Middle East In Focus
A special provision in the 1994 Oslo Accords saw Jordan providing Israeli farmers access to the Jordanian border areas of Baqoura and Ghumar. But King Abdullah of Jordan has announced the leases will not be renewed upon their expiration in 2019. Regional observers believe that King Abdullah’s decision marks an important turning point in the usually-friendly relations between Israel and Jordan, pointing to the deep unhappiness of the Jordanian government with Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Israeli government has tried to downplay the rift, but according to a Times of Israel report, Israeli farmers fear the loss of land: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that despite the monarch’s announcement, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty is ‘an agreement of true peace. We will enter into negotiations with Jordan to extend the existing agreement, but the entire agreement from a comprehensive perspective is important and dear to both countries,’ said Netanyahu.... The head of Central Arava Regional Council, Eyal Blum, speaking to the Hebrew media, said the development would harm Israeli farmers. According to Blum, around 30 Israeli farmers will lose some 250 acres of land if the areas revert to Jordanian control. Blum said the council was in contact with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry about the matter.”
For Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, this latest development highlights the increasingly strained relationship not only between the governments of Jordan and Israel, but especially between the two peoples: “Jordan's announcement on Sunday that it wanted to opt out of annexes from its 1994 peace treaty with Israel that leased two border areas that historically were difficult to delineate to Israel is a sign that not all is well in ties between the two countries. More precisely, not all is well in ties between Israel and the Jordanian people. The government to government ties between Jerusalem and Amman are strong, with both sides recognizing that while the other might not always do what they want, both their interests are supremely served by peace and cooperation. Where there is a problem is at the people to people level, or, more precisely, at the Jordanian people.... Internal pressure might be a major reason for the King's decision, but not necessarily the only one. Business is also involved.”
Other Israeli observers have expressed outrage at the decision of the Jordanian government and have taken a more combative tone. For example, Arutz Sheva’s Mordechai Kedar argues: “Israel has the means to put significant pressure on Jordan, given that the king and his entourage are naturally most sensitive to any talk of the Palestinian Arab majority existing among Jordanian citizenry - and that majority’s rights to self-determination, thus turning Jordan into a Palestinian state or dividing it into both a Palestinian and a Bedouin entity depending on local ethnicities.... That is the proper way to manage relations in the Middle East. We have to carry on quiet negotiations behind the scenes while radiating strength... Israel must tell the Jordanian king that it is recalculating its next steps with regard to relations with Jordan due to his longterm antagonism. For Israel, the continued existence of the Hashemite royal house – whose members were brought by the British to the region from the Hijaz almost a century ago - is only one of several possibilities.”
However, as a recent Haaretz News editorial puts it, the Israelis would do well to put Jordan’s decision in the context of Tel Aviv’s regional policies: “The decision by Jordan’s King Abdullah not to renew Israel’s lease of two parcels of land in southern and northern Israel when it ends in October 2019 sends a clear message to the government. Amman, which could have permitted the lease to renew automatically, chose to demonstrate that nothing can be taken for granted in its relations with Jerusalem.... it will be impossible to separate these negotiations from the wider circumstances and Israel’s actions in the territories; even if the land lease is not very important in economic terms, its diplomatic symbolism is enormous. The original agreement presented, for the first time, the use of a lease to solve territorial disputes, paving the way for (unrealized) proposals to apply the method to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the conflict with Syria.”
The Jordanians, for their part, have received the news with excitement, not least because, as Jordan Times’ Mahmoud Al Abed puts it, King Abdullah has given in to popular demands: “To say that Jordanians were happy with the termination of the annexes does not tell the whole story. Many have been shocked to know the facts about the two areas, including that Baqoura has been literally owned by Jews for almost a century and there has been no ‘lease,’ but a special regime that ensured the Israeli farmers ownership rights in the area under Jordanian sovereignty.... Jordanians also took pride in the fact that His Majesty responded to people's demands when he took the decision.... there is no shame in saying that His Majesty responded to the pulse of the street. That is what he does all the time. Looking ahead, the least the public expects from officials is transparency over the consultations they will enter with the Israeli side.”
Yet in the coming weeks and months it is likely that Jordan will come under what a Gulf News editorial characterizes as a coordinated campaign by “Israel’s propaganda arm [which] will be working overtime, churning out statements of vitriolic rhetoric, with the Kingdom of Jordan the target of its spleen. And Israeli diplomats will be doing their utmost to tarnish the international reputation of the kingdom in the coming days, claiming — as always — that a great wrong has been committed once more against that hateful and spiteful nation that cares not one scintilla about what the international community makes of its illegal, immoral and repugnant actions down the years.... Israel has never been one to play by international rules and is solely interested in exercising its sanctimonious belief in its illegal sovereignty. Jordan should not sway to Israeli intimidation.”