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(photo credit: GPO)
How to make friends is an important ingredient in the foreign policy objectives of any country, certainly of Israel. How to keep friends, to preserve friendship, is no less important. Israel has not been blessed with too many friends in the past, and, alas, is not very adept at maintaining and fostering cordial relations with those who hold out their hand to us.
Take, for example, the following sad case of Jordan. A high-level delegation of Jordanians was to have visited Israel on Thursday. They were to have met some of our Knesset members and to have addressed a large audience at the Israel Council for Foreign Relations on the Jordanian perceptions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The members of the delegation handed in their passports to the Israeli Embassy in Amman three weeks ago to obtain visas. The Council for Foreign Relations wrote to the embassy saying that the delegates were guests of the council, but to avail.
For three weeks the delegates badgered the embassy, but by Wednesday morning the visas had still not been granted, and the Jordanians canceled their visit. On Wednesday afternoon they were told they could have the visas, but that was too late. These were Jordanians of high standing - former generals, university professors. Most of them had visited Israel before; the head of the delegation had met previously with Tzipi Livni and with other senior personalities in Israel.
The head of the delegation wrote to the council: "We are dismayed by what has happened regarding our visas. Our suffering has extended over the past few years and almost in each time we applied for visasâ€¦ We feel it is insulting to go [through] this same process every time. Nothing has changed over the past six years and the situation has even become worse. The Israelis do not seem to realize the sensitivities and are making it worse by such undiplomatic dealings." And this on the day that Prime Minister Olmert was visiting Amman!
IF THIS were an isolated case it could, perhaps, be explained away. But there has been a systematic policy of denying visas to Jordanians for security reasons, including businessmen who would have expanded our trade relations, academics (a prominent professor invited by Tel Aviv University was denied a visa) and, now, this ridiculous and insulting treatment of leading Jordanians who believed that it was in the interest of both countries to discuss matters of common concern.
And, indeed, there are matters that concern both Jordan and Israel. The consternation at the rise to power of Hamas is no less in Amman than it is in Jerusalem. The fear that events in the Palestinian Authority can have a negative bearing for Jordan is as strong as, probably stronger than, our own fears.
However, Jordan's dismay at having a Hamas government as next-door neighbor is nothing compared to its alarm caused by Israel's plan for unilateral steps in Judea and Samaria. A sovereign Palestinian state, the outcome of successful negotiations, would be welcomed in Amman. A unilateral Israeli withdrawal is quite another scenario - it would leave the Palestinian population stuck between the security "fence" and Jordan, with ever worsening conditions, no livelihood, spiraling unemployment, no hope. The Jordanians believe that our realignment plan, coupled with the completion of the "Wall," will create tremendous pressure on the Palestinians to move over into Jordan. They half believe that Israel might help them, that we would be solving our demographic problem by creating a demographic problem in Jordan, by swelling the number of Palestinians in Jordan.
When I was in Amman a few weeks ago, a leading Jordanian asked me: "Why do you Israelis take us Jordanians for granted? Why is there no dialogue between us on issues affecting both of us? Why don't you coordinate with us?" The king, I am sure, was much more polite when bringing up these same issues with our prime minister on Thursday. Olmert, I am equally certain, was convincing in his assurance to the king that it is in Israel's interest to coordinate, to dialogue and to take seriously Jordan's fears.
It is in Israel's interest that Jordan remains a strong, stable neighbor in the east. We should be doing everything we can to develop ever warmer relations, to expand our economic ties, to foster cooperation and dialogue, to encourage visits in both directions.
Yet what do we do? We humiliate them, we insult them when they stretch their hand out to us. We close and lock our doors to Jordanians who want to visit us and have the temerity to ask for visas. And we then moan that we have no friends in the region.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - these words are primarily for you.
The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry.