Bruce Jentleson Blogs from Jordan: Syria, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, Economy Top Discussions

Duke Political Science and Public Policy Professor Bruce Jentleson is in the Middle East on a 10-day trip, as part of a delegation organized by the Center for American Progress visiting the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. This is his third ISLAMiCommentary blog post about his trip. by BRUCE JENTLESON for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 9, 2014:

Bruce Jentleson (photo by Jim Wallace)

Bruce Jentleson (photo by Jim Wallace)

We’re now in Jordan, the second leg of our Center for American Progress Middle East trip designed to gain a better understanding of key issues in the region that affect and are affected by US policy. Our meetings here have included key advisors to King Abdullah and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Jordanian government agencies.

Whereas in the United Arab Emirates our foreign policy discussions focused principally on Egypt and Iran, in Jordan we addressed these issues but talks here were more focused on Syria.

Other than the people of Syria, who have been bearing the tragic burden of this civil war, Jordan has been feeling the impact more than any other nation.

The data and analyses in the recent Needs Assessment Review of the Impact of the Syrian Crisis on Jordan done by the United Nations are deeply disturbing. Close to 600,000 Syrian refugees have come to Jordan, equivalent to about 10% of the Jordanian population.  To get some sense of what this number means, imagine that Canada’s population of 35 million ALL fled to join the 314 million people of the United States.

With only about 20% of Syrian refugees in Jordan living in refugee camps, and the rest in cities and rural communities, the societal impact has been widespread. Already crowded schools are becoming overcrowded. About 80 schools have had to do double shifts to accommodate Syrian children — and even then only a small percentage of Syrian kids are getting schooling.

Jordan’s budget deficit problems have been exacerbated by the refugee crisis. The cascading effect has been especially hard for the Jordanian poor for whom social services and public resources are already strained.

Overall, the Central Bank of Jordan estimates that the impact of the Syrian crisis cut Jordan’s GDP growth by 2 percentage points in 2013, which, according to the UN could “threaten not only to derail the development trajectory but also stunt economic growth and development for years to come.”

… The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was also a key topic in our discussions with Jordanian officials. Jordanians are especially complimentary of the diplomacy that Secretary of State John Kerry has been investing. For all the talk about a “pivot” to Asia, Secretary Kerry has been showing that he understands that the Middle East isn’t going away, and that as hard as these issues are today they are harder tomorrow. King Abdullah had had a lunch meeting with Palestinian President Abu Mazen just before we met with the King’s policy aides. The mood is hopeful of further progress and a genuine peace, but understandably cautious and concerned about whether this will come to fruition.

As a professor I tend to spend much of my time reading and researching, and while that has its own tremendous value, there is also so much to be learned from engaging directly with those who work in the policy world. I have appreciated the opportunity to listen to the fresh perspectives and ideas that they bring to the table and field-test my own theories and analyses.

Last night, US Ambassador to Jordan, Stuart Jones, hosted a dinner for our group to engage with Jordanian business, government and political leaders. These included some business leaders headed to Washington shortly to meet with Senators, executive branch officials and US business leaders on a range of commercial initiatives. And here too a Duke connection: Ambassador Jones is a Duke alum, and two of his children are currently Duke students!

While not quite as elegant as the dinner with Ambassador Jones, it turned out that what the New York Times called the best shawarma in all the Middle East was a few blocks from our hotel, a great lunch stop as you can see! (below)

Next leg, Israel…

Bruce Jentleson (far right) and colleagues sampling the local shwarma in Jordan.

Bruce Jentleson (far right) and colleagues sampling the local shawarma in Jordan.


Bruce W. Jentleson is Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, and affiliated faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. He is also a Distinguished Scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Jan.-June 2014), and Co-Principal Investigator with the Duke-American University-UC Berkeley “Bridging the Gap” initiative. Jentleson’s areas of expertise include Middle East peace and security, international conflict prevention, global governance, international security, and U.S. foreign policy. In 2009-11 he served as a Senior Advisor at the State Department. His publications include “American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century” (W.W. Norton, 5th edition 2013). Current projects include U.S. policy in the new Middle East, genocide and mass atrocities prevention, and a study of leading statesmen/women of the last century. In Fall 2013 he taught the Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): “21st Century American Foreign Policy.” 

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