Prime Minister Naftali Bennett secretly met last week with Jordan’s King Abdullah, the first meeting between an Israeli prime minister and the Jordanian king after years of strained ties between the two countries.
During their meeting in Amman, first reported Thursday by Israel’s Walla news website, the two leaders agreed to turn over a new leaf in Israeli-Jordanian relations.
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They discussed the severe water shortage in Jordan and potential Israeli aid. Also on Thursday, the foreign ministers of both countries met and agreed that Jordan will purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water from Israel.
Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have been strained in recent years. Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority and whose public opinion is hostile to Israel, has aggressively criticized Israel for its handling of the Temple Mount, its evictions and home demolitions in East Jerusalem and its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip during May’s war.
Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Thursday that President Mahmoud Abbas was called in urgently last week to meet with King Abdullah after the latter's meeting with Bennett.
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According to the sources, the meeting was intended for "coordination and updates ahead of important diplomatic meetings," including with Israeli and American officials. However, there was no word of plans for an Abbas-Bennett meeting.
In March, a planned visit to the Temple Mount by Jordan’s crown prince was canceled due to a dispute over security arrangements. Jordan retaliated by impeding a planned flight to the United Arab Emirates by then-Prime Minister Netanyahu, ultimately forcing Netanyahu to cancel the trip. The Israeli prime minister then retaliated by ordering Israel’s airspace closed to Jordanian flights, though Israel’s aviation authorities delayed implementing the order until it was eventually retracted, so no flights were actually affected. Netanyahu's actions were severely criticized by his defense minister, Benny Gantz, who accused the prime minister of seriously damaging relations with Israel's neighbor.
Another reason for the tension was Israel’s withdrawal from a project to build a canal between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea that was supposed to alleviate Jordan’s severe water shortage.
“The project is economically unfeasible, but Israel is currently exploring a variety of alternative solutions to ease Jordan’s distress,” a diplomatic source said, adding that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s agreement to sell the extra 50 million cubic meters was a signal of this intent to help.
“The Kingdom of Jordan is a neighbor and important partner of the State of Israel,” Lapid said after the Thursday meeting with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi. “The Foreign Ministry will continue to hold talks to preserve and strengthen relations. We will expand economic cooperation for the benefit of the two countries.”
Safadi called for renewed efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Israel to halt “illegal” measures that undermine such efforts.
He stressed the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem that is under Jordanian custodianship. He also said it would be a “war crime” to evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. Both issues fueled tensions that helped ignite an 11-day war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas in May.