Though small and weak, Jordan is considered pivotal in the geopolitics of settling the region's protracted conflicts. Under the leadership of Hussein, Jordan became a bastion of the moderate Arab camp and followed a generally pro-Western foreign policy. Jordan's vulnerability in the region required an alignment with the West in order to blunt perceived threats to its survival. Attempts to forge friendly relations with its neighbors have been complicated by the vicissitudes of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. Jordan is home to a sizeable Palestinian population. In its quest for peace with Israel, Jordan must balance its own security needs with Palestinian aspirations for a separate homeland.
For many years, Hussein vied with the PLO for Palestinians' loyalty. In the mid-1980s, he tried to subordinate the PLO to his own peace process, but opposition from Palestinians and other Arab countries forced him to acknowledge the PLO's claim to be the Palestinians' sole representative in any future peace talks.
Jordan played a significant role in the 1991 secret negotiations between Israel and the PLO that led to the Oslo Accords of 1993, which produced a declaration of principles regarding Palestinian self-rule in Israeli-held territories. Relations between Jordan and Israel warmed, and in 1994 the two countries formally ended their state of war. Abdullah affirmed his government's commitment to the peace process in the Middle East and to the founding of a Palestinian state. During his first year in office, he traveled extensively throughout the region, restored diplomatic relations with Kuwait, and made great strides in improving relations with Syria.
Violence between Israel and the Palestinians increased dramatically in the spring of 2002 during the continuation of the al-Aqsa intifada which began in September 2000. Israel mounted its largest military operation in 20 years, retaking control of cities and territory formerly under Palestinian control. Suicide bombings carried out by radical Palestinians against Israelis were frequent. Abdullah stated his country backed any international initiative directed toward an end to the violence and the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, and to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Relations with Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq are high on Abdullah's diplomatic agenda. Saudi Arabia was harshly critical of Jordan's tilt towards Iraq during the Gulf Crisis. Since then, the two kingdoms have slowly reconciled their differences. Many analysts see Iraq and Syria presenting Abdullah with his greatest external challenge. Both countries disapproved of Jordan's peace with Israel prior to the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003. In 1995, Hussein distanced himself from the Iraqi regime and called for its replacement. Abdullah in November 1999 called for lifting of sanctions against the people of Iraq and Sudan. The Jordanian public opposed active support for efforts to remove the Iraqi regime. In September 2001, Abdullah promoted a measured response to the terrorist attacks on the United States to avoid aggravating an already tense Middle East. He said, "The struggle against … terrorism … requires a coming together of all efforts."
Abdullah attempted to persuade U.S. president George W. Bush to avoid war with Iraq in 2003. However, he allowed the U.S. to station Patriot missiles and a limited number of troops along Jordan's border with Iraq, an action met with much opposition on the part of most Jordanians. Following the April 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime by the U.S.-led coalition, Abdullah called for a complete and comprehensive withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq, as quickly as possible, and maintained that Iraq's territorial integrity must be preserved. Abdullah reacted to the consequences of a new Iraqi regime to the future of the Middle East at large by asking at an international economic gathering in 2003, "What is the single most important thing in the Middle East?" The question was posed to both an Arab and a Western audience. "The Western response was: democracy and freedom. The Arab response was: a future for Palestine. And I think the West needs to understand that the core issue is still the Israeli-Palestinian one," he stated.