Jordan Canceling Annexes of Peace Treaty With Israel, King Abdullah Says

Following recent protests, King Abdullah says Jordan will terminate parts of the treaty that allowed Israeli ownership rights under Jordanian sovereignty in the Naharayim/Baqura area and the Zofar/Al-Ghamr area

Naharayim's old railroad bridge over the Jordan river
Gil Eliahu

Jordan's King Abdullah informed Israel on Sunday he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel. In a meeting with senior Jordanian officials in his Amman palace, the king said that the Jordanian government relayed an official message to Israel on the matter.

The territories in question are known in Arabic as al-Baqura and al-Ghamr, and Naharayim and Zofar in Hebrew. 

Location of the two territories Israel leased from Jordan after 1994 peace treaty

“Baqoura and Ghumar were at the top of our priorities,” King Abdullah tweeted. “Our decision is to terminate the Baquoura and Ghamar annexes from the peace treaty out of our keenness to take all decisions that would serve Jordan and Jordanians."

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Israel leased the land for 25 years upon the signing of the treaty. The deadline for renewing said leases of the treaty is this coming Thursday.

Naharayim is located south of the Lake Kinneret, in the north of Israel, while Zofar is south of the Dead Sea, in the southern part of the country. Both are located on the Jordan-Israel border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the announcement on Sunday, saying Israel intends to negotiate with Jordan over extending the lease. "There is no doubt the agreement is an important asset," he said at a memorial for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, adding the peace deals with Jordan and Egypt are "anchors of regional stability."

King Abdullah has faced ongoing pressure from the Jordanian parliament not to renew the leases, and to return the territory to full Jordanian sovereignty. Eighty-seven lawmakers have also signed a petition on the matter.

Naharayim

Last Friday, protesters marched in Amman demanding that Jordan reclaim sovereignty over the territories in question, with some demanding Jordan cancel the entire peace treaty with Israel.

In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Trump's peace team had offered him a political plan based on forming a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. According to Abbas, he told the administration that he would only agree to such a plan if Israel is part of the suggested confederation. The White House denies the plan. 

Relations between Israel and Jordan have been strained over the past few years over issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, lack of progress with regards to Israeli-Palestinian talks and, more specifically, the shooting by an Israeli Embassy security guard in Amman of a Jordanian citizen after the Jordanian allegedly tried to stab him. A Jordanian bystander was also shot and killed in the incident. 

The shooting, which took place in July 2017, sparked a diplomatic crisis between Jordan and Israel.

Israel appointed a new ambassador to Jordan in February 2018, seven months after the shooting incident. Israel immediately withdrew its embassy staff, including the ambassador at the time, Einat Schlein.

King Hussein of Jordan consoling Israeli family whose daughter was killed by a Jordanian soldier in Naharyim, 2007
Avi Ohayon / GPO

Jordan refused to allow Schlein to return to the embassy, and expressed indignation over how Israel depicted the incident and the warm reception that she and the guard, Ziv Moyal, received from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on their arrival in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry's appointments committee, however, had praise for Schlein and reiterated the ministry's intention to appoint her to another post reflecting her abilities.

The resumption of operations at the Israeli embassy in Amman was made possible after Israel expressed regret over the shooting and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the two Jordanians who were killed. Last month, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad reported that Israel had paid a total of $5 million to the two families and the family of a Jordanian judge who was killed at the Israeli border crossing at the Allenby Bridge in 2014.

In June, Netanyahu met Kind Abdullah in Amman for the first public meeting since 2014. The two spoke about regional developments, advancing the peace process and the economic ties between the two countries. This was taken as a sign that the relationship between the leaders had stabilized after the shooting incident. 

Naharayim is also notorious for a terrorist attack that took place three years after the Jordan-Israel peace treaty was signed, in March 1997. A Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli teenage girls who were on a school visit to the site, which includes a historical train station and hydroelectric power station. Seven Bet Shemesh pupils died in the attack and six were wounded before other soldiers stopped him and came to the aid of the victims. Following the attack, King Hussein of Jordan stationed Bedouin guards to replace the Jordanian ones at the entrance gates.

King Hussein also visited Israel to pay condolence visits to the families of the girls who were shot. The gesture touched Israelis and did much to defuse the crisis.

Jordan released the soldier, Ahmad Daqamse, from prison in 2017. He was unrepentant after his release from prison Sunday, lashing out at Israelis with harshly derogatory remarks. Daqamseh would have received capital punishment but a military court deemed him mentally unstable and gave him life in prison, which in Jordan typically means 25 years. Jordanian lawmakers lobbied for his early release.

"This announcement would mean a catastrophe for agriculture. It'll affect about 20-30 farmers and about 1,000 dunams that will be transferred to the Jordanians. It's a disaster for Zofar. As it is, the situation of agriculture is not great," Eyal Blum, the head of the Central Arava Regional Council, where Zofar is located, said in response.

"The agricultural areas in the Zofar enclave are very significant for the security of the region, the state, for livelihoods and agriculture in the central Arava. It is inconceivable that after so many years, the world order will change. I call upon the prime minister of Israel to solve this crisis immediately," Blum continued.

"We are surprised and disappointed by Jordan's announcement. We have had good relations with the farmers on the other side of the border for many years. We believe that this is not the end of the story and that Israel will find the way to negotiate with King Abdullah," Idan Greenbaum, the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which includes Naharayim, said Sunday.