"I yearn for the day when we will at last be able to argue openly about misunderstandings between us - Jordan and Israel, not between Israel and the Arabs," muses a Jordanian politician. "When that day comes, I'll know we have returned to a natural state of peaceful relations in which two states can argue among themselves without fearing relations will be damaged."
This comment is a prelude to a series of complaints Jordanians have against Israel, and none of them concern the intifada or Israeli policies in the territories. For instance - and with considerable justification - the Jordanians believe the joint airport project in Aqaba has made no headway because of lobbying and bureaucracy in Israel. Jordanians charge that Israel refused to compromise on its demand for security checks on the Jordanian side, and Israeli environmentalists' fears of ecological damage helped derail the project.
Jordanians criticize the rigid bureaucratic procedures Israel enforces at crossing points between the two countries - procedures that deter Jordanian merchants from exporting goods to Israel.
Then there are cases of Israeli quality control inspectors banning Jordanian produce from crossing the border - a practice that is particularly infuriating since Israel does not give Jordan lists of standards it expects Jordanian manufacturers to meet.
In general, says one Jordanian businessman, "if Israel wants to improve the atmosphere, it would be no tragedy for it to authorize a mass purchase of Jordanian goods, even if these goods aren't used in the end." He adds: "Why should Israel's agricultural lobby be allowed to dominate the peace between the two countries?"
Israel has four types of peaceful relations with Arab countries - a cold peace with Egypt, a quiet peace with Jordan, a showy peace with Mauritania, and unofficial peace with Gulf states like Qatar and some countries in North Africa. Of the four categories, the Jordan peace is the best model of peace based on bilateral interests.
Officials on both sides praise secret security cooperation between the two countries. When it comes to the threat posed by Palestinian terror, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Israel and Jordan see eye-to-eye.
Jordan is the only country in the region that relates to the concept of a "new Middle East" as a viable possibility. Israel-Jordan trade statistics reflect a steady rise in Israeli exports to Jordan. Israeli data show exports of $52 million during the past nine months (Jordanian figures refer to $90 million). Similarly, Jordanian exports to Israel were $30 million (the Jordanians say $80 million). This export success story has happened in a year marred by violence and warfare.
Nonetheless, Israeli and Jordanian officials and experts believe that the numbers could have been doubled and tripled, had Israel displayed more good will. It is true all sides admit, that there is an anti-Israeli public mood in Jordan. Israeli investors were not invited to seminars on future projects in the Aqaba region, and anyone who wants to make an investment has a hard time finding a Jordanian lawyer, because Jordan's bar association has slapped an embargo on dealings with Israel.
It is also true, these Jordanians and Israelis acknowledge, that fears of an Iraqi embargo restrain any public business deals with Israel. And, on top of this, the security situation does not encourage Israeli investors to go to Jordan. However, the commentators argue, precisely because such obstacles and problems have arisen, the two countries have to look for creative solutions. This need for creative thinking is not limited to the business sector, they say.
"It's impossible to bypass the Palestinian problem and act as though everything is routine," the Jordanian politician says. "But just think about what we all lose when all of our creative energies are focused on just one topic. Israel and Jordan are caught on the same vicious circle, one which is gradually eradicating the major diplomatic achievement forged by the two countries. You believe that you've succeeded in revealing Arafat's true face, but what have you gained? What have we gained? When can we start to glue back together the fractured pieces of our peace?"
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now