AMMAN: Jordan will not renew Israel’s 25-year lease on two tracts of land along their border, following a campaign in the kingdom to return control to Amman. Under the 1994 peace treaty between the countries Israel acquired private land ownership and special travel rights in Baqura in the northwestern part of the kingdom and Al-Ghamr in the south.
Under an annex to the peace agreement, Israel leased about 400 hectares of agricultural land and a small area known as the Island of Peace near the Sea of Galilee.
The lease expires next year, and Jordan now wanted to exercise its “full sovereignty” over the two areas, King Abdullah said on Sunday in an announcement widely welcomed in the kingdom.
Much of the land in Baqura in the northwestern part of the Kingdom and Ghumar in the south is used by Israeli military officers and farmers, some of whom were given private land ownership rights and special travel rights under a 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.
Baqura, in the northern Jordan Valley, was captured by Israel in 1950. Ghamr, near Aqaba in southern Jordan, was seized in the 1967 Mideast War.
Abdullah said he informed Israel of his decision. “We are practicing our full sovereignty on our land,” he said. “Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.”
Abdullah did not give a reason for his decision, but he has faced escalating domestic pressure to end the lease and return the territories to full Jordanian control. Last week, demonstrators demanding an end to Israeli ownership of the lands marched in Jordan’s capital of Amman last week.
“These are Jordanian lands and they will remain..” the monarch said. In an “era of regional turmoil” his Kingdom — between Syria to the north, Iraq to the east and Israel to its west — Jordan wanted to protect its “national interests,” Abdullah said.
The decision was hailed as “historic” by Marwan Muasher, the former Jordanian foreign minister and spokesman for the 1994 negotiating team. It sends a strong message to Israel “which has systematically worked against a two-state solution and thus in direct opposition not just to the Palestinian national interest, but the Jordanian one as well,” he told Arab News. The king’s decision “is a direct translation of how all Jordanians feel about Israeli policies today,” said Muasher, now vice president for studies with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Former deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin told Arab News: “I assume that if negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were serious things might have been different and the king would have wanted to ensure that a positive atmosphere would continue. But there is no peace process.” King Abdullah’s announcement is the culmination of a series of public demonstrations that gained momentum as the Oct. 25 deadline neared for a decision on the lease. Jordan Bar Association chief Mazen Rashidat told a protest march last week: “According to our constitution, it is unacceptable that Jordanian lands are not under the country’s sovereignty and control.” Jordanian political commentator Oraib Rantawi said: “We have never seen such unity between the government and people from all backgrounds in wanting to end the rental agreement to Israel.”
Netanyahu still wants to negotiate
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking after Abdullah’s comments on Sunday, acknowledged that Jordan wanted to exercise its option to end the arrangement.
But he said Israel “will enter negotiations with it on the possibility of extending the current arrangement.”
Under the terms of peace treaty, the lease would be automatically renewed unless either of the parties notified the other a year before expiry that it wished to terminate the agreement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry also said in a statement on Sunday.
Netanyahu said the “accord as a whole is an important thing,” and called the peace deals with Jordan and Egypt “anchors of regional stability.” He spoke at a memorial for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the peace deal with Jordan.
Jordan is one of only two Arab states that has a peace treaty with Israel and the two countries have a long history of close security ties. They have also been expanding economic ties in the last year.
But the peace treaty with Israel is unpopular and pro-Palestinian sentiment widespread in Jordan. Activists and politicians have been vocal against a renewal they say perpetuates Israeli “occupation” of Jordanian territory.
Political ties have also become strained over the Middle East peace process. An incident last year in which an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanian citizens within the Israeli embassy compound added to the tension.
Under an annex to the peace agreement, Israel uses about 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of agricultural land in the southern sector of its border with Jordan.
In the 1994 peace treaty, Jordanian sovereignty over the area was confirmed but Israelis retained private land ownership and special provisions that allow free Israeli travel.
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