x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jordan's ties with Israel turn cold

Jordan and Israel mark 15 years of peace today, but their relations are cooler than ever.

A road sign indicates the district of Baqura, which Jordan reclaimed from Israel at the peace treaty.
A road sign indicates the district of Baqura, which Jordan reclaimed from Israel at the peace treaty.

AMMAN // Jordan and Israel mark 15 years of peace today, but ties between both countries are cooler than ever. Since the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netenyahu took office in May, Jordan has been left further disappointed with its neighbour.

"Our relation is getting colder," King Abdullah told Israel's daily Haaretz newspaper this month. "Let's remember that the peace treaty was signed as part of a process to achieve comprehensive peace. And the full potential of not just Jordanian-Israeli relations, but the whole region, will not be realised unless comprehensive peace is achieved." The king has for years expressed his frustration with Israel's intransigence over the peace process, its ignoring the two-state solution, expanding the settlements, building the separation wall and continuing oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but his latest remarks indicate that he is fed up.

"After 15 years, the peace treaty started losing its political value for Jordan," wrote Fahed Kheitan, a political columnist with Arab Al Yawm, an independent daily in Amman. "Our experience in the past 15 years reiterate that the unilateral agreements cannot be a substitute to just and comprehensive peace - the Wadi Araba agreement is no longer a red line, and instead of being a burden on Jordan, it is now on the table to be used as a [tool] to pressure Israel."

Jerusalem, with sites sacred to three monotheistic faiths, has a special significance to Jordan. Under the peace treaty, the country remains the official custodian of the holy sites in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem. Without the holy city, Jordan believes that there cannot be a Palestinian state. King Abdullah recently warned that the problems in Jerusalem will directly destabilise not only Israel's relationship with Jordan, "but will also create a tinderbox that will have a major flashpoint throughout the Islamic world".

Israel's measures to Judaise Jerusalem by demolishing and evacuating Palestinian homes and expanding settlements are also serious concern for Jordan. The peace treaty failed to alleviate Jordan's fears of the so-called alternative homeland for Palestinians, an Israeli option that advocates transferring Palestinians to Jordan, indicating that Jordan is Palestine. The treaty demarcated Jordan's borders with Israel, and Jordan claimed a plot of 820 dunums (82 hectares) of land in Baqura, which was occupied by Israel. Jordanian negotiators insisted then on reclaiming the land where, currently, the Jordanian flag flutters, and which is under full Jordanian sovereignty. But overall the treaty has barely met minimum expectations. Trade hardly exists between the two countries and tourism is kept to a minimum.

"There is only security co-operation. Jordan is banking on its geo-strategic location to break the cycle of political stagnation in the region. This is the most important card it has," said Mohammad Momani, a professor of political science at Yarmouk University in Irbid. "This is the first time that ties worsened to this level since the [1997] assassination attempt of Khalid Meshaal, [the Hamas leader]. Ironically, it is under the same prime minister.

"After a decade and a half, there is cold peace between Jordan and its western neighbour. Successive Israeli governments' measures in Jerusalem are provocative. When it came to the prisoner swap between Hizbollah and Israel in 2008, Israel handed the remains of Jordanian soldiers to Hizbollah instead of Jordan. And when Israel and Hamas agreed on a truce last year, Israel embarrassed Jordan and Egypt who were trying to isolate Hamas," Mr Momani said.

The peace treaty did enable Jordan to come out of a state of isolation from the West and many Arab countries for its perceived support for Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991. "If you look at the treaty from a regional perspective, it is not up to expectations," said Fayez Tarawneh, a former prime minister and the former head of the Jordanian delegation to the Jordan-Israeli peace talks. "Also, the split in the Palestinian scene is a breaking bone for the Arabs.

"Jordan, however, would have been in a vulnerable situation if it did not have a peace treaty. Just remember what was Jordan's situation before 1994 when it refused to join the coalition against Iraq," Mr Tarawneh said. Today, Jordan is banking on the Obama administration to pursue a strategy that would ultimately create an independent Palestinian state. "Israel is sending the wrong signals to Jordan," said Nawaf Tell, the director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

"But let's look at the glass half full. What is unprecedented is the current US administration that began sending all the right signals and engaging in the peace process early on, even if it was lip service. Also, the current Israeli government is on a shaky ground and its ties with the US are at a stage where they might weaken." Meanwhile, Jordan is now finding itself politically squeezed. "By resisting the attempts to halt settlements - Israel is placing Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and the entire moderate camp in a very tight spot," wrote Oraib Rintawi, a commentator in Addustur daily newspaper and director of the Al Quds Centre for Political Studies, an independent think tank based in Amman. "It is stripping them of their weapons and cards, leaving them exposed to all sorts of criticisms and accusations. The day will come when they will turn the table, at least to preserve their interests and avoid their people's anger."

smaayeh@thenational.ae