Leaders of Eilat, Jordan’s Aqaba hold rare public meeting to renew ties
Neighboring port cities agree to examine increasing quota of Jordanians who work in Israel; joint industrial, tourism projects also suggested at summit
The mayor of Red Sea resort city Eilat and the governor of the adjacent Aqaba region in Jordan agreed to renew direct ties and cooperation following a rare public meeting in Israel on Wednesday.
Eilat Mayor Eli Lankri and Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority leader Nayef al-Bakhit met in Eilat, along with other Jordanian and Israeli officials, to agree to new ties between the neighboring cities.
The meeting came following a recent rapprochement between Israel and Jordan, following the change in government in Israel last year.
The officials agreed to reestablish joint committees that will examine increasing the quota of Jordanians who work in Israel and expanding the sectors in which they can work, as well as look into cooperation on issues of the environment and pest management.
“The strengthening of ties constitutes an important means of deepening peace relations in the region,” Lankri said.
Other projects presented during the summit were the possibility of establishing a joint industrial plant, establishing a “peace terminal” — a joint Israel-Jordanian area at the border crossing to be used for meetings between service providers or merchants, and a “Peace Park” — an underwater diving site established with European Union backing.
“Beyond the local cooperation, and the strengthening of close neighborly relations between Eilat and Aqaba, we view the summit that took place yesterday as another step in promoting and expanding political relations between Israel and Jordan,” Oded Yosef, the Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General of the Middle East and the Peace Process unit, said.
The meeting comes after a period in which bilateral relations had cooled under Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett, who took over in June, has made strengthening ties with Amman a priority.
Last month, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg met with Jordan’s ambassador to Israel at her office in Jerusalem after the two countries signed the largest-ever cooperation agreement, which will see the construction of a major solar power plant in Jordan to generate electricity for Israel, while a desalination plant established in Israel will send water to Jordan.
In July, Bennett met with King Abdullah II in secret at the crown palace in Amman, in the first summit between the countries’ leaders in over three years. Last week Defense Minister Benny Gantz also met with Abdullah in Amman, their second meeting in the past year.
Experts say future cooperation could help improve relations, which Abdullah had described as a “cold peace.”
Under their 1994 peace treaty, the Jewish state recognized Jordan’s oversight of Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. But there are often demonstrations in Jordan in solidarity with the Palestinians.
AFP contributed to this report.