As excuses go, I doubt I’ll ever be able to beat it: On what had started out as a normal day in October in the Middle East, I had to call a dentist’s office to cancel a routine check-up “because peace has just broken out.”
That was 20 years ago, and while the peace with Jordan is not warm, and certainly not all we dreamed of at the time, it still exists – and that is a blessing to be counted in a region such as ours, in times such as these.
The announcement that Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom were about to draw up a peace treaty came as the pleasantest of surprises. I had spent most of the morning working on a story about the way Hamas had used the media when it released a video of kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman.
In the afternoon, instead of sitting in the dentist’s chair, I began work on a feature on the reaction of Israeli farmers to the newly announced plan that some of their land would be leased from Jordan and they would, in effect, have to cross the border to cultivate it. Most, as I recall, considered it a small price to pay for real peace, although in those post-Oslo days when ostensible peace with the Palestinians was blowing up in our faces, they were understandably wary.
Indeed, I still wonder whether the announcement of the Jordanian peace treaty – a wildly popular move in Israel – was timed to compensate in part for the national mourning for Wachsman, who was killed along with IDF Capt. Nir Poraz in a failed rescue attempt. Most of the country had united in anguish over his fate in a way that was seen again when Hamas abducted and held Gilad Schalit for five years, and more recently in June this year when Hamas terrorists kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teens.
Hamas and its ugly stepsisters Islamic Jihad and Islamic State together are one of the reasons the peace with Jordan is so important to both the Hashemites and to Israel. Jordan is threatened by Islamist terror groups no less than Israel. In addition, it now finds itself flooded with refugees from the fighting in Syria and Iraq. If there is one thing worse than sharing a border with Islamic State, it is sharing two borders with it. No wonder Jordan wants to retain peace with Israel and vice versa.
The treaty with Jordan is often considered one of the fruits of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. I have never shaken off the feeling, however, that one of Oslo’s greatest faults (and there were many) was that it interrupted a slow but more sustainable peace process in the region. The first Arab state I visited was the Sultanate of Oman in April 1994 to cover the multilateral talks on water that were part of the Madrid peace process. The Palestinians were part of the Jordanian delegation (and even then there were evident differences of opinion between those from Gaza and those from the West Bank).
I had attended the modest ceremony in which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin initialed the Oslo Accords in his office the previous year with a sense of foreboding.
Peace with Jordan had an entirely different feel to it. My first taste of it came when I covered the peace talks in a huge, air-conditioned tent set up at Ein Avrona in the Arava Valley.
Standing behind the Israeli delegation, it took me a couple of minutes to realize that I could simply walk around to the other side of the table and ask the Jordanian participants questions. It took them a few seconds to internalize that they could answer them.
The signing ceremony was a festive occasion, enjoyed even by those of us who had spent hours in the desert sun waiting for the event to begin. Multicolored balloons soared above the assembled dignitaries and signatories and a roar went up from the area where the Jordanian delegation stood. Unable to distinguish the words at first, it sounded threatening (like most things yelled in a language you don’t understand or can’t hear clearly) but then I realized that it was more than a shout of approval: It was the call in Arabic of “Long live the king!” After the ceremony I approached a Jordanian dignitary who was happy to talk to me but wouldn’t give me his name. “When will you be willing to be identified?” I asked. “At the rate this peace is progressing, ask me in another 15 minutes,” he quipped.
I met him again in different circumstances several times after that. The last time was a few years ago in Jerusalem. He was friendly but again did not want his name published.
He was not afraid of Israelis. He was scared that his life would be at risk if details of his trip leaked out back home in Jordan.
This was certainly not the peace either of us had envisaged.
THIS WEEK, according to a report in The Jordan Times, King Abdullah II while discussing the threats on the country’s borders with Jordanian lawmakers warned that all countries in the world “are in a state of war between moderation or extremism.
“There is a civil war within Islam now, but as Arabs and Muslims, we, unfortunately, have not realized how serious the situation is,” he was quoted as saying.
Then falling into the trap that has also snared US Secretary of State John Kerry, he warned not only of Islamic extremism but also noted, “there is Zionist extremism...
stakeholders should acknowledge there is extremism in all camps.”
It might be an attempt to placate his citizens, the vast majority of whom identify as Palestinians rather than Hashemites, but it was an ill-advised and deliberately misleading comment. Were Jordan’s other neighboring states closer in nature to the democratic and vibrant Israel, the whole region could be enjoying the benefits of peaceful economic, environmental and technological cooperation.
The problem isn’t the lack of an Israeli desire for peace. King Abdullah, of all people, knows that his rule and kingdom are not threatened by Israel or Israelis two decades after the peace agreement was signed. Similarly, the greatest threat to Egypt is not from the Jewish state, after 35 years of peace, however cold.
There was a time when I traveled to Jordan fairly regularly. The Jordan River of the spirituals is deep and wide. In reality it is so narrow it would be considered a creek in some countries, but crossing it the first time at the Allenby Bridge, on foot, was a deeply moving experience. I met Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, on so many occasions I could recite by heart the blessing on seeing a monarch, shenatan mikvodo l’vasar v’dam (“who has given from His glory to flesh and blood”).
I still dine out on the story of my iftar meal at the palace in Amman, and the photo of us shaking hands still adorns my office wall.
Islamic State terrorism – beheadings, stonings, crucifixions and crippling cruelty – is not the result of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Those who join Islamic State – from Western countries as well as the Middle East – are not driven by despair for peace in the region. And a large number of the Western Islamic State recruits seem to come from welloff, middle-class families. If anything, members of the caliphate-seeking Islamic State reject the idea of an independent Palestinian state more than the average Israeli.
Recognizing the real threats – that the Hamas Charter still specifically calls for Israel’s destruction and doesn’t tolerate a moderate Muslim state – is more useful than putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reach some kind of agreement on paper, especially while massacres of Muslims by other Muslims are being committed on a daily basis not far from the borders of both Jordan and Israel. Diverting attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problems, justifying Palestinian terror in the process, will not solve anything. It certainly doesn’t bring us any closer to the day when I can recycle that most wonderful of excuses: “Sorry, I’m busy. Peace has broken out.”The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.firstname.lastname@example.org