed “the alternative homeland” by the local media — the king said: “I would like to assure everyone that Jordan will not be an alternative country to anyone. Is it even logical that Jordan will become an alternative to anyone while we sit there and do nothing? We have an army and we are willing to fight for our country and for the future of Jordan, and we must speak vigorously and not ever allow this idea to remain in the minds of some of us….We have fought Israel before many times.”
“Jordan and the future of Palestine,” he added, “are much stronger than Israel today; the Israeli is the one who is afraid….When I was in the United States, I spoke to an Israeli intellectual; he told me that what was happening in Arab countries today is in the interests of Israel. I told him, ‘I think it is the opposite: your situation today is much harder than before.'”
King Abdullah also mentioned the need to address the issue of “national identity” in Jordan — a phrase associated with isolating the Palestinians, who make up 80% of the population, in favor of the Beduin minority, for whom he would establish Jordan as a purely Bedouin state: “We must speak with a loud voice about the Jordanian identity,” he said, “yet national unity is a red line.” In other words, the king openly supports talk about imposing a Jordanian Bedouin identity on the country, while at the same time prohibiting any “unity” with the Palestinians — a notion he had previously denounced.
The king, in his speech, was using a common Arab political trick of saying an undesired thing to the public — reminding the Palestinians of the civil war in which they were slaughtered — and then, in the same sentence, ostensibly defusing the threat of another slaughter by adding that he would spare the Palestinians so long as they accept the situation as is, where they are citizens, but still treated as refugees and outsiders in every way.
Although it is common for Arab regimes that are pro-Western to talk tough about the US and Israel every now and then — to rally their people behind them by threatening these cost-free targets, and thereby divert anger away from their own repressive regimes onto other countries — this time the context was different: The King’s speech, aired on Jordanian national television, came two days after Wikileaks released several US Embassy, Amman, cables that described the testimonies of some Jordanian Palestinians officials who were complaining to Embassy officers about the discrimination against the Palestinians in Jordan. One cable, entitled, “The Grand Bargain,” mentioned a Palestinian political leader’s belief that the “right of return” was unfeasible – signifying the Palestinians’ willingness to accept a permanent home in Jordan –rather than in hoping to return to Israel, as the refugees and five generations of descendants are continually being promised — in exchange for finally attaining civil rights in Jordan.
The government-controlled Jordanian media expressed anger at the US Embassy — to the point of issuing calls for a protest against both the American and Israeli embassies in Amman, which they called “the espionage beehive.”
The King’s talk sounded provocative and terrorizing to the Jordanian Palestinians, who are already discriminated against and disenfranchised politically by the Hashemite regime. The Bedouin-dominated town of Kerak in Southern Jordan, for example, has ten parliamentary seats for fewer than 150,000 voters, while the Palestinian-dominated Amman has barely twenty parliamentary seats for three million voters.
What made matters especially threatening was the way Jordan’s Bedouins seem to have understood the King’s remarks. The King’s statement, for instance, that he would “not feel embarrassed to address any issue including the civil war,” seems to have been understood by the Bedouin military as permission to go out and target the Palestinians. Comments on Jordanian social websites, such as Facebook, appeared, with disturbing messages of incitement: Jordanian Bedouins began calling for violence against both Israel and the Palestinian majority. One of commentators said on Facebook: “We shall give the Palestinians another Black September,” said one, “only this time we will make it red.” Another said: “Those Palestinians are worse than Jews. I could never make out the difference. We will march to kick [the Palestinian] out [of Jordan] and we will knock down the Israeli embassy.” Still another said, “You do the killing, guys, just leave the hot Palestinian chicks for me; I will rape their little girls.” While this anti-Palestinian sentiment is not new in Jordan, after the King’s speech it reached a new extreme.