Netanyahu: There was never a ‘real reconciliation’ between Israel and Jordan

PM says peace with Arab states based on strength and deterrence; reveals how in 2012 he got Egypt’s Morsi to withdraw tanks he had sent into Sinai in breach of peace deal

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference marking the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan at the Knesset, November 11, 2019. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference marking the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan at the Knesset, November 11, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel’s military might and diplomatic power, not true amity between the peoples, are the basis for Jerusalem’s peace accords with its Arab neighbors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday at a conference marking 25 years since the peace agreement with Jordan was signed.

As a case in point, Netanyahu revealed how in 2012, he managed to get Egypt to quickly withdraw tanks from the Sinai Peninsula that then-president Mohammed Morsi had ordered there shortly after taking office.

“When Morsi came power, almost the first action he took was to bring tens of tanks into Sinai, in a clear violation of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel,” Netanyahu said. The March 1979 peace treaty stipulated exactly how many Egyptian tanks are allowed to be stationed in the Sinai.

“You haven’t heard this before, but I sent him [Morsi] a message, and I told him: ‘You have exactly seven days to pull them out,’” Netanyahu said. “’If you don’t pull them out, I will act immediately to get the US Congress to stop your [military] aid.’ He pulled them out.”

Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, which was brokered by US president Jimmy Carter, Washington has provided tens of billions of dollars to the Egyptian armed forces.

“The stronger we are, and the more we demonstrate our strength, the more they are with us,” Netanyahu said. “Even regimes like Morsi’s are obligated to keep their peace agreements with us, because of our strength — in this case not military power but diplomatic power.”

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, served as Egypt president from June 2012 until he was deposed the incumbent Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in a military coup a year later. He died earlier this year.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi signs into law the country's Islamist-backed constitution (photo credit: AP/Egyptian Presidency)
Then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi signs into law the country’s Islamist-backed constitution in December 2012. (AP/Egyptian Presidency)

Asked why the peace with Jordan is so cold, and why his consecutive governments over the last decade have failed to improve ties with the neighboring country, Netanyahu replied that Israel’s peace treaties are all based on military deterrence and not on friendly people-to-people relations.

Like Cairo, Amman only agreed to sign peace agreements with Israel after it realized that it could not defeat the Jewish state and that it had more to gain from avoiding wars with Israel, he argued.

“There wasn’t a real reconciliation,” Netanyahu said of Jordan.

The main reason why the current state of bilateral relations is frosty has mainly to do with absence of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the prime minister maintained. At the weekend, Jordan invoked an annex of the peace treaty to retake control of border enclaves it had allowed Israel to utilize for the past 25 years.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, second right, tours the Baqura enclave formerly leased by Israel with Crown Prince Hussein and military officers, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Court via AP)

At the same time, Netanyahu stressed that it was important to preserve the peace treaty that was signed on October 26, 1994 by Jordan’s king Hussein and Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Elyakim Rubinstein (far-left) shows Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin where to sign the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, as US President Bill Clinton shields his eyes from the sun, and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Salam Majali, right, also signs the treaty, at the Wadi Arab crossing,near Eilat, Israel, October 26, 1994. (AP Photo/Joe Marquette)

“We have an outstanding interest in keeping the peace agreement due to the fact that we have our longest border with Jordan and given the short distance from the border to the Mediterranean Sea,” he declared.

“The importance of stability in Jordan, like the importance of the stability in Egypt and the stability of the peace agreements or the non-takeover by Islamist elements, is in our clear interest, vis-à-vis the regime in Egypt and the regime in Jordan.”

He went on: “On the one hand, there is no reason to attack us. We are strong; that is the basis. On the other hand, we are also strong enough to prevent their being taken over. I say, to my sorrow, this [the ability to prevent a takeover] is the basis [for our peace treaty] first of all.”

Israeli-Jordanian ties are based on “a sober and utilitarian consideration of both sides, for stability and security, the mutual interdependence of each one,” Netanyahu continued.

“We are in adjacent territories and they depend on our strength to prevent the takeover of various elements,” he said, declining to provide any details as to how Israel is helping the Jordanians prevent the takeover of their territories.

Netanyahu made the comments toward the end of a conference hosted by Labor MK Merav Michaeli, who chairs the Knesset Caucus for Regional Cooperation.

Incoming Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali with President Rivlin in his Jerusalem residence, November 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In her remarks, Michaeli pointed out that the conference was the only event marking the peace with Jordan that took place under the auspices of a government institution. Like other speakers, she lamented the fact that Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, was not present at the Knesset for the conference.

No Jordanians attended the event.

Israeli officials continue to hail the so-called Wadi Araba Treaty as a pillar of regional stability and as a blueprint for future interest-based agreements with other Arab states. However, the government in Jerusalem has not officially organized any events to mark the anniversary; the Monday event was the initiative of an opposition lawmaker.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who addressed the event before Netanyahu joined, said Israel sought to stage a joint event to commemorate the current 25th anniversary of its peace agreement with Jordan, but Amman refused.

“With all due diplomatic sensitivity, I have to say that Israel did want to have a ceremony [together with Jordan]. They said that the [Israeli] government forgot and did not ask to have an event. The government did not forget; it asked [the Jordanian authorities], but it did not happen,” Katz said.

The reason for the Hashemite Kingdom’s refusal to mark a quarter century of peace has to do with “the complicated reality within Jordan,” the foreign minister said, referring to the country’s large Palestinian population and the fact that ties with Israel remain deeply unpopular there.

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