Jordan Plans To Reclaim Land Leased To Israel Under 1994 Deal

This week King Abdullah II of Jordan has decided not to continue a contract in a 1994 peace deal that allowed Israel to have private ownership over two pieces of land along the Jordanian-Israeli border. As a part of this treaty, Israeli people were given a 25-year lease to cultivate and visit these areas, known as al-Ghumar and al-Baqura, even though they lie within the boundaries of Jordan.

However, due to palpable, growing tensions, and at the insistence of 85 members of the Jordanian Parliament, Al Jazeera reports that King Abdullah has opted not to renew the lease. As he said to the Petra state news agency, “Al-Baqura and al-Ghumar are Jordanian land and will remain Jordanian.”

Jordanian officials and citizens believe that their King acted in the interest of his people. Political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi of Amman, Jordan, notes King Abdullah’s ability to read mass sentiments. “The king saw the popular rejection against keeping this agreement with Israel, especially in the last few months where economic decline in the country has led to mass protests – and he wisely decided against it.” Likewise, activist Hussam Abdallat exalted the king for his choice, saying that it would surely “endear him to the public.”

Israeli reactions to the decision were characterized by shock and dismay, sharply contradicting Jordanian expressions. Eitan Lipszyc, the coordinator of 98 families living in the agricultural cooperative village of Zofar, Israel, said in a phone call with The New York Times that he is “very surprised” by the cancellation of the agreement, and that “nobody predicted it.” For farmers in Zofar growing over 370 acres of vegetables on the other side of the Jordanian border, Lipszyc says that the end of the peaceful provision could be a “catastrophe.”

This disruption of roughly a quarter-century of peace is mostly due to mounting anger and frustration by Jordanians who are wrestling with economic downfall, among other things. An incident which occurred last year when a confrontation involving an Israeli guard in Amman resulted in two dead Jordanians escalated anti-Israeli sentiments. Israel’s decision to put metal detectors at the entrances of the Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City did not make attempts at peace any easier. Another factor adding to Jordanian hostility is Israel’s sustained occupation of Palestinian territory and poor treatment of Palestinians.

Thus, it’s likely that King Abdullah made the decision to appease those no longer interested in peaceful relations, as well as the thousands of Jordanians that protested against the country’s price increases, income tax reform bill, and overall 20 percent unemployment rate in June.

As Israel’s only Arab ally with a peace treaty other than Egypt, it is uncertain whether or not Jordan is making the right move towards diplomatic, amicable relations. Although it does seem like quite a hasty verdict by King Abdullah, potentially jeopardizing Jordan’s relationship with Israel over his desire to have the favor of his people. There are simply too many factors to consider to just pull out of the deal without discussing the matter in the company of Israeli officials. More consideration is required for how the decision will affect people on both sides.

It’s important to remember that Israel has also had to maneuver through difficult situations brought on by the actions of Jordanians, such as the murder of 7 young Israeli girls by a rogue Jordanian soldier in 1997. Their diplomatic efforts with Jordan certainly haven’t always been easy.

While it’s looking like King Abdullah won’t back down from his original judgement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared to Israeli media that Israel “will enter into negotiations with [Jordan] to option an extension of the existing lease agreement.” Netanyahu should be heavily commended for trying to preserve peace and keep a system of security in place. The two countries have maintained a careful balance thus far, and losing that sense of normalcy could mean trouble for everyone. If the deal does fall through, though, all that can be hoped for is that Jordanian-Israeli interactions don’t worsen, and tensions don’t increase further.