Jordan's king tours enclave along Israel border after end of lease deal

The king on Sunday declared an end of the arrangement, which many Jordanians saw as a humiliation that perpetuated what they regarded as an Israeli occupation of Jordanian territory.

Jordan's King Abdullah (wearing a black shirt) and Crown Prince Hussein pray as they take part in a ceremony in Naharayim in Hebrew, and Baquora in Arabic, in the border area between Israel and Jordan, November 11, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/JORDANIAN ROYAL PALACE/YOUSEF ALLAN/HANDOU)
Jordan's King Abdullah (wearing a black shirt) and Crown Prince Hussein pray as they take part in a ceremony in Naharayim in Hebrew, and Baquora in Arabic, in the border area between Israel and Jordan, November 11, 2019
Jordanian soldiers and King Abdullah II knelt in prayer and kissed the ground at Naharayim on Monday, in a solemn moment to mark the full imposition of the country’s sovereignty over the territory and the end of Israeli access to the site.
The king had announced on Sunday in parliament that Jordan was “imposing full sovereignty on every inch” of the enclave, to loud applause from lawmakers. Many Jordanians had viewed the arrangement codified in the 1994 Peace Treaty with Israel as a humiliating Israeli occupation of their land. Israelis had seen the deal as a sign of peace between two countries that had allowed a creative arrangement by which both peoples could benefit from the land.
On Sunday, in a move that symbolically underscored the growing tension between the two countries, Jordan halted an arrangement under which Jewish farmers were granted access to agricultural land in Naharayim and Tzofar. Israelis were also allowed to visit Naharayim, whose land is under Jordanian sovereignty but owned by Israelis and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
In a speech in Amman on Monday, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Jordan remained committed to the peace treaty.
“We are a country that respects its commitments to the peace treaty, which we have to abide by fully,” Safadi said.
Many Jordanians however are opposed to normalized ties with Israel and have called on the government to scrap the peace treaty. Many citizens in Jordan are of Palestinian origin.
Safadi said his country would continue to respect private ownership by Israelis in Baqura, which in Israel is known by its Hebrew name Naharayim.
But any Israeli who owns property in Baqura will now need to obtain a visa to enter Jordan, and any property owned by an Israeli will be governed by Jordanian laws that apply to other foreigners, Safadi said
According to KAN News, Israel had rejected a Jordanian offer to buy out the Israeli land owners in Naharayim.
In Tzofar, known as Al-Ghamar in Jordan, Israeli farmers have cultivated and invested in agro-industry, although they did not have ownership rights. Safadi said the kingdom would allow these farmers to harvest a final crop before ending their activity there.
In the Knesset on Monday, lawmakers held a special conference on Israeli-Jordanian ties, together with the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz told the conference that efforts are ongoing to sway Jordan to reestablish the special land arrangement.
Labor MK Merav Michaeli, who had initiated the conference, said she had invited the Jordanians to participate but that they had not agreed to come.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made a surprise appearance, sitting next to Michaeli and Labor-Gesher Party leader Amir Peretz. The prime minister spoke at length about his diplomatic vision, including the importance of Israeli ties with the two Arab countries with which it has a peace treaties.
“We help the king [Abdullah] in many covert ways that I don’t think I should expand on,” Netanyahu said.
He revealed that he had discussed the idea of a railway connecting Israel to the Jordanian network that leads all the way to Saudi Arabia.
“I told [the king]: let’s connect the train from Haifa all the way to Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said. “Unfortunately, believe it or not, it’s stuck due to bureaucracy on their end.”
He emphasized his ties with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, dropping examples of conversations he has had with them.
“There is peace with democracies and peace with dictatorships,” Netanyahu said. “It is easier to make peace with democracies because their natural tendency is not to fight, whereas dictatorships require establishing deterrence first. If you don’t have deterrence, the peace will not last. Jordan knows that Israel is stronger. On top of that deterrence, we built cooperation in security aspects as well as trade, intelligence and water.
“We have an outstanding interest in keeping the peace agreement due to the fact that we have our longest border with Jordan, and given the short distance from the border to the Mediterranean Sea,” Netanyahu said.
Jordan, Egypt and Israel are joined in their opposition to radical Islamic forces, and that the determination to prevent those forces from taking over the region has also helped preserve ties between them and Israel, he said.
“The importance of stability in Jordan, like the importance of the stability in Egypt and the stability of the peace agreements or the non-takeover by Islamist elements, is in our clear interest, vis-à-vis the regime in Egypt and the regime in Jordan,” Netanyahu said. “This kind of relations stems from a sober and utilitarian consideration of both sides, for stability and security, the mutual interdependence of each one. We are in adjacent territories and they depend on our strength to prevent the takeover of various elements.”
With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu said, Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria was also essential to prevent the Islamic Jihad and ISIS from gaining control of the territory.
“The reason that we do not have violent outbreaks of terrorism in Judea and Samaria is not because there are no such attempts but because we are on the ground and the [Israel Security Agency] foils and thwarts around 500 attacks a year,” Netanyahu said.
“We also tell the Palestinians: In your cities, to the extent that you can do more, we will do less. However, we have no restriction, and this is known. Why don’t they dig tunnels under the fence from Kalkilya? Because they know that we can come in at any moment. This deterrent prevents this.”
He gave as an example the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which failed to bring peace but did lead to Hamas ruling the territory.
“We cannot allow ourselves to bring ourselves to a situation of terrible weakness and turn Judea and Samaria, which are 20 times as big as Gaza, into another Gaza,” Netanyahu said. “If we do this, we know that we will not receive peace; therefore, there is a basic condition in relations with the Palestinians about which I have spoken to Abu Mazen more than once.
“In my view, the first sine qua non is that due to the fact that we live in the area that we do, we must keep full security control from the Jordan River westward to the sea,” Netanyahu said. “If we do not do this, it will not matter what we do on other issues, everything will collapse.”