Israel has changed and so has Jordan

Israel is no longer interested in regional stability. Israel’s focus is to bring about a fait accompli in the West Bank in its favour.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Jordanian soldiers stand guard near the "Gate of Peace" at the Jordan Valley site of Baqura, east of the Jordan River, on November 13, 2019.
Jordanian soldiers stand guard near the "Gate of Peace" at the Jordan Valley site of Baqura, east of the Jordan River, on November 13, 2019.

Jordanian King Abdullah II’s announcement that Jordan would exercise its full sovereignty over the farming lands of Baqoura and Al Ghamr, along its border with Israel, is a sign that new developments are in store for the region and for the nature of relations between the two countries.

This means Jordan is convinced that a fundamental change occurred in its relations with Israel. Under terms of the annexes to the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the latter retained the right to dispose of those lands for 25 years.

Jordan is no longer as important as it once was to Israel. Such an Israeli view is, however, extremely shortsighted and politically unproductive. This is because of several factors, including that Israel says it no longer needs Jordan to access Gulf countries and it is no longer interested in the peace process.

Israel is only interested in settlements and how to perpetuate its occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Such an approach is totally opposed to Jordan’s interests in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, mainly for demographic reasons.

King Abdullah, speaking at the opening of the regular session of the Jordanian National Assembly, said: “I announce today the termination of the peace treaty annexes for Al Ghamr and Baqoura areas and declare our full sovereignty on every inch of them.”

Those developments certainly increase the king’s popularity among his people when everyone has had enough of an Israeli government that may or may not exist and which is no longer cognisant of the significance of the atmosphere that prevailed in the region when the Wadi Araba Treaty was signed in 1994.

Last year, King Abdullah decided to reclaim from Israeli tutelage the farming lands of Baqoura, east of the junction of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers in Irbid governorate, and of Al Ghamr in Wadi Araba region in Aqaba governorate. The move, of course, was not a breach of the peace treaty with Israel.

Jordan has taken from the peace treaty with Israel what it had wanted to take. In practical terms, it regained its rights to the land and water. It turned out that those claims made at the time of the treaty that “leasing the land is like leasing the country’s honour” were false

Those claims were made by Syrian President Hafez Assad and his regime. They were mere excuses to justify his inability to manage the battle for peace and liberate occupied territories of Syria, as King Hussein had done for Jordan and President Anwar Sadat for Egypt. The term “lease” was not even part of the text of the peace treaty and its annexes.

King Hussein wanted to reclaim all territories occupied in 1967, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but Arab ignorance, which is boundless, prevented it.

The Arab summit in Rabat in 1974 took the decision to consider the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It turned out this foolish decision, most enthusiastically promoted by Algerian President Houari Boumediene, enabled Israel to consider the West Bank and Jerusalem as disputed territory and not occupied territory under international law, since UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is in essence based on the principle of land for peace, applies to Jordan and not to the PLO.

This is simply because Jordan, as a state, enjoyed sovereignty over the West Bank and East Jerusalem when the Israeli occupation took place. The PLO was an organisation, not an internationally recognised state.

Jordan moved beyond those tragedies and abuses when the Arabs deprived it of the legitimacy to negotiate the return of Arab lands based on international law and restore its sovereignty over Jerusalem and the West Bank.

King Hussein went further. Once the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, he started direct negotiations with Israel that culminated in the signing of Wadi Araba Treaty by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his Jordanian counterpart Abdelsalam Majali.

It was an irreplaceable opportunity for Jordan, which knew how to safeguard itself and its borders in a volatile region.

Jordan took into consideration that Egypt had preceded it by signing a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, to regain its occupied land, and that the Palestinians had signed an agreement with Israel without consulting Amman, even though the latter had consistently consulted with the PLO and the Palestinian leadership before taking any decision that might affect them.

For instance, it was only after consulting with the Palestinian leadership that Jordan disengaged from the West Bank in 1988.

A quarter of a century after the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel, there are important developments at the regional level that Jordan must deal with objectively.

At the forefront of these developments is that Israel feels that there is no need for Jordan as a gateway to the Arab world. For example, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Oman on an official visit, so there is no longer a need for the Jordanian channel in the relations between Israel and the sultanate.

Above all, Israel’s concerns are of a different nature. Israel is not interested in the peace process and in what Jordan can contribute towards reaching a reasonable and acceptable settlement with the Palestinians for the sake of the stability of the region. Israel is no longer interested in regional stability.

Israel’s focus is to bring about a fait accompli in the West Bank in its favour. It has not even the slightest desire to recognise the historical Jordanian, or more precisely Hashemite, patronage over Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israel has changed, so Jordan must change. By refusing to let Israel continue to dispose of Jordanian land, Amman is indicating it is cognisant of this change and that it is able to protect and preserve its interests and nothing more.

There is no doubt that some type of Jordanian-Israeli security coordination will continue to exist but something deep has changed in the relationship between Jordan and Israel.

What is certain is that change is not sudden and impetuous but is the result of the accumulation of developments that Jordan has had to deal with alone and which ultimately led to King Abdullah’s announcement about Baqoura and Al Ghamr.

It is a popular decision in Jordan, where, for a quarter of a century, Israel has never been able to make significant breakthroughs or inroads.