Domestic pressure behind Jordan move

October 24, 2018 18:38

V Despite the headlines over the weekend, Jordan is not “cancelling” the 1994 peace agreement that King Hussein struck with Yitzhak Rabin.

It is, however, taking back control of two portions of land on its border with Israel. The areas — known in Hebrew as Naharayim and Zofar, and as Baqoura and Ghumar in Arabic — were recognised by Israel in the treaty as sovereign Jordanian territory, but Israeli farmers were allowed to continue working the land for a period of 25 years.

With that time nearly up, King Abdullah was acting within the terms of the agreement by giving Israel one year’s notice.

Legally, Israel is in a similar place to where Britain was when it became clear that China had every intention of making sure that the 99-year lease of Hong Kong would end in 1997.

But in this case, Israel and Jordan are immediate neighbours, sharing a long land border. The King’s announcement is an indication both of the precarious nature of the relationship between the two countries and his own predicament at home.

If the Jordanians follow through, the immediate casualties will be two Israeli farming communities for whom the land under question constitutes their livelihood.

But how badly will it damage the ties between the two countries? After all, they have survived periodic crises since Rabin and King Hussein signed their agreement 24 years ago, including the death of two Jordanian citizens in an altercation with an Israeli embassy guard last year.

On many levels, Israel-Jordan relations are strong. Israel has helped the kingdom fend off cross-border attacks by Isis from Syria in recent years. Their intelligence-sharing and security relationships are healthy.

In recent years, Israel has even supplied Jordan with refurbished Cobra attack helicopters from the Israeli Air Force, a level of cooperation with an Arab military that is without precedent. Israel also supplies Jordan with vital water from the Sea of Galilee and is scheduled by 2020 to begin providing natural gas too.

But much of this cooperation in security, energy and water is hidden from the public eye and has done nothing to make relations with Israel any more popular among the Jordanian public, of which at least half is from Palestinian extraction.

King Abdullah and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold meetings and speak often on the telephone, usually hidden from the cameras.

And with an impasse in the diplomatic process, the Trump administration moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA facing a chronic funding shortage, there is little prospect of ties with Israel becoming more popular in the near future.

But the King’s announcement is not only a response to Israel’s unpopularity.

The storms of the Middle East have buffeted Jordan over the last seven and a half years. The country has have given shelter to nearly a million Syrian refugees and has seen waves of angry protests barely contained by its security forces.

What is more, the economy is in grave difficulty, kept afloat by the largesse of the Sunni Gulf states.

The issue of Baqoura and Ghumar’s sovereignty has been pumped up by Islamists and other opposition groups for months and, under present circumstances, making any other move would have been a risk too great for the King.

Now that the Jordanians have given notice, the two sides will enter negotiations over the procedures to be taken. It is not out of the question that, should matters calm down within Jordan in the meantime, a solution will be found to allow Israeli farmers to continue working there.

October 24, 2018 18:38

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive