The decision by Jordan’s King Abdullah not to renew Israel’s lease of two parcels of land in southern and northern Israel when it ends in October 2019 sends a clear message to the government. Amman, which could have permitted the lease to renew automatically, chose to demonstrate that nothing can be taken for granted in its relations with Jerusalem.
As part of the 1994 peace treaty signed between the two countries, as a direct continuation of the Oslo Accords, Jordan gave Israel — without receiving anything in return — the right to use these border areas for 25 years. The agreement states it will renew automatically as long as neither side announces otherwise. That is what Israel expected, in its complacent assumption that its strong relationship with the kingdom — which includes military and economic cooperation — would be sufficient to guarantee that the Israeli farmers who work the land could continue to do so indefinitely.
In fact, the king’s announcement should not have come as a surprise. Six months ago, when the issue was discussed in Jordan’s parliament, many lawmakers made it clear to the king that they opposed the continuation of the lease. The public and political pressure increased over the past three months. At one point it seemed as if the king and his ministers could overcome this opposition. It now appears, however, that Abdullah sought not only to appease his opponents but also to show Israel, with an object lesson, that its policies in the territories in general and the Gaza Strip in particular, would no longer continue without a Jordanian response.
It is important to emphasize that the king’s decision is not a violation of the peace treaty and certainly should not be seen as an act intended to bring about the end of the peace agreement between the countries. Moreover, according to the agreement, the one-year warning was intended to provide the two sides with sufficient time to renegotiate the terms of the lease. We can only hope that this will happen, and soon.
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Yet it will be impossible to separate these negotiations from the wider circumstances and Israel’s actions in the territories; even if the land lease is not very important in economic terms, its diplomatic symbolism is enormous. The original agreement presented, for the first time, the use of a lease to solve territorial disputes, paving the way for (unrealized) proposals to apply the method to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the conflict with Syria.
It follows from this that the continued observance of the lease agreement is of supreme strategic importance, requiring Israel to view Jordan as a full partner that will not tolerate an Israeli policy that could jeopardize its stability.