This month, Israel and Jordan will mark the 25th anniversary of their peace agreement, but the bilateral relationship is only getting more complicated. Security and intelligence cooperation has improved over the years, but civilian projects that were supposed to nurture peace between peoples have been stuck.
Amman has been waiting more than 20 years for Israel to keep its promises on establishing a joint airport and building the planned Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal. The Jordan Gateway project – the construction of a joint industrial zone – has made a little progress over the past year, but it still lacks a short access road costing 60 million shekels ($17 million) that no Israeli ministry is willing to finance – and Israel has no permanent government to grant its approval.
Experts and government officials warn that the inclination of successive Israeli governments to cultivate ties with Jordan and Egypt mainly in the realm of security leaves the country dependent on its neighbors’ rulers and intelligence agencies at the expense of improving their citizens’ views of Israel.
Twenty-five years ago, the Jordanians also thought that signing a peace agreement with Israel would advance the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But as that solution looks ever distant, and as more and more Israelis call for an annexation of the occupied territories, especially the Jordan Valley, while claiming that the Palestinians’ home is actually Jordan (“the Jordanian option”), fear and anger are growing east of the Jordan River.
At the same time, Israeli challenges to the status quo on the Temple Mount, at a time when rabbis are letting ever more Jews visit it, are eroding the special status the Hashemite monarchy has historically enjoyed as the Mount’s patron. Specific incidents have also contributed to the worsening relationship, including the warm welcome that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a guard who shot two Jordanians at the Israeli Embassy in Amman in July 2017 after one of them attacked the man with a screwdriver.
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To keep Israel’s longest border not only secure but also flourishing over the long run, and to preserve the huge historic achievement by the peace agreement’s signatories, it isn’t enough to maintain clandestine ties among security agencies, no matter how close those ties are. The Israeli government must be more sensitive to its neighbors to the east, especially regarding Jordan’s special status at Jerusalem’s Islamic holy sites, and prevent baseless, irresponsible talk implying that the Palestinian people belong in Jordan.
Moreover, Israel must invest a great deal more enterprise, creativity and resources in civilian cooperation. It must launch projects that will make the importance of the relationship clear to the public in both countries while supporting cooperation among academics, cultural figures and young people on both sides. Without such steps, there is no guarantee that there will be a 50th anniversary of the peace agreement.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.