Opinion: Jordan’s Economic Crisis Can Solve The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Illustration: Amman Sit-In (2017) by Addustour, Jordan Press & Publication Co./Sharif Oweamer [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia
Jordan faces a stifling economic crisis that gradually started almost 20 years ago — since the coronation of Abdullah II as King of Jordan. Since that time, mismanagement and rampant corruption in Jordan, the absence of oversight and accountability, as well as the Arab Spring with its many effects stand as the most important reasons leading to this crisis. Economically, as a result of all of this, Jordan's debt is currently close to a record 50 billion dollars and the unemployment rate has exceeded 20 percent — also a record in Jordan. Currently, more than 95% of the GDP goes to pay Jordan’s debt.
The Arab Spring affected the Jordanian economy due not only to the burden of taking in refugees but more directly to trade disruptions with neighboring countries. Trade with Jordan's natural markets was severely restricted due to their internal security events. Trade with Iraq slowed and even more importantly with Syria, which is an important transit point for further trade to Turkey and from there to Europe, as well as for transit trade to the Gulf countries. The Arab Spring also adversely affected the revenues of the tourism sector.
Jordan’s economic crisis has led to an increase in foreign aid from donor countries, led by the U.S. and the E.U. With each infusion of foreign aid, Jordan’s western allies announce a two fold justification: first, to support the economy and reforms in Jordan, thereby maintaining its stability, and secondly, because of the importance of Jordan's relatively good relationship with the State of Israel.
Yet Jordan continues to be plagued with corruption and mismanagement. Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) analyzes public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Although, Jordan slightly improved its score to 49 in 2018, it ranked at #58 globally with out of the 180 global entities.
We Jordanians who want our country to improve understand that Jordan suffers from corruption and mismanagement, with debt and unemployment numbers being the best evidence for both. The solution to the issue of corruption and to the debt problem may simultaneously solve a regional problem — and could crown the King of Jordan with the Nobel Peace Prize!
Solving Jordan’s economic debt problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict
Jordan can move forward to resolve the main Middle East issue, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, through coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the parties concerned. Leverage with the Americans and the Israelis can be used to address both the ‘Palestinian Problem’ and Jordan’s economic debt.
When Jordan signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton eliminated part of Jordan's external debt to the United States; the U.S. increased foreign aid to Jordan as a result of the peace process.
Guarantees and the deletion of Jordan’s foreign debt can be the price that Jordan will take in return for agreeing that Jordan will be the homeland for all Arabs — Jordanian and Palestinian alike — and abandoning the ‘right of return’ by the Palestinians. Both the late King Hussein Bin Talal and the founding King Abdullah I said Palestine is Jordan and Jordan is Palestine with international acceptance and international supervision.
In the interests of international peace, world powers, including the Arab Gulf states, will increase their economic and military support to ensure that Jordan does not collapse and to prevent internal conflicts.
Coordination by Western countries, especially the U.S. and the U.K., will be needed to ensure that the Hashemites remain on the throne of Jordan, because of their role in Jordan’s safety, stability and in regional and international peace.
Jordan’s constitution protects official corruption
While the above scenario can address Jordan’s economic problems, combating corruption in the government will take internal restructuring and change. Several factors interfere with fighting corruption in Jordan.
Provisions of the Jordanian constitution protect a minister or prime minister from being brought before the courts for crimes and violations committed while in office except with the approval of two-thirds of the members of Parliament, who can only make such a decision if it is found that his actions violate the law. But in the event that such a decision is made, the trial is conducted by a High Council formed from a mixture of members of the Senate and regular judges, limiting the hand of the regular judiciary and of justice.
Corruption also occurs through text in the Jordanian constitution which allows legislators to remain a partner in companies with more than ten shareholders. This allows legislators to practice trade on terms that are easy for them; the arrangement opens the door for a marriage between corrupt laws passed by the legislature in their own interests and corrupt practices on the part of the executive.
Further, Jordan experiences a functional and social environment that incubates corruption. Despite the great harm that threatens the state and destroys its economic security with consequent imbalances in security at all levels, those searching for corruption can find themselves in a network of social relations that inhibit him, as many Jordanian officials are linked by kinship and intermarriage with each other. This protects corrupt practitioners from prosecution and the reach of the hands of the judiciary.
Cleaning up Jordanian corruption
What should Jordan do to get rid of corruption? Jordan needs to follow the example of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman whose anti-corruption actions recouped $106.6 billion from crack-downs on corrupt princes, businessmen, military officers and officials between 2017-2019. Jordan needs to conduct fair trials in compliance with international standards and democratic methods, and in coordination with the Jordanian General Intelligence.
Political reform is the first step on the path to achieving reform in all other areas. Jordanians must lead a mature consensual political lifin which the separation of powers and the rule of law take place. An effort must be made through media and religion to increase societal awareness of the seriousness of corruption and its effect on the continuity of the state and the future of its generations
Instead of rotating prime ministers, Jordanians need to appoint the right person with the appropriate qualifications to the position of prime minister in the government of the constitutional monarchy; the Jordanian citizens will elect the prime minister. This will not take place until after the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is scaled back through dividing them, or due to their danger to Jordan's national security, banning them outright.
Because a large part of Jordan's economic crisis came due to poor planning in this country, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation needs to be restructured and the right person needs to head this important ministry.
The constitution must be amended to provide for the formation of a special court to combat corruption crimes, belonging to the Civil Judicial Council with a public prosecution department and competent judicial officers. The jurisdiction of the military judiciary, the State Security Court, can then be revoked.
Further the constitutional text requiring the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives before a minister is referred to trial must be repealed and ministerial immunity must be cancelled as it has become a shield used by those who practice corruption.
The constitutional text must be amended so that members of the legislature can not practice trade at the same time, thus preventing members of the legislature from passing any commercial business laws to benefit themselves.
Restructuring the Jordanian economy
Jordan should provide incentives to encourage Arab investors to enter the Jordanian market, by exempting production inputs and basic foodstuffs from sales tax, directing government capital expenditures for income-generating development projects, and investing the country's rich resources of potash, phosphate, oil shale, copper, and others as inputs to production.
Where the Jordanian economy must be transformed from a rentier economy to a productive economy, providing job opportunities, especially in the fields of industry, agriculture, information technology and tourism, regulating the labor market, and adopting progressive tax policies that contribute to the redistribution of income.
Also, foreign aid should be directed towards investments and development projects, the development of health services, education and public transport.
Rami Dabbas is a Jordanian freelance writer and analyst based in Amman, who stands for peace in the Middle East and is a pro-Israel advocate. Click here to read more of this author’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.