25-year clauses relate to farm lands, Naharayim tourist spot

Jordan says it will cancel clauses in peace treaty leasing border land to Israel

After King Abdullah announces he won’t renew annexes to 1994 deal that expire next year, Netanyahu says he will negotiate with kingdom to keep territory under Israeli control

A view of the Jordan River, Naharayim, Isle of Peace (Shmuel Bar-Am)
A view of the Jordan River, Naharayim, Isle of Peace (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced on Sunday he would not renew part of the 1994 peace treaty that granted Israel use of two small agricultural areas along the border.

In a statement, Abdullah said he would be pulling out of two sectioned annexed to the peace agreement that allowed Israel to lease the areas from the Jordanians for 25 years. The leases expire next year.

Abdullah said he had informed Israel of his decision.

“We are practicing our full sovereignty on our land,” he said. “Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.”

Abdullah did not give a reason for his decision, but he has been under domestic pressure to end the lease.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan in January 2014 (Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90/ File)

The lease includes areas at Naharayim in the north and the Tzofar enclave in the southern Arava desert, both of which will now return to Jordanian hands within a year.

The agreement is automatically renewable unless either side gives a year’s notice to terminate the deal, “in which case, at the request of either party, consultations shall be entered into.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that despite the monarch’s announcement, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty is “an agreement of true peace.”

“We will enter into negotiations with Jordan to extend the existing agreement, but the entire agreement from a comprehensive perspective is important and dear to both countries,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu spoke at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem during the official memorial ceremony for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the original peace treaty with Jordan.

The appendix to the treaty that granted Israel use of the areas included a renewal clause after 25 years, when both sides will have the option to abandon the deal. The 25th anniversary of the agreement is next year.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry made the announcement in Amman on Sunday and sent a formal notice of the decision to the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, US President Bill Clinton, center, and King Hussein of Jordan during the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in Aqaba, Jordan, 1994. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The head of Central Arava Regional Council, Eyal Blum, speaking to the Hebrew media, said the development would harm Israeli farmers.

According to Blum, around 30 Israeli farmers will lose some 250 acres of land if the areas revert to Jordanian control. Blum said the council was in contact with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry about the matter.

According to Israeli officials, the decision is significant, as it marks a Jordanian desire to effectively reduce diplomatic ties with Israel.

Amman has faced intense pressure to cancel the lease agreement with Israel, including from 80 lawmakers who signed a letter to the government urging the cancellation.

Israel and Jordan were embroiled last year in a diplomatic standoff following the shooting deaths of two Jordanians in July 2017 by an Israeli security guard, Ziv Moyal, who Israel said opened fire in self-defense after one of the men tried to stab him.

Jordanian security forces stand on guard as protesters wave Jordanian flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

Israel and Jordan reached an agreement to end the diplomatic fight in January, when a Jordanian government spokesperson said he had received from Israel an “official memorandum” apologizing for the deaths of the two Jordanians, as well as for the killing of a Jordanian judge in a separate incident in 2014.

Earlier this month Jordan’s newly appointed ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, arrived in the country and presented his credentials at the Foreign Ministry, taking a step toward restoring ties between the shaky allies.

Naharayim includes within its boundaries the Isle of Peace tourist spot, a man-made island and hydroelectric power plant at the confluence of the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River.

In 1997 a group of seventh and eighth graders from a Beit Shemesh girls school were on a field trip to the island when a Jordanian soldier opened fire on them, killing seven and injuring six. The shooter, Ahmed Daqamseh, was apprehended by other Jordanian soldiers.

A Jordanian court later deemed Daqamseh mentally unstable and sentenced him to life in prison. He was released after nearly 20 years in prison and is considered a hero by many in Jordan.

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