Keep the peace

The 25th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan passed with little fanfare.

Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2010 (photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2010
(photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
This weekend was the 25th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
The occasion passed with little fanfare. The governments of the neighboring countries did not do anything significant to mark the years that have passed since the deal was signed by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Jordanian King Hussein.
In fact, it seems that this date will only be remembered negatively, with Jordan planning to bring two territorial components of the treaty to a close on November 10.
In less than two weeks, Jordan will stop leasing agricultural land to Moshav Tzofar in the Arava Valley. In addition, Amman will not allow Israelis to access 400 hectares of land in Naharayim, which is owned by Jews and used by Israel as a tourist site but is under Jordanian sovereignty, according to the terms of the peace agreement. About 70 hectares of the land in Naharayim is used to grow vegetables and wheat by nearby Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov.
The Naharayim tract of land holds symbolic value. Known as “The Island of Peace,” it represents the high and low points of Israel-Jordan cooperation.
Naharayim at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers is where Jordanians and Jews created a regional hydroelectric plant before the establishment of the State of Israel that was operational for 15 years. But it was also the site of violence in the War of Independence and the Six Day War and its aftermath.
In 1997, three years after the peace treaty was signed, a Jordanian soldier shot and killed seven Israeli schoolgirls aged 13-14. King Hussein then visited each of their grieving families to comfort them, as well as another girl and a teacher injured in the attack, and condemned the killer.
It was that response, as well as a moving, memorable eulogy at Rabin’s funeral, that made King Hussein the Arab leader that Israeli Jews most respected at the time. He seemed to be truly dedicated to keeping the peace between his country and Israel.
Twenty-five years later, peace between Israel and Jordan is cold and getting colder. The populations of the countries have few ties to one another; in fact, Jordanians, the majority of whom identify as Palestinian, are hostile to Israel and Israelis and see the treaty as the king’s and not theirs. While violent incidents are rare, Jewish tourists are regularly harassed if they try to bring religious items across the border.
Tensions are often raised on the Temple Mount, administered by the Wakf, or Jordan-funded Jerusalem Islamic Trust, which denies Jewish freedom of worship at the holy site. The Wakf allows limited visits by Jews to Judaism’s holiest site, and forbids prayer or anything that could remotely look like worship. Jews are treated with open hostility on the Temple Mount, but the Israeli government has mostly accepted the situation, in the interest of keeping the peace.
Two incidents in 2017 heightened tensions. One was when three Arab-Israeli terrorists killed Israeli policemen on the Temple Mount, and Israel increased security, including putting metal detectors at more entrances of the holy site. Muslim worshipers responded by rioting. (Jews already had to go through metal detectors on the way up.)
Meanwhile, Israeli guard Ziv Moyal outside Israel’s embassy in Amman killed two Jordanians in an incident that Israel said was self-defense. Jordan demanded Moyal be prosecuted, and Israel refused, but expressed regret and paid $5 million compensation.
These events and the Jordanians’ general hostility to Israel have been cited as King Abdullah II’s reasons to revoke Israel’s access to Naharayim and Tzofar.
Perhaps the king needs a reminder of the ways the peace treaty benefits his country. Aside from the obvious lives saved by there no longer being an open conflict between Israel and Jordan, the Hashemite Kingdom’s national security has been greatly enhanced by cooperation with Israel’s security establishment, which helps them effectively block regional threats. In addition, a large portion of the water pumped from Lake Kinneret is piped to Jordan, and the kingdom is expected to sign a natural gas deal with Israel.
Despite the incidents, the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan is worth maintaining. King Abdullah II should recognize that fact and allow Israelis to continue using the land in Naharayim and Tzofar as a show of goodwill for the next 25 years of peace and beyond.