King Abdullah of Jordan celebrated his 41st birthday on Thursday, and he will mark the fourth anniversary of his ascension to the throne Friday. Congratulations. Time really flies when you're enjoying yourself. Things have hardly changed. And that is a positive statement. Because usually, in the Israeli-Arab reality, when things don't change they regress. Jordan was, and remains, the taken-for-granted neighbor. And that's a lot, too. In the past two-and-a-half years we could have expected many changes in the relations between the two countries, all of which could have been for the worse: a total cessation of trade between Israel and Jordan, cancellation of intelligence cooperation, severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries instead of only recalling the Jordanian ambassador, and even - as radical groups in Jordan are demanding - revocation of the peace treaty.
None of that happened. True, Israeli diplomats in Jordan were attacked, Israeli businessmen are finding it increasingly difficult to do business in Jordan, bilateral trade declined last year, and King Abdullah did not visit Israel. However, as an Israeli diplomat observed this week: "It's not so easy for Israelis to do business in Europe either; and when was the last time a European leader visited Israel?" More importantly, the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan became an autonomous entity that none of the Arab states, including those who have not signed treaties with Israel, are being careful not to touch. In all the resolutions taken by the Arab League in its various forums, the agreements between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt have acquired an invulnerable, boycott-exempt status. Jordan, like Egypt, gave up the principle of "all or nothing" when it signed the peace treaty with Israel. It did not demand comprehensive peace in the Middle East, withdrawal from all the territories, or a change in the Israeli leadership as a condition for signing the treaty or for its continued implementation. It did not declare that Benjamin Netanyahu or Ariel Sharon were irrelevant leaders with whom the treaty would not be continued. Jordan made peace with a country and not with a particular leader. Jordanian realpolitik is a genetic affair that can be relied upon. Almost nine years of the peace treaty's existence attest to that.
Those in Israel who want to try the "Oslo criminals" have forgotten that had it not been for Olso, there would be no peace agreement with Jordan. Without Oslo, Egypt probably would have continued to be the only Arab state to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, and would not have been able to create a broader belt of Arab agreement for its relations with the Jewish state. Thanks to the Oslo Accords, Jordan was able to create a distinctive model of relations with Israel that did not bring in its wake an immediate Arab boycott, such as the one that was imposed on Egypt for years. And, as in Egypt, peace with Israel became a strategic asset that is not to be discarded. True, the Jordanian public did not quite understand the rationale, as the economic promises that the treaty held out have not materialized, the dream of working in Israel has become something of a fiction, and foreign investments in Jordan have decreased.
This is being written precisely against the background of the invitation Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received last week to visit Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. After a two-year freeze in relations between the two leaders, the phone call from Cairo reminded everyone that Israel still has a strategic peace with its neighbor to the south - also an agreement that has withstood many tests and has proved itself not to be dependent on a settlement with the Palestinians, withdrawal from all the territories, or even rational behavior by Israel. Around the corner, to the north, Syria is also waiting for an agreement with Israel.
There is no account of terrorism to be settled with Syria, even though it supported and continues to support the militant Hezbollah organization in Lebanon; the border with Syria has been quieter than the border with Jordan, and peace with Syria can bring Lebanon as a dowry. None of the excuses that are blocking an agreement with the Palestinians exists in the case of Syria. Israel will indeed have to make "painful concessions" in the Golan Heights, but it will not have to "surrender to terrorism." There is reason to believe that peace with Syria will be a strategic peace, as in the case of Jordan and Egypt. What excuse will Sharon come up with this time?
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