Israelis from Moshav Tzofar literally closed the gate and bid farewell to land they had farmed for decades, as they marked the end of a 25-year land lease from neighboring Jordan that had been set out under the terms of the 1994 peace deal between the two countries.
“This is a heavy and sad day,” said Amnon Gamaliel, who chairs the Moshav Zofar committee. He spoke at a small ceremony with white balloons and flags, which was held in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions.
Under an annex in the 1994 peace deal with Israel, a 25-year arrangement was reached in which land at Naharayim and Tzofar, which had been set to be returned to Jordan, remained in Israeli hands.
It was expected that after 25 years, the Hashemite Kingdom would extend the arrangement.
But in light of strained relations between Israel and Jordan, Amman ended the arrangement last year.
Jewish-owned land, which Israeli farmers retained access to at what is known as the Island of Peace, was handed over to Jordan in November.
A special arrangement was made for farmers at Moshav Tzofar who had been leasing Jordanian land to leave the land only this spring, so they could harvest pepper crops they had sown on the 110 hectares.
Gamliel recalled how Tzofar farmers were initially nervous to cultivate the land, while under Jordanian security. But Shimon Peres, who at the time was foreign minister, had come especially to the Arava for a meeting with the Zofar farmers to encourage them to continue to cultivate the land.
Peres explained to the farmers that in sowing and reaping from the land, they were also at the arrow’s tip of a symbolic gesture for peace, Gamliel recalled.
“For many years, both sides worked to maintain good relations and the enclave became an important security asset for Israel. Unfortunately neither the Jordanian nor the Israelis put in enough effort to ensure that the enclave would be preserved,” Gamliel said.
Central Arava Regional Council head Eyal Blum said that it was “painful to leave an agricultural area that had been farmed for so many years and which should have continued to be a showcase of Israeli-Jordanian collaboration and peace, but which instead was unilaterally evacuated.”
Both he and Gamliel noted that the government had yet to transfer the funds that would allow the 30 families living there to sow new crops on alternative fields.
The end of the land lease comes as tensions have increased with Jordan over Israeli plans to annex West Bank settlements as early as July.
Amman has opposed the move, which many speculate could destabilize Hashemite rule.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has spoken against the move with foreign officials, including his counterparts in Russia, Germany, Japan and France.
On Thursday, Safadi tweeted that he had discussed his opposition to annexation with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in the aftermath of an Arab League meeting earlier in the day that rejected the plan.
“Took part in [an Arab League] meet called for by #Palestine to galvanize an Arab position against Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian lands,” he tweeted. “The League rejected any such move as an illegal step that’ll undermine #MEEP & urged negotiations on basis of 2-state solution to achieve peace.”
“We must all act to protect chances for peace. Annexation will make one-state solution inevitable,” Safadi wrote.