Jordanians say 25-year peace with Israel ‘cold and getting colder’

Many in the Hashemite kingdom still see the neighboring Jewish state as an enemy, and one that is not interested in regional peace

The border between Israel and Jordan in the Jordan valley area called Naharayim, or Baqura in Arabic, in northern Israel, October 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
The border between Israel and Jordan in the Jordan valley area called Naharayim, or Baqura in Arabic, in northern Israel, October 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

AMMAN, Jordan (AFP) — Twenty-five years after the signing of a landmark peace treaty, ties between Jordan and Israel mirror the ebbs and flows of a turbulent region, while many Jordanians still regard the Jewish state as an “enemy.”

The Israel-Jordan peace treaty, inked in the Arava Valley on October 26, 1994, formally ended decades of war between the two neighbors but the accord faces continual challenges, analysts say.

“Israel remains our number one enemy,” Yazid Khleifat, a 38-year-old civil servant, told AFP.

“Israel has displaced millions of our Palestinian brothers and killed thousands of Arabs,” he said.

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)

More than half of Jordan’s 9.5 million population is of Palestinian descent.

The largely desert Hashemite kingdom borders Israel and the Palestinian territories where a decades-long conflict has defined the political tremors of the Middle East.

Jordan — the only Arab country besides Egypt to have a peace treaty with Israel — administered the West Bank, including mostly Arab East Jerusalem, until the 1967 Six Day War.

It remains the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, where the Old City’s Temple Mount, home to the two Biblical Jewish temples, is the holiest place in Judaism.

An aerial photograph of the Temple Mount, part of ‘The Mount’ exhibit at the Tower of David Museum (Courtesy Gali Tibbon)

“Despite the peace plan, Israel shows no respect for Jordan’s custodianship over the holy sites… and its attempts to Judaize Jerusalem are in full swing,” said Khleifat.

“The issue of custodianship is sensitive for the Hashemites because it touches upon their religious legitimacy,” said Amman-based political analyst Labib Kamhawi.

Members of the Hashemite dynasty to which King Abdullah II belongs claim direct descendance from the Prophet Muhammad.

‘Enemy’ of the people

King Abdullah II has repeatedly characterized the peace with Israel as “cold and getting colder” and warned that Jerusalem was a “red line.”

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel captured mainly Palestinian East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump formally recognized the city as the capital of Israel, a move that angered the Palestinians who see the eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as US Vice President looks on, at the White House, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

In a further challenge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed during Israel’s latest election campaign to annex the Jordan Valley area if he was returned to office; the results of the September 17 vote were inconclusive.

“Israel, with whom we signed a peace agreement 25 years ago, is not the same today,” said Oraib Rantawi, director of Al Quds Centre for Political Studies. “This is another Israel, ruled by an ultra-nationalist religious streak.”

Kamhawi agrees. “The average Jordanian does not accept Israel as a friend or ally but considers it an enemy who has violated Palestine and the holy sites,” Kamhawi said.

Youssef Rashad, a 41-year-old who works in marketing, told AFP that Israel “does not really want peace.”

“Jordan respects peace with Israel but Israel… does not want peace to begin with and has used the treaty as a cover to gain time and destroy any bid for a two-state solution” with the Palestinians, he added.

‘Ink on paper’

Several economic projects were struck between Jordan and Israel in the aftermath of the peace treaty but they have faltered, highlighting the rocky relations between the two neighbors.

These included the construction of a joint airport, a canal linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and an industrial zone.

“Most of these projects have remained ink on paper,” said Rantawi.

Israel supplies water-parched Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of water a year as well as gas, while trade between the two countries is very modest.

And although more than 100,000 Israeli tourists visit Jordan each year, only 12,000 Jordanians traveled to Israel in 2018.

Security and intelligence cooperation, however, remains tightly intertwined.

King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, Jordan on April 6, 2019. (WEF via AP, Pool)

Israeli ambassador Amir Weissbrod talked up the two sides’ cooperation on security and water, and pointed out that Israeli visits to popular tourist sites in southern Jordan are increasing.

“We are trying to find ways to improve relations; both countries can do better,” he told AFP. “Jordan is a reliable partner. We are reliable to each other.”

But in a further sign of strains, King Abdullah last year announced plans to reclaim sovereignty over two small plots of territory — Baqura and Ghumar, known in Israel as Naharayim and Tzofar — leased to Israel under the 1994 peace treaty.

Naharayim, days before it is expected to be reclaimed by Jordan, October 19, 2019 (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

“For the first time, there is a signal from King Abdullah II that peace will be adversely affected by what is happening with the Palestinian issue,” Rantawi said.

But Rantawi and Kamhawi also warned that the move, which has been welcomed by Jordanians as restoring the kingdom’s “dignity,” could spark more tensions between the two countries.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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