Meanwhile, next door in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in a Jerusalem district court on Monday as prosecutors began the evidentiary phase of a corruption trial facing the Israeli leader. Though he left early, Netanyahu was in the room when state prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari delivered her opening statement, accusing the prime minister of “grave government corruption” for allegedly manipulating coverage for his benefit at a major Israeli news site starting in 2012. The case is part of a string of bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges leveled against Netanyahu by the country’s attorney general last year.
But the trial wasn’t even the most immediate threat to Netanyahu’s rule. On Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met individually with the country’s main party leaders in the aftermath of last month’s election. As in the three previous votes, the political arithmetic is tight, with both pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs possibly unable to secure a governing mandate. Though Rivlin had hinted that “ethical considerations” may preclude tapping Netanyahu, the current prime minister secured more endorsements from other party leaders than any of his rivals, and was given the mandate to attempt to form a government.
“We are most likely in for a prolonged period of coalition negotiations, deal-making and horse trading to see whether Netanyahu or his putative opposition can put together a coalition,” wrote former U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller. “If not, in the words of an Israeli columnist reflecting the spirit of the Passover season, a fifth election — sadly for most Israelis — looms like the 11th plague.”
In remarks following his court appearance, Netanyahu described the legal proceedings against him as a “witch hunt” and “an attempted coup.” But Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, tweeted that Netanyahu “is the one who is trying to carry out a government coup.”
Gantz was curiously the only top Israeli official to comment on the upheaval in Jordan over the weekend. He said the developments were an “internal Jordanian issue” but stressed that a “strong and flourishing Jordan is a security and economic interest for us.”
On Saturday, U.S. officials and those of leading Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, voiced their support for Abdullah. “Under the king, the resource-poor kingdom of 10 million has been a major partner in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and has assisted U.S. forces in security operations around the globe,” my colleagues explained.
“A coup plot is high intrigue for Jordan, where the Hashemite regime portrays itself as an oasis of stability in a sea of unrest,” wrote Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at Hunter College, for The Post’s Monkey Cage blog. “King Abdullah II is not popular, but many view his continued reign as preferable to alternatives that might include Islamist rule, a descent into civil war or a loss of power for Jordanians of East Bank descent.” (More than half the country’s population is of Palestinian origin, that is, those of West Bank descent.)
Hamzeh, though, did not go quietly. In a leaked recording filmed Saturday, he struck a defiant tone and said he wouldn’t stay silent as authorities painted his activities as seditious. “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse … and I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in their institutions,” Hamzeh said in a video leaked to the BBC. “It has reached a point where no one is able to speak or express opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened.”
On Monday, Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court announced that the differences between the king and his half brother would be mediated by their uncle, Prince Hassan, as an internal family matter. Hamzeh’s alleged co-conspirators may face more severe repercussions.
“The way it unfolded, with arrests and videos, was shocking,” Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and economist, told the New York Times. “Despite the tensions, the royal family always presented the image of a united front. But [Saturday’s] events shattered that image, and the rifts erupted in broad daylight.”
Hamzeh, the eldest son of Queen Noor, the late King Hussein’s fourth wife, was stripped of his status and privileges as crown prince in 2004 by Abdullah, who tapped his own son for succession instead. In the years since, he has been a vocal critic of government mismanagement and graft and fraternized with certain opposition camps within the country. Dissent against the king has become more commonplace in recent years, with many Jordanians frustrated with endemic corruption and the country’s stagnant economy.
Hamzeh “is allowing himself to be part of a critical machine against the ruling system, when he was going to tribal gatherings who were criticizing the ruling establishment even when he was not saying anything,” a senior Jordanian politician told Reuters, under the condition of anonymity. “When he talked [in the recording] about deteriorating governance and silencing of critics, this was very confrontational.”
Jordan has been rocked over the years by waves of protests, including a major uprising in 2018 that prompted the resignation of the prime minister and forced Abdullah to intervene and freeze planned price hikes on electricity and fuel. In Washington, Abdullah remains a known and respected statesman and was the first Arab leader President Biden spoke to after his election victory in November.
But his troubles may be mounting at home. “Among East Bank-dominated security agencies, small divides have emerged in recent years around quiet criticism of the king,” wrote Schwedler. “In East Bank circles more broadly, some have suggested that Abdullah may be Jordan’s last king, and a few even have called for an end to the monarchy.”
This column has been updated.