For a change, Arabs recover land from Israel


Jordan’s decision to end a pair of land leases with Israel will not affect their decades-old peace agreement but something has definitely broken between the two countries.

The announcement by King Abdullah II that Amman would not renew an agreement to lease two parcels of land on the border to Israel for agriculture use, which it has done for the past 24 years as part of the historic peace treaty between the nations signed in 1994, is a reflection of a Jordanian public that still largely views Israel as an enemy.

King Abdullah was referring to two parcels of Jordanian land in north and south Israel, Baqura and Ghumar, which were leased for nearly a quarter century by Jerusalem under the peace treaty signed in November 1994 by Abdullah’s father King Hussein and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin whose assassination was commemorated, coincidence or not, the same day Abdullah made his announcement. The accord, which former US President Bill Clinton presided over near the Jordanian border, and which made Jordan only the second Arab country, after Egypt, to normalize relations with Israel, included leases to allow Israeli farmers working the land to continue to access it.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Amman had never planned to extend the land leases forever and had been considering the move for a while. Safadi did not say exactly how long the Jordanian decision had been in the planning but the “a while” could have started in March, when the Jordan Times reported that Amman was mulling terminating the treaty’s annexes. According to the report, ending the Israeli lease of Baqura and Ghumar had been a pressing demand of MPs, political parties and activists.

Last week, demonstrators demanding an end to Israeli ownership of the lands marched in Jordan’s capital of Amman. Before that, relations between the two countries were already deteriorating, since July 2017, when an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanians in the compound of Israel’s embassy in Amman which ignited a diplomatic crisis.

At around the same time came Israel’s order, since rescinded, to install metal detectors at the Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City that holds the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Although Israel backed down, the decision was a slap to Jordan, which is the legal custodian of the site.

The final nail was probably after the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since the treaty was closely linked with the efforts to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and a peace deal has all but evaporated, Jordan sees no reason to continue leasing its lands.

Despite the strains in ties, Jordan’s commitment to the peace treaty is not in question; all it did was act within the provisions of the treaty. With the announcement, the sides now have a year to negotiate how to end the lease. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated he will lobby for Amman to reverse the decision, Safadi said earlier this week that the only item on the table was the mechanism for canceling the agreement. Israel’s relations with Jordan are limited largely to behind-the-scenes security ties and some environmental cooperation. But there are numerous other agreements that contain benefits to Jordan – allowing planes going to and from the country from Europe and other points west to overfly Israel on the way to and from Jordan – that could be used as leverage to convince Amman to change its mind.

But Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said the king’s decision was final. Thus, the chances are zero that the Israeli government will be able to save these two important agricultural areas. The lease deal has ended and the territories will rightfully return to full Jordanian control.