Twenty years after Jerusalem and Amman signed a historic peace agreement, Jordanian media is marking the anniversary with a mixture of anger and disappointment and faulting the agreement for having produced few political and economic dividends.
“20 years of ‘despised peace’ with Israel,” read the top headline of independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm Sunday, quoting Jordan’s minister of parliamentary affairs Khaled Kalaldeh asserting that “contact with Israel doesn’t mean love.”
Indeed, much murky water has flowed through the Jordan River since the historic handshake of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordanian King Hussein at the dusty Wadi Araba Crossing two decades ago. Today, the regime struggles to justify a treaty largely reviled by the general public in Jordan.
There’s been no shortage of reasons for official Jordanian antipathy toward Israel of late, from a spike in violence in and around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — an area Jordan still considers part of its sphere of influence despite losing it to Israel nearly 50 years ago — to the deadlock in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Positive developments in the relationship, such as the signing of a multi-billion dollar gas deal in early September and the close security cooperation in countering jihadist terror in Syria, are consistently downplayed.
“Twenty years ago, they said they were opening the gates of the [Jordan] Valley to new horizons, promising people peace that would bring milk and honey,” wrote Jihad Mansi Sunday in an op-ed titled “Wadi Araba: what are we clinging to?” published in the al-Ghad daily. “But their promises remain unrealized to this day. The situation hasn’t changed and may have even deteriorated!”
Jordanians may be willing to forgive their leaders for cooperating with Israel on security matters, realizing that such collaboration is unavoidable given the delicate geostrategic position of the kingdom regionally, said al-Ghad political columnist Fahed Khitan. But normalization between Israel and Jordan will never emerge as long as the Palestinian issue remains unsolved, he asserted.
‘The vast majority of Jordanians are unwilling to coexist with Israelis, because the primary issue for them is the Palestinian issue’
“The average Jordanian regards Israel today as he did twenty years ago: he still believes Israel is the enemy, an occupier of [Palestinian] land,” Khitan told The Times of Israel in a phone interview from Amman.
“The vast majority of Jordanians are unwilling to coexist or establish normal relations with Israelis despite the [peace] treaty, because the primary issue for them is the Palestinian issue. The occupation is the problem.”
Try as it may to improve bilateral relations with Jordan irrespective of progress on the Palestinian track, Israel will find it “very difficult to alter public sentiment,” he added.
Most Israelis view the agreement in a positive light, though most bear no illusions about how warm a peace it is.
“The relationship is in a good place; there is a lot more to improve. It’s not an ideal situation but we definitely have taken some steps in the right direction,” Israeli ambassador to Jordan Daniel Nevo told Army Radio on Thursday.
Writing in Israeli Daily Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday, Eitan Haber, Rabin’s top aide, was no less sanguine, saying the agreement had borne some fruit and could continue to in the future.
“As opposed to the trumpeted peace with Egypt, the peace with Jordan has suffered to this day from poor PR. Because everything was done in secret, to many it seemed that it was almost obligated by the situation, accepted quickly by both sides and nearly nothing has come of it,” he wrote. “This assumption is wrong. Like the process with Egypt, the talks with Jordan also knew their ups and downs, arguments and crises — and also beautiful moments that saw their peak 20 years ago today at the ceremony at Wadi Araba.”
Jordan’s public opinion shapers seem to be taking their cues from King Abdullah II, who has palpably escalated his anti-Israeli rhetoric in recent weeks. Addressing members of his parliament on October 20, Abdullah said that “Zionist extremism” was hampering the efforts of moderate Arab states to combat Islamist fundamentalism.
“If we in Jordan want to fight Islamic extremism in collaboration with an Islamic-Arab coalition, but every five minutes the Israelis go and slaughter our children in Gaza and Jerusalem, that’s a problem,” Abdullah said.
Khitan noted that the terrorist threat of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has moved Jordan and Israel closer together on the security level. “The security and military cooperation has reached very advanced levels,” he said. “The current regional conditions have placed Jordan and Israel in the same boat in confronting a common threat.”
Calls for a cultural boycott of Israel have decreased recently in Jordan, Khitan noted, since very few joint cultural activities actually take place.
“Islamist opposition groups and professional associations habitually call for cultural and economic boycotts of Israel,” he said. “It’s difficult today for anyone to admit cultural or economic ties with Israel. They would face harsh social isolation.”
In previous years, the Israeli embassy in Jordan would hold celebrations marking the anniversary of the peace treaty, but Khitan said he hasn’t heard of any such celebrations this year.
Official Jordan, including the Royal Court, has also remained mum on the subject, ignoring a request by The Times of Israel to comment on the treaty.
“The government is ignoring the matter completely,” Khitan said. “I think most ministers hate Israel and its policies and are unwilling to cooperate with it unless forced to.”
AFP contributed to this report.