Among the headlines that the elected representatives of Israel’s Arab citizens are finally being accepted as equal partners in a future coalition, as well as the normalization agreements between Israel and several Muslim states, news about the ongoing decline in Israel-Jordan relations stands out like a sore thumb.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delayed approval of a Jordanian request for water, despite the recommendations of Israeli experts (Amos Harel, March 26). This is an escalation of the grave crisis in relations with Amman during Netanyahu’s time in office, which has been exacerbated by the obstacles Israeli security agencies created over a planned visit to Jerusalem by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II, the son of King Abdullah II.
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In response, Jordan refused to let Netanyahu fly out of Amman for a pre-election visit to the United Arab Emirates. The tension increased further when Netanyahu, in an unprecedented step he took without consulting the relevant authorities, ordered the immediate closure of Israeli airspace to flights from Jordan, in violation of bilateral agreements. Aviation authorities eventually persuaded him to retract the order. Now it turns out, however, that the prime minister, in what appears to be an act of personal vengeance for thwarting his electioneering in the Persian Gulf, is delaying routine approval of Jordan’s request for additional water – contrary to the recommendations of professionals in the government.
This affair only adds to the growing tension between Netanyahu’s government and the Jordanian monarchy. Many incidents have occurred over the years between the countries and beyond them. Diplomats and military experts say Israel does nothing to minimize the damage and improve ties, particularly regarding civilian matters.
Netanyahu is acting like he is willing to endanger the stability of the peace agreements with Jordan. That is an egregious strategic error. Netanyahu’s vaccine diplomacy is the expression of a warped geopolitical stance whereby it is more important to use vaccines to extort embassies in Jerusalem from distant countries such as Guatemala than it is to help neighbors in distress. The severe recent COVID-19 outbreak in Jordan was an opportunity to demonstrate good neighborly relations. Jordan wants Israel to send it vaccines, at least for health care workers. But this would be antithetical to Netanyahu and his aggressive power plays.
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The political opposition in Israel has become accustomed to adopting Netanyahu’s position vis-à-vis foreign affairs. The crisis with Jordan, a country critical to Israel’s security and welfare, offers an opportunity to present an alternative at a time when a new government is in the making. With all due respect to the new peace treaties with distant states, we must not abandon long-standing agreements with our close neighbors.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.