On Monday, King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussain of Jordan took many by surprise when he issued a royal edict dissolving parliament.
Most analysts attributed the abrupt move by the king to domestic factors, i.e., the stand-off between the government and MPs over reforms. The government of Prime Minister Nader Al Zahabi has repeatedly accused the parliament of blocking major economic reforms. Many deputies of the now dissolved parliament had accused the government, on the other hand, of favouring big businesses and foreign investors. It is said that the king has decided to end this stand-off by dissolving the parliament and allowing the government to pass legislation under emergency laws.
If this was the case, the king's decision flew in the face of democracy, as the main function of parliament is to monitor government policies and protect the public interest. In addition, the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group, held only six seats in the 80-seat parliament, making it no threat to the government. The king's decision does not make any sense if it was taken only to end a dispute between the government and a not very antagonistic parliament.
In fact, King Abdullah tends to rule by decrees in anticipation of crises. Before the US invasion of Iraq, for example, he dissolved parliament and used his constitutional powers to appoint ministers and approve legislation in the absence of the legislative branch of government. Does the king foresee another crisis?
Just like any other monarch, King Abdullah's major concern must be the political future of his country. Clearly, this future has not looked bright since the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in April. The creation of an independent, territorially contiguous and viable Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967, borders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Jordan's key strategic goal. Realising this goal is essential to ensure political stability and the survival of the Hashemite regime in a country where half the population is of Palestinian origin. The alternative is a Palestinian state in Jordan, an idea long promoted by the Jewish right — which is in power today.
For Jordan, the two-state solution is a prerequisite for the full implementation of the Arab peace initiative, first launched in 2002 and repackaged in 2007. It calls for 57 Arab and Muslim states to recognise Israel's right to exist in return for peace and security guarantees. So far, Israel has not accepted the initiative — although some Israeli officials have expressed willingness to negotiate the terms of the plan, a proposal rejected by the Arabs.
Reviving a genuine peace process is therefore of vital importance for Jordan, which lost dearly by banking on the success of peace initiatives promoted by former US president George W. Bush since 2000, starting with the road map and ending with the Annapolis conference in November 2007.
The policies of the Bush administration have done huge damage to Jordan's interests. They have turned Iran into a major regional power and allowed Israel time to build more colonies and set up a separation wall snaking in and around the West Bank, while discrediting the Palestinian National Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.
Despite this, Jordan remains wary of admitting in public that the peace process is dead for lack of a tenable alternative. For months now, King Abdullah has been calling upon President Obama to "shepherd" a real process leading to the creation of a Palestinian state. Obama has so far failed to heed this call. He has failed to put sufficient pressure on Israel to freeze the building of colonies in the Occupied Territories. On the contrary, he has bowed to the pressure of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington and continued to nurture the impregnable American-Israeli alliance.
Right now, Jordan is bracing for the worst-case scenario: a deteriorating political, security and economic situation in the Palestinian territories, along with an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. This could lead, according to several estimates, to a full-fledged regional war. If this scenario occurs, Jordan would be caught in the middle of a conflict that would not serve its interests. This is one of the main reasons that could have led King Abdullah to dissolve parliament without fixing a date for new elections. The king might be seeking to rule unchallenged ahead of an anticipated major regional crisis.
Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations at Damascus University's Faculty of Political Science and Media in Syria.