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Last Israeli farmers leave enclave after Jordan deal ends

6-month extension of lease to work lands at Tzofar expires, months after Amman resumed control of the area

Israeli children realease white balloons during a small ceremony held near their agricultural enclave, at the crossing checkpoint near Moshav Tzofar, on the Israeli-Jordanian border on April 30, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Israeli children realease white balloons during a small ceremony held near their agricultural enclave, at the crossing checkpoint near Moshav Tzofar, on the Israeli-Jordanian border on April 30, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Israeli farmers left an agricultural enclave in neighboring Jordan apparently for the last time Thursday, as the extension of a lease enabling their use of the border land expired.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the Israeli farmers would no longer be allowed to work their fields in the area, ending a more than 25-year arrangement meant to shore up a historic peace agreement.

The announcement reflected the poor relations between the countries, which have been underscored by Jordan’s vocal opposition to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ambassador Dhaifallah Al-Fayez, said the additional harvesting period “will end this evening.”

In November, Jordan resumed control over the Naharayim and Tzofar enclaves, after refusing Israel’s requests to renew the 25-year lease on the lands that was part of the 1994 peace treaty between the countries.

However, an extension of the lease on Tzofar, located in the southern Arava region, was later agreed until the end of April and the area was declared a closed military zone, with access limited only to farmers.

Erez Gibori, a farmer from Tzofar whose fields were in the enclave, said that Jordan’s decision to take back the lands went “against the spirit of the peace agreement.”

Gibori said the last farmers, who had grown peppers in the enclave, had left it by Thursday afternoon.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein pray at the Tzofar enclave after the return of the territory from Israel, November 16, 2019 (Courtesy)

Farmers’ access to Tzofar had continued since the expiration of the lease despite a visit by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his son Hussein to the enclave in November, after which he declared, “Jordanian sovereignty over Jordanian land above all else.”

The two also visited Naharayim, which is in the north.

Also known as the Isle of Peace, Naharayim was 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.

For some 25 years, Jordan and Israel had implemented the annexes of the peace deal regarding Naharayim and Tzofar, which are sovereign Jordanian territories. In late 2018, however, Jordanian officials informed their Israeli counterparts of the kingdom’s intention not to renew them.

Israeli soldiers close the gate leading to the “Isle of Peace” at Naharayim on November 9, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in November that Jordan had made an offer to Israel to purchase lands privately owned by Israelis in Naharayim, but said the Jewish state turned it down.

Safadi also said Jordan was still committed to its peace treaty with Israel.

Jordan is one of two Arab states that have formal peace treaties and diplomatic relations with Israel.

While security ties between the two countries have flourished, political relations have soured over a number of issues including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements.

Jordan has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would include the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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