When a king frowns – the complexities of Israeli-Jordanian relations

The State of Israel seeks any gesture of good will from Arab leaders, yet it looked down on Abdullah II of Jordan.

By JACKY HOUGI
March 17, 2019 12:12
4 minute read.
When a king frowns – the complexities of Israeli-Jordanian relations

Jordan's King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 25, 2018. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

 
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Last Thursday, 500 Jordanians suddenly became employed when Israel and Jordan expanded an agreement allowing Jordanian citizens to work in Eilat hotels. The agreement also includes sleeping arrangements and commuting arrangements as the Jordanians are meant to enter Israel in the morning and return to Jordan in the evening, the deal will provide the Jordanian kingdom millions of dinars annually and thousands of job applications made their ways to the relevant job agencies. 
 
The agreement, which largely went unreported, is one more example of the complexities of the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement now marking its 25th year. On the one hand, the two countries are engaged in intense security cooperation, which is done behind closed doors, on the other hand, tensions and suspicions are increasing. On the same day the tourism visas were expanded envoy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Ben-Shabbat attempted to reach an agreement regarding recent tensions on Temple Mount and returned empty-handed. 
 
Tzofar in southern Israel, halfway between Eilat and Rabat Amon, now faces the question of what is to happen to their agriculture lands. 
 
When the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement was signed the then-king of Jordan agreed the lands will go on being cultivated by the Israelis despite being Jordanian lands for a period of 25 years, the time is now up and the Jordanians intend to annex their lands now. 
 
The 30 families which reside in Tzofar live off these lands and export millions of dollars' worth of crops to the world as well as to the Israeli market.  
 
Shortly after Passover, unless a compromise is reached, the families will have to decide if they mean to begin cultivating the lands facing the uncertainty of being able to reap what they sow. 
 
There were voices in Israel who called on the Netanyahu administration to end water sharing with the Jordanians as a reaction to the move, but the water Israel hands over to Jordan is part of a legally binding obligation within the peace deal and the clause about the Tzofar lands was set for a 25-year period when the peace agreement was signed.
 
The Jordanian decision was not a surprise as officials in Jordan gave Israel warnings for more than a year in advance that the move was coming. It followed two incidents that Jordan viewed as problematic, the warm reception Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the Israeli security guard who shot a Jordanian citizen in 2017, and Israel pulling out of a water desalination project which was meant to spare the Jordanian the cost of building a water pipe from Aqaba to Rabat Amon. Jordanian claims that the project is vital fell on deaf ears. 
 
The Jordanian insistence on the lands near Tzofar then, seems like a response of the state to mounting pressures from the Jordanian street voicing displeasure from the existing peace agreement. 
 
Perhaps the Jordanians will agree to drop their claim in exchange for rent. Perhaps not, now it's the Israelis' turn to sweat. 
 
Israel, which works intensively for years to shape good relations with Arab states, proved immense oversight in this case, seeing as it already had a proof of good will and it let it be taken away. 
 
Tzofar and the lands of Naharayim, which Jordan also seeks to regain as part of their decision not to renew the clause, were more important than the sum of their parts. To extract them from Israeli hands is pinning a medal on the chests of those who refuse to see the value, for Jordan, in the current peace agreement. 
 
Even before he made his decision about the lands public, King Abdullah II of Jordan had to push back hostile public opinions about his decision to go ahead with an agreement to buy gas from Israel. The deal is not a large one from the Israeli point of view, yet it binds Jordan to Israel and may mean a great deal if a regime change should ever take place in that country. 
 
Some in Israel openly speak in favor of replacing the existing Jordanian state with a Palestinian one to be built in what is now Jordan. Such a move is dangerous and risky, even if the king would abdicate it, would be years until such a state would emerge if at all. What is bound to happen is that Israel will have to deal with ISIS at our longest land border. There may not be a Palestinian state with its capital as Rabat Amon, but there will be a popular uprising on both banks of the Jordan River. 
 
Yet, on the Right side of Israeli politics, the Jordanian option is slowly gaining support by those who are not marginal. It's easy, from an Israeli point of view, to see why, as it will give the settlement movement in the West Bank its final, utopic victory. I would not dare to pronounce it hopeless, as the future has a way of surprising. 
 
For those asking how is the Jordanian option related to Tzofar, well those who view the former positively had reason to smile a smug "we told you so" smile. The Jordanian move can easily be seen as proof that they do not like Israelis and want us out, if yesterday such smiles were shared by the few, tomorrow they will be worn by those with voices in the administration. 

Originally published in Maariv, translated into English by Hagay Hacohen.      
  
           
     


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