Jordan king says rule over border enclaves restored as Israeli lease expires
Jordan TV shows flag being raised at Isle of Peace

Jordan king says rule over border enclaves restored as Israeli lease expires

To standing ovation, Abdullah II tells cabinet the kingdom has extended sovereignty over ‘every inch,’ yet Israeli farmers still allowed to enter, harvest crops at 1 of the 2 sites

Jordan’s king on Sunday announced his kingdom’s “full sovereignty” over two pieces of land leased by Israel, ending a 25-year arrangement spelled out in the countries’ landmark peace agreement, despite reports that Israeli farmers would continue to access land in one of the parcels for the next several months.

King Abdullah II said in a speech to the government’s new Cabinet on Sunday that Jordan would end the “annex of the two areas, Ghumar and Al-Baqoura, in the peace treaty and impose our full sovereignty on every inch of them.”

He received a standing ovation.

Jordanian television also aired video of the Jordanian flag being raised over one of the enclaves, a popular site near the Sea of Galilee, known in Hebrew as the “Isle of Peace,” that Israelis could visit as part of the deal.

An official Jordanian ceremony at the site celebrating the end of the deal was set to take place as early as Monday, according to reports.

Israel, which has controlled the lands for over 70 years, ceded the areas but was permitted to lease them under the 1994 peace agreement. But with relations cool, Abdullah announced last year that he would not renew the lease.

On Saturday, Israeli troops closed off the “Isle of Peace” in Naharayim, marking the end of the deal which was part of the historic 1994 peace agreement between the nations.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein (R) arrive for the opening parliamentary session in the capital Amman on November 10, 2019. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

While Israelis are now totally cut off from the Naharayim enclave in the north, several Israeli farmers are still being allowed to continue working in Tzofar in the southern Arava area.

An unnamed source in the Jordanian Foreign Ministry told Al Mamlaka TV, a state-funded channel, that farmers in the enclave could continue to enter to harvest what they already planted.

Israeli tourists stand in front of a poster of King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Island of Peace, January 29, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Jordan will permit the farmers to do so “in accordance with Jordanian laws and by way of visas from the Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv,” according to the report.

Israel’s Ynet daily earlier reported that the farmers were being allowed to enter for several more months as part of a fragile tacit deal.

The military did not immediately confirm the information, but said it was continuing to secure the area and allow Israeli farmers inside the Tzofar enclave for the time being.

“Agricultural work is continuing in the enclave in accordance with agreements and coordination,” the IDF said in a statement to The Times of Israel. It did not elaborate.

On Sunday, Israeli farmers continued to work land in the enclave, according to a local official.

“The farmers entered [the enclave] to work today as normal,” a spokesperson for the Arava Regional Council told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Last month, Israeli Foreign Ministry sources said that Jordan had agreed to an extension covering another farming season at Tzofar, lasting between five and seven months. However, Amman quickly denied the claim, saying there would be no extension of the lease on either site.

An agricultural vehicle in the Tzofar area in the Arava region on the Israel-Jordan border, leased to Israel by Jordan as part of the 1994 peace agreement, in February 2007. (Chaver83/Wikimedia Commons)

Naharayim is the site of a deadly March 1997 attack in which a group of schoolgirls from Beit Shemesh were fired upon during an outing to the area. The girls and their unarmed teachers were standing on a hill above an abandoned lake in the enclave when a Jordanian soldier opened fire on them and killed seven of the schoolchildren.

Following the killings, the late king Hussein of Jordan made an unprecedented trip to each of the victims’ homes in Israel to express his personal sorrow and the grief of his nation.

Officials in Israel have expressed concerns that the ending of the lease signaled a desire on Jordan’s part to effectively downgrade diplomatic ties, and many see it as a reflection of intense domestic pressure from a Jordanian public that still largely views Israel as an enemy.

The border crossing near Naharayim where seven girls were murdered in 1997 by a Jordanian soldier while visiting a nearby power station (Shay Levy/Flash90)

Israeli officials had sought to negotiate with Jordan to reverse the decision after Abdullah’s announcement in October 2018, but were unable to do so.

“Jordan cannot backtrack on this,” Oraib Rintawi, the director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, said at the time. “This is a decision of the king, government and public. I do not believe there is any possibility to backtrack on this decision.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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