Look Eastward

Fifteen years after Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, the ties between the two countriesare generating feelings of disappointment and missed opportunities.

Fifteen years after the exciting ceremony in which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty, the ties between Israel and Jordan are at a worrisome low, generating feelings of disappointment and missed opportunities.

The interview that Jordan's King Abdullah granted to Haaretz's Akiva Eldar, which was published on October 8, reflected the disputes and alienation that characterize the bilateral relationship today.

Both parties to the peace treaty are to blame for the miserable situation. Israeli governments have acted contemptuously and patronizingly toward the Hashemite Kingdom since 1994, failing to take Jordan's needs and sensitivities into consideration and taking the ties between Jerusalem and Amman for granted.

The long shared border between the two countries, and the fact that most of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin, create a comfortable context for cooperation. The areas of Aqaba-Eilat, the Dead Sea and the Beit She'an Valley have indeed been recognized as potential sites of cooperative activity, but only some of that potential has been realized - with Israel largely to blame. Local interests, including those of Israeli lobbies, combined with governmental apathy, are among the key factors contributing to that long border remaining largely blocked off.

Despite Rabin's explicit directive, the idea of building a joint airport, with the airport in Aqaba as its base, has expired. The idea of moving most of the Eilat airport activities to the Aqaba airport has never even been examined. Expensive coastal real estate, which could have been developed and leveraged to generate income, now serves as a parking lot for cars from the Far East.

The Israeli interest in Jerusalem is undoubtedly greater than that of Jordan; but in the peace treaty, Israel recognized Jordan's special status in the city. Translating that clause into reality would, perhaps, have yielded more positive results than the current situation, in which Palestinian and Israeli-Arab entities control sensitive parts of the city.

Meanwhile, the idea of a Red-Dead Canal connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea has great potential for harm. The Jordanians love the idea, but while some Israelis advocate it, there are also plenty of skeptics, myself included. Israel should present Jordan with an alternative that takes their interests into account, instead of burying the idea under thousands of pages of studies.

Israel transfers significant quantities of water to Jordan, but its policy is shortsighted. In the long term, there is no substitute for Jordanian-Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in creating water sources that meet the requirements of a larger population. Instead of pushing for a regional economic solution, Israel's governments have been ignoring the broader geopolitical take on the matter.

The Jordanian government must also take responsibility for the situation. Since 1994, King Hussein and the current monarch, his son King Abdullah II, have allowed opponents of the peace treaty to go wild both in the press and in the streets. It's true that the professional associations for doctors, lawyers, journalists and others are primarily controlled by Palestinians in Jordan who are sometimes more extremist than their comrades in the West Bank, but that doesn't justify the powerlessness of the government in Amman. The mistakes of the past can still be corrected. In the coming years, the Jordanian government will face serious challenges. The results of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will have an effect on Jordan. America's withdrawal from Iraq will likely cause Jordan to have to cope with a surge of refugees as well as military constraints. Israel has a great interest in Jordan's stability and should therefore be assisting it, certainly in matters in which Israel has a direct interest.

Instead of overreaching by demanding normalized relations with the countries of North Africa, Israel would do better to focus on normalizing relations with countries in closer geographical proximity. Developing energy, water and transportation networks with those countries is more important to securing peace and stabilizing it. Israel must try to develop a diplomatic-economic dialogue with Jordan and expropriate it from the security officials currently in charge of it. As much as a dialogue on security issues is important, it isn't enough.

On one of the nights after the failed 1997 attempt to assassinate Hamas' Khaled Meshal in Jordan, Ariel Sharon told top Jordanian government officials that he was mistaken when he said Jordan was Palestine. It's crucial that we prevent the need for another contrite conversation in a few more years, in which we beat our chests for the sin of ignoring our neighbor to the east.

Oded Eran is director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He has served as Israel's ambassador to Jordan and as deputy director general for economic affairs in the Foreign Ministry.