Jordan on Sunday warned Israel that continued settlement construction and attempts to change the delicate status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount could endanger the two-decade old peace treaty between the countries.
The stern admonition was delivered by Jordan’s ambassador to Israel at an event in Tel Aviv to celebrate the anniversary of the peace treaty, which was signed on October 26, 1994, in the Arava desert.
Calling for the swift resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Ambassador Walid Obeidat said it was “imperative that all unilateral actions and measures must stop, to give peace negotiations a serious chance for success.”
Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must end, he added, to raucous applause from hundreds of guests at the Rabin Center.
“Equally important, Jordan expects all attempts for altering the status quo in Al-Aqsa mosque compound to be stopped,” Obeidat said. “All such acts are incompatible with international law and international humanitarian law and if allowed to continue will ultimately imperil the treaty, adversely affect the peace process and regional stability and fuel tensions and feed extremism.”
The comments came as tensions in East Jerusalem continued to ramp up amid clashes between protesting Palestinians and Israeli forces, and at the same time as an Israeli TV station detailed a reported plan for Israel to approve 2,000 new settlement housing units as well as other major infrastructure projects in the West Bank.
The official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported Sunday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had sent a letter to Washington asking the US administration to intervene to stop “Israeli escalations” in East Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the record saying that he does not seek to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, but right-wing members of his coalition are increasingly advocating for Jews to be allowed to pray at the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Jordan’s special role regarding the holy sites is enshrined in the 1994 peace treaty.
Reading from prepared remarks, Obeidat struck a diplomatic but rather cold and unfriendly tone in what marked his first public address to an Israeli audience since he presented his letter of credence to then-president Shimon Peres in October 2012. While he hailed the late Jordanian King Hussein and Israel’s slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin – the architects of the peace treaty — Obeidat had very little positive to say about Amman’s current relations with Israel.
The peace agreement had two goals, Obeidat said: making peace between two countries – Israel and Jordan – and helping end the Palestinians’ plight. In that respect, the treaty has not been successful, he said, calling for the establishment of “independent, fully sovereign Palestinian state along the 1967-lines” with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“After 20 years, and while we must be satisfied with what was achieved bilaterally, we must also evaluate the potential that was not reached and draw lessons from the missed opportunities, and most importantly identify the causes as to why this potential and the shared vision of the late king and the late prime minister was not reached,” he said. “Jordan’s approach in its contacts with Israel has always been frank, honest, and straightforward, and will continue [to do so] as frankness is the cornerstone of partnership and indeed friendship.
“Jordan will continue to underline that unilateral actions that seek to preempt negotiations must end,” he stressed.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also spoke at the event, warning of “unnecessary tensions at the holy places” and hailing the importance of Jordanian-Israeli peace for the stability of the region.
“Especially now, in these years in which the Middle East is in turmoil and we learn of changes and revolutions, the peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan allows us to maintain stability and quiet borders,” Ya’alon said.
Just as Israel was willing to make peace with Jordan two decades ago, it is now too stretching out its hand in peace to “neighbors near and far, Arab states and the Palestinian Authority,” the Likud minister said.
“We are a peace-seeking nation, which sanctifies first and foremost human lives with no prejudice of religion, gender or race. This is how we were raised; this is how we will raise our children,” Ya’alon declared. However, Israel must not delude itself and realize that the way toward peace with the Palestinians is still long and difficult, he cautioned. “As defense minister of Israel I will not compromise lives of Israeli citizens and certainly not gamble on them.”
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro also hailed the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, saying it remains “a pillar of security and stability” in the Middle East.
“Just for a moment close your eyes and try to imagine what the Middle East would look like today without the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. That gives some idea of the enormity of the gift that the leaders who forged this agreement gave us,” he said.
“Both King Hussein and prime minister Rabin, in the twilight of their lives, lit the torch for peace that still shines brightly.”
Those who knew them well, “know there was something they liked to light up together,” Shapiro quipped, referring to the two leaders’ smoking habits.