Anti-Israel sentiment in Jordan at fever pitch in wake of fatal shooting

Last week, IDF soldiers killed a Jordanian judge at the Allenby Bridge border crossing after Israeli authorities said he tried to steal a guard's rifle.

Jordanians protest outside the Israeli embassy in the capital of Amman. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordanians protest outside the Israeli embassy in the capital of Amman.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The crowd estimated to be 2,000 strong that was demonstrating in front of the Israeli embassy in Amman last week was calling on King Abdullah II to annul the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, it was the latest in a series of protests that followed the fatal shooting by Israeli troops of a Jordanian judge at the Allenby Bridge crossing point between Jordan and the West Bank, under disputed circumstances.
Also in the aftermath of the shooting, the Jordanian parliament said it would topple the government if the king does not expel the Israeli ambassador to Jordan, recall Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and free a former soldier in the Jordanian army who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 2007. The parliament has set Tuesday as a deadline.
Others, like the demonstrators, have called on King Abdullah to nullify the 1994 peace treaty with Israel while demanding the release of all Jordanians and Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.
The Israeli army says a preliminary report shows that soldiers shot Raed Zueter after he tried to grab a rifle from a soldier. But Jordanian witnesses told reporters that the soldier fired after an altercation, and that the soldiers acted irresponsibly.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office issued an apology and promised to open a joint Israeli-Jordanian investigation into the circumstances, the incident has inflamed passions in Jordan where a growing number of citizens say that Israel has benefited far more from the peace treaty than has Jordan.
“The peace treaty has been a one-sided relationship --- it is a treaty which is providing full benefits to Israel and little to Jordan,”
Dr. Ayman Khalil, the director of the Center for Research on Arms Control and Security (CRACS) told The Media Line. “Jordan is protecting its border with Israel and we have been doing this in a professional and responsible manner.”
Israel has peace treaties with two Arab states – Egypt and Jordan. Those peace treaties give Israel a legitimacy that is important to the Jewish state.
“The peace treaty with Jordan is one of the foundation stones of our national security policy,” Paul Hirshson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line. “Now the Israeli diplomats there are locked up in a fortress with demonstrators outside clamoring for their blood.”
He dismissed the Jordanian parliament’s threats to bring down the government unless the Israeli ambassador is thrown out, saying that parliament does not make those decisions.
The tensions between Jordan and Israel have been complicated by a strike by Israeli diplomats and foreign ministry employees over the conditions they experience abroad. Although security meetings have gone ahead as scheduled, several Israeli-Jordanian meetings and delegations have been cancelled.
Hirshson would not say how many Israeli diplomats are in Amman right now, although he did say the staff is “small.” Most of the families of the diplomats stay in Israel rather than moving to Jordan.
Some Israelis fear a scenario similar to what happened in Egypt in 2011, when a crowd numbering in the thousands attacked Israel’s Embassy in Cairo, tearing down an outer wall, and forcing their way inside. The ambassador and other diplomats were evacuated. Israel’s ties with another important regional player in the Middle East, Turkey, have been strained since 2010, when a clash aboard a Turkish-flagged ship that was trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, left nine Turkish citizens dead.
So far, Jordanian officials have not said much about the growing calls to cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour was quoted by Jordanian media as saying the Israeli government was “completely” responsible for the shooting incident.
Ahmed Salwan (not his real name), a Jordanian researcher on trans-boundary water issues who travels frequently between Israel and Jordan, says many in Jordan are making comparisons to the Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls 17 years ago.
In that case, Jordan quickly tried and imprisoned Ahmed Daqamseh, who has now begun a hunger strike advocating for his release. Jordanians want to see Israel imprison the soldiers who shot Zueter, he said.
Nevertheless, Salwan doubts there will be a major change in Jordan’s position.
“The same people who were advocating against the peace treaty are doing it again, only now they have an excuse to be louder,” he told The Media Line. “At the same time, most Jordanians do not see any clear benefit to the peace treaty.”
A majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian and almost all of them have close ties with Palestinians in the West Bank.