Why Jordan Is Nixing Parts of Its Peace Deal With Israel – and What It Means

Everything you should know about King Abdullah's surprise move on Sunday

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Israeli soldiers patrol the border fence in Naharayim also known by Jordanians as Baqura in the Jordan valley in Northern Israel on October 22, 2018.
Israeli soldiers patrol the border fence in Naharayim also known by Jordanians as Baqura in the Jordan valley in Northern Israel on October 22, 2018.Credit: AFP

What happened on Sunday?

King Abdullah of Jordan announced that he will not renew the agreement relating to two annexed areas – the enclaves Zofar in the Arava and Naharayim in the Jordan Valley. Israel leased the land there for 25 years under terms outlined in a bilateral peace treaty signed in October 1994.

What are the enclaves used for at present?

The Zofar enclave covers about 1,000 dunams (250 acres), on which several dozen farms are located. The land is used by local farmers, whose main crop is peppers. The Naharayim enclave is the site of the Island of Peace park, which was built in a buffer zone between Jordan and Israel, at the border crossing between them. The land there is cultivated by farmers from nearby kibbutzim.

In 1997, about three years after establishment of the enclave, a Jordanian soldier fired at a group of teenaged Israeli girls who were on a school trip, and murdered seven of them. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Jordanian military court, and on the Israeli side of the border a memorial was erected in memory of the victims, in the form of seven mounds of soil surrounded by grass.

A memorial to the murdered girls in Naharayim, October 22, 2018.Credit: Gil Eliahu

What has happened in the kingdom prior to the Jordanian announcement?

At the beginning of the year Jordanian citizens gradually began to demonstrate against the government, due to a series of economic and political moves. The citizens protested price rises, corruption and new legislation, among other things. In September protesters also highlighted the issue of the two enclaves, when members of parliament brought up the subject in the knowledge that the treaty’s expiration date is approaching (the leasing arrangement had been renewed automatically each year since 1994, in the absence of opposition from either side).

The trade unions in Jordan, important leaders of public opinion, joined the protest, which led to a mass rally with hundreds of participants. In addition, dozens of MPs signed a petition calling for the directives in the treaty concerning the two enclaves not to be renewed.

Why did Jordan decide not to renew?

In addition to the issue of sovereignty over the territories in question, Jordan is expected to try in the coming year to achieve a better deal for continuation of the leasing. The announcement about a refusal to renew the annexation arrangement provides an opening for renewed negotiations with Israel about the leasing conditions and use of the two enclaves.

Agriculture in Zofar, located along the Jordanian-Israeli border, October 22, 2018.Credit: \ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

How did Israel receive the announcement?

The Israeli government was completely surprised by the announcement of refusal to renew the treaty clauses relating to the enclaves.

What is Israel expected to do in response?

Israel is expected to begin negotiations with Jordan in the coming year, with the aim of leaving the areas in question under Israeli control. After the announcement by Jordan’s king, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We will start negotiations with Jordan concerning the possibility of extending the present arrangement.”

The prime minister also explained the importance of the peace treaty with Jordan, saying: “There’s no question, in terms of an overall perspective, that the entire treaty is an important and precious asset for both countries. We are observing this treaty as part of productive cooperation with Egypt in many areas, of a kind that we haven’t seen since the peace agreements [were signed]. These two treaties stand out as the main anchors of regional stability.”

Are there additional territories whose leasing is limited in time in the peace treaty with Jordan?


When and how will the new step be implemented?

It’s still not clear whether the step will actually be implemented and how, in light of the anticipated negotiations between the countries over the conditions for continuing the leasing arrangement.

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