CIJA reps meet with King Abdullah of Jordan

Shimon Fogel

Officials with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) met with King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman last week to discuss how Canada can help the peace process and how it might ease the country’s growing financial burden stemming from an influx of Syrian refugees into the Hashemite kingdom.

The Sept. 2 meeting was the result of a direct invitation by the king, according to CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel, who was part of the delegation.

He said the overture was received “in the summer” and that the king likely had developed an interest in CIJA through talks with Palestinian leaders. CIJA representatives met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials in June.

Also at the meeting were Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, CIJA chair David Koschitzky, and CIJA board members Steven Cummings and Morris Perlis, as well as Marc Gold, chair of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA.

“CIJA is recognized as having a particular level of access to government. Often, other [political actors] have sought to get our help to advance their own interests, and I don’t know that that was different” with Jordan, Fogel said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs both lent support to the meeting, CIJA said.

“King Abdullah engaged in a very open discussion about the challenges in the region, and in particular those faced by Jordan,” CIJA said in a Sept. 4 statement.

“He noted that Jordan was carrying the economic brunt of the conflict in Syria. In particular, Jordan has been overwhelmed with almost 200,000 refugees, with an additional 100,000 expected. The cost – housing, food, school and medical care – is enormous and burdens an economy already strapped for cash, energy and water.”

Speaking to The CJN last week, Fogel said the king asked CIJA to relay a request for immediate and increased foreign aid and investment.

In June, Parliament passed the Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, establishing free trade between the two countries.

Asked why CIJA needed to act as a messenger when Jordan and Canada have amicable and open ties, Fogel said that countries always look “to secure support for their interests from whatever credible sources they can. And [Jordan] is of the view that if such a message were to come from CIJA, it would benefit from [Canada’s] consideration.

“It’s in that context that I think they were hoping we would weigh in in favour of Canada helping on both fronts,” Fogel said, adding that CIJA isn’t the only group helping Jordan relay messages to the West.

While Jordan had already asked Canada directly for assistance earlier this summer, Fogel said he believes King Abdullah was hoping to use CIJA’s close relationship with Ottawa to help ensure it receives further support.

He said CIJA has conveyed the king’s concerns and requests to Foreign Minister John Baird.

Rick Roth, a spokesperson for Baird, told The CJN that while Foreign Affairs has a “great, ongoing relationship” with CIJA, he would “not go into specifics” about discussions with the group.

“Our missions abroad facilitate many meetings between NGOs or Canadian businesses and foreign government officials,” Roth said. “I will note that we contributed $6.5 million to Jordan on Aug. 11, to help meet the needs in responding to the ongoing crisis along the border.”

Regarding Canada’s role in revitalizing the peace process, Fogel said that while Jordan and Israel have an “excellent relationship” at the most senior diplomatic levels, the king rules over a population – half of which is Palestinian – that’s not enamoured of the Jewish state.

“There’s always been that paradox between the closeness of the upper-level diplomatic relationship” and the colder, grassroots, public one, Fogel said.

Since Canada has good relations with both Israel and Jordan, there are ways Israel and Canada can help Jordan both politically and economically, he said.

“There are two [domestic] areas in particular where Jordan is really challenged: water and energy,” Fogel said.

“With Canada playing a role as a broker or facilitator or bridge-builder between the two countries, it might help make it be more palatable” for Jordanians to do business with Israel in the future, he said.

Fogel was referring to the expected emergence of Israel as a major player in the energy sector following recent discoveries of large natural gas and shale oil deposits within its territory and offshore.

Canada has already indicated its willingness to help Israel develop technology and know-how in the sector once the resources are ready for extraction.

Fogel said the Jordanians showed CIJA how much it has cost to import the majority of their country’s power from an unreliable Egypt, and that they’re eager to find another energy source for their people.

“Having a stable supply of energy from Israel, providing [Jordan] could somehow package it in a way that didn’t create more political problems than it solved energy problems… that would be clearly desirable,” he said. “That’s where Canada might be able to play a role.”

Asked what specifically CIJA believed was accomplished by meeting with the Jordanians, Fogel said the results were “multifold.”

“We got an incredibly insightful Jordanian analysis of everything going on in the region today,” he said. “From Jordanian interior [issues] to Syria to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab Spring, Iran and so forth. One can read about these issues in a newspaper or other media, but getting this kind of analysis directly from the horse’s mouth is a valuable opportunity.

“We also had an opportunity to make [CIJA’s] case on a number of issues as they relate to the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock as well as broader issues in the region, including Iran. So for us it was an opportunity to do what we’re mandated to do, which is to advocate on behalf of Israel and to try and support and echo the case for Israel.”

Fogel also noted that the trip to Jordan was arranged when most of CIJA’s senior staff were already scheduled to be in the region, and that those individuals paid their own way to Amman.