This Week in History: Israel and Jordan are connected

After forty-six years of war and only two weeks after deciding on peace in Washington, Rabin and King Hussein open the first border crossing.

Rabin, Hussein and Clinton at Arava peace deal signing 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Hollander)
Rabin, Hussein and Clinton at Arava peace deal signing 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Hollander)
On August 8, 1994, in a desert field cleared of landmines only three days before, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan and then-US secretary of state Warren Christopher oversaw the opening of a border crossing between two enemy states that only two weeks before had agreed to eventually allow passage between them.Only three weeks earlier, the beginning of an incredibly fast-moving peace process had been launched with a visit to Jerusalem and Amman by the US secretary of state. One week after that, on July 25, Rabin and King Hussein met at the White House to sign the Washington Declaration, which contained an agreement of principles, an end to belligerency and laid out a short timeline for peace between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The declaration pledged both countries’ determination “to bring an end to bloodshed and sorrow.”
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Following the meeting in Washington, leaders and diplomats from Jordan and Israel met nearly non-stop to lay the path for peace between the two countries that had been at war since 1948. Agreed upon in the Washington Declaration, one of the items slated for near immediate implementation was the connection of telephone lines and the opening of a border crossing within two weeks.For weeks, work was carried out around the clock to physically prepare for the deadline. The stretch of land where the new Arava Border Crossing was to be built was covered with sand and land mines. Infrastructure needed to be built to connect telecommunications between the two states.
By the end of the first week of August, however, the determined work toward peace had been finished. At a ceremony opening the temporary Arava Border Crossing connecting Eilat and Aqaba, Rabin told the Jordanian King and US secretary of state: “Three days ago, this was a wilderness. Only sand and more sand. Today, this place teems with new life. Three weeks ago, the dream of peace was far away. Today it is materializing: telephone lines, tourism. Soon it will seem as though this is the way it has always been.”
Rabin told the Jordanian King, “This is the first step on a long, long journey.” In reality, however, it was one of the final steps in a long, long journey. Less than three months later, the same leaders would gather in the same spot, along with then-US president Bill Clinton to sign a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.
On October 26, 1994, the three leaders and other dignitaries gathered at the Arava crossing to formalize the peace deal. Typical of the volatility of the region, however, twenty minutes before the ceremony began a Hezbollah fired a volley of mortar shells at northern Israel in protest of the historic agreement, forcing thousands of Israelis to watch the signing from bomb shelters.
Since the peace treaty’s implementation, ties with Jordan continued to strengthen and deepen. Special economic and free-trade zones were established along the border, cooperative medical and educational programs begun, and law enforcement cooperation against drug and human smuggling built and developed.
The border, renamed in 2006 the Yitzhak Rabin Border Terminal after the late prime minister, continues to be one of the major tourist transit points between Jordan and Israel. In 2010 alone, nearly half a million people crossed the border.
Whereas before the peace treaty Israelis had to sneak across the border at great risk of arrest or death in order to visit Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, today they are able to do so easily and legally.
However, in recent years both Israelis and Jordanians have expressed frustration with the peace between the two countries that is looking more and more like the “cold peace” with Egypt. According to Middle East editor at Yedioth Ahronot Smadar Perry, 80 percent of Jordanians today support canceling the peace treaty with Israel.
Despite the special economic zones and free trade agreements, business and diplomatic ties between the neighboring countries have deteriorated in recent years. Furthermore, while Israelis are able to freely cross into Jordan for both business and pleasure, bureaucratic hurdles and security concerns drastically limit the number of Jordanians who cross into Israel.
Nonetheless, following 46 years of hostility and war, there is little doubt that peace, evidenced by physical, digital and diplomatic connections established between the two countries at the newly-built border crossing 17 years ago, has provided both countries with added security and economic opportunity.