Israel-Jordan peace needs warming up

There are several reasons for the present perception of a cooling-off in the relationship, often related to internal politics in both countries.

SRAELI AND Jordanian soldiers shake hands during a ceremony at the Wadi Araba border crossing June in 1995. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SRAELI AND Jordanian soldiers shake hands during a ceremony at the Wadi Araba border crossing June in 1995.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The late Moshe Dayan once remarked that, although Israel had a formal peace treaty with Egypt and did not have one with Jordan, peace with Jordan was in fact much warmer than with Egypt. We now, of course, have a peace treaty with Jordan, just having marked its 25th anniversary, but it seems that an effort to rewarm it is called for.
More than anything else, Israeli-Jordanian peace is based on common interests, some of which even predated the establishment of the State of Israel. To the Jordanian (originally Trans-Jordanian) leadership since the country’s founder Emir Abdullah – though perhaps not to its British overseers – it was clear that their state and Israel shared not only a common expanse of land, but also common political, security-related regional, environmental and other kinds of interests.
Jordan’s present interests go further than this – as evidenced, among other items, by the diplomatic support which Jerusalem provided to the Jordanians in Washington after they had sided with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and by the support for American aide parcels to Jordan, as well as Israel’s contribution to easing Jordan’s water problem.
 For Israel, the importance of its relationship with its eastern neighbor is just as clear: not only does Jordan fulfill an important role in maintaining security on its eastern border (while Israel’s control of the Jordan Valley also serves Jordan’s security interests), but in comprehensive military terms, Jordan also compromises Israel’s inherent strategic depth toward the East. King Hussein’s temporary abandoning the above insight cost him dearly, though not for long.
There are some historians who have speculated that David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the Jewish state, in order to prevent the creation of a national Palestinian entity right next to Israel’s heartland, was not entirely unhappy with the Jordanians taking hold of what would later be called the West Bank. This view is, of course, controversial, but had King Hussein not joined Egypt and Syria’s coalition against Israel in 1967, the Jordanian hold on the West Bank would have continued as before.
Under all Israeli governments, whether Labor or Likud, clandestine meetings between the respective leaders and officials of both countries continued to the benefit of both, eventually leading in 1991 to official peace negotiations between them as part of the US-sponsored Madrid Process. Initially, Israel faced a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that eventually split into two separate groups. But while the Jordanians treated the negotiations with Israel seriously, making it clear that a peace treaty was the objective, they did not wish to be portrayed in any way as breaking solidarity with the Palestinians.
Thus progress was halting. First there were “couch talks” between Elyakim Rubinstein, the head of the Israeli group, and Dr. Abdelsalam Majali, his Jordanian counterpart, in the lobby level of the State Department, dealing mainly with procedures and technical matters. Later concrete talks commenced, which made Jordan’s serious attitude very clear, ultimately leading toward the peace treaty signed in 1994 in the Arava Desert.
During the talks, we addressed not only issues like borders, security arrangements and diplomatic ties, but also matters of tourism, health, drug smuggling, etc. Though many of the issues were dealt with and settled during Yitzhak Shamir’s government, the formal signing ceremony took place after Yitzhak Rabin had become prime minister.
MAJALI HAD insisted that the Jordanians would not sign a peace treaty without an agreement or some real progress on the Palestinian issue, which explains why the treaty was only signed after the Oslo Accords. Rubinstein had continued to lead the talks on the Israeli side, also under Rabin, skillfully and creatively handling and solving intricate questions relating to borders and other matters for which he deserves a major part of the credit for Jordanian-Israeli peace. Also to be mentioned in this context must be former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy for his contribution to furthering and maintaining the relations between the two governments, often in difficult times.
There are several reasons for the present perception of a cooling-off in the relationship, often related to internal politics in both countries. It is true that the basic concerns of the Hashemite kingdom are not necessarily shared by the Palestinian majority of the country, a fact which has probably led to the Jordanian about-face on the agreed upon extension of the Tzofar and Naharayim enclaves, as well as to the diplomatic flurry in the wake of Israel’s arresting two Jordanian citizens suspected of terrorism. But on the Israeli side, different occurrences related to the Temple Mount, often instigated by Palestinian politicians or activists – as well as suggestions by some Israeli ministers to unilaterally change the status quo there – have been misrepresented to create the impression that Israel is no longer committed to the agreements on the Temple Mount concluded after the Six Day War.
The agreement on the status quo, based on previous agreements, including certifying the Hashemite dynasty’s role as trustees over the Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, was an important step in preventing dangerous confrontations between Israel and the Arab and Moslem worlds, while cementing Israel’s overall sovereignty over the place as a whole and the Jewish people’s rights there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fully aware of the importance of the “status quo” and of our relations with our eastern neighbor – but both sides, especially Jordan, should endeavor to eliminate obstructive difficulties and obstacles at a time when both face common jeopardies.
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and was a member of the Israeli team negotiating peace with Jordan and the Palestinians under Shamir and partly under Rabin.