Jordan said it has received a formal request from Israel to open negotiations about the future of two parcels of land along the border between the countries that the kingdom last month said it would retake control of, in a move perceived as downgrading the peace treaty between the two nations.
Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said Sunday that Israel had asked to hold consultations about the Baqour and Ghumar regions, Jordan’s official Petra News Agency reported.
Known in Israel as Naharayim in the north and the Tzofar enclave in the southern Arava desert, the lands in question were ceded to Jordan as part of the countries’ 1994 peace treaty, but Amman agreed Israeli farmers could still access and work the plots as part of a 25-year lease that had been widely expected in Israel to be renewed.
Ghunaimat noted that Jordan was exercising its legal right in notifying that it had decided not to renew the agreement. She said that the kingdom was committed to negotiating with Israel in a way that “preserves Jordan’s national interests” the report said.
King Abdullah II announced on October 21 that Amman would not renew the agreement to lease the lands as it has done for the past 24 years.
With the announcement, the sides now have a year to negotiate the end of the lease. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had indicated he would lobby for Amman to reverse the decision, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that the only item on the table was the mechanism for canceling the agreement.
Jordan has said the decision will not affect the decades-old peace agreement, seeking to assuage fears in Jerusalem that ties could be downgraded.
Officials in Israel have expressed concerns that the move signaled Jordan’s desire to effectively reduce diplomatic ties, and many see it as a reflection of intense domestic pressure from a public that still largely views Israel as an enemy.
Tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted in recent months over such issues as the contested status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, and last year’s shooting of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli embassy guard in Amman, which ignited a diplomatic crisis.
Haaretz reported Friday that Israel is seeking to advance work on the long-stalled Red Sea-Dead Sea project as a means of improving its relations with Jordan.
The report said Israeli officials believe the repeated delays in implementing the project have contributed to tensions between Israel and its neighbor, which suffers from severe water shortages that could be alleviated by the canal.
According to the plan, a desalination plant in Jordan will provide much-needed drinking water to the region while its brine (very salty water left over from the desalination process) will be pumped north to the Dead Sea to replenish the fast-shrinking lake, while also producing green energy through use of water turbines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.