Israel on Sunday advanced plans to establish a joint Israeli-Jordanian industrial park straddling their border and connected by an existing bridge, in a sign of improving ties between the countries following years of diplomatic malaise.
The plan, dubbed the “Jordan Gateway,” will enable Israelis and Jordanians to “conveniently” cross between the sides to work on joint projects. The proposal was approved by the cabinet at Sunday’s meeting.
“Twenty-eight years after we made peace with Jordan, we are taking the good neighborliness between the two countries one step further. This is a breakthrough that will greatly contribute to the development and strengthening of the region,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at the cabinet meeting.
The approval for the plan came days after Lapid traveled to Amman to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The ever-strained ties between Israel and Jordan deteriorated in recent years, particularly following an incident in the Israeli embassy in Amman, in which an Israeli security guard shot dead two Jordanians, one of whom had stabbed him with a screwdriver. The other was apparently killed unintentionally.
The altercation immediately caused tensions between Amman and Jerusalem, which were further exacerbated by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu publishing photographs of himself hugging the security guard, who was still wanted for questioning in Jordan at the time.
“There was a severe disconnect with Jordan for years because my predecessor put up a post on Instagram of the guard who accidentally killed a Jordanian,” Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in the cabinet meeting.
“For a post on Instagram, we damaged ties with Jordan for years,” he said.
An existing bridge, the Jordan River Crossing, already connects the two sides of the proposed Jordan Gateway zone, near the Israeli city of Beit She’an.
The zone would be run by the Israeli Airports Authority, which also manages Israel’s Taba land crossing with Egypt and other border crossings, meaning it will fall under the purview of Israel’s transportation minister.
The plan that was approved on Sunday would allow businesspeople from one country to more easily enter the other for joint ventures.
It also called for an area to be set up to house those businesspeople and other guests from the Jordanian side.
More immediately, the plan approved on Sunday called for planning work to begin immediately for the construction of the entrance facility to the Jordan Gateway zone and the buildings necessary for maintenance workers.
The original plan for this joint industrial park was proposed in the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace talks, the government said in its announcement.
“This is an initiative that will bring employment to both countries, that will advance our economic and diplomatic interests, and which will deepen the peace and friendliness between the two countries,” Lapid said.
Though the Transportation Ministry signed off on the plan, the proposal itself came from the Regional Cooperation Ministry, which promotes Israel’s ties to the Middle East, and the local Emek Hamayanot regional council, which will house the Israeli side of the industrial park.
“This is the main part of the advancement that we have made in strengthening ties with Jordan in the past year,” said Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej at the cabinet meeting.