Jordanians celebrate bold decision to terminate Israeli annexes
There is a national sense of relief, pride and euphoria following Jordanian King Abdullah’s historic decision on Sunday to terminate two annexes in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty relating to Israel’s use of Jordanian lands. The so-called “special regime” covering Baqoura and Ghumar will end in November 2019, 25 years to the day since the signing of the peace treaty, as notice of termination must be given by either party one year before. The king’s decision ended weeks of speculation over the issue that has put the government under pressure from lawmakers, political parties, professional unions and the general public.
In a tweet on his official Twitter account, King Abdullah said that “Baqoura and Ghumar have always been at the top of our priorities,” adding that “our decision is to terminate the Baqoura and Ghumar annexes from the (1994 Jordan-Israel) peace treaty out of our keenness to take all decisions that would serve Jordan and Jordanians.”
Baqoura, a strip of agricultural land at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers in northern Jordan, was occupied by Israel in 1950, while Ghumar in southern Jordan was captured by Israel between 1968 and 1970. Both lands were returned to Jordanian sovereignty under the peace treaty, but Israel was allowed to use them for a period of 25 years.
Israel will attempt to politicize the issue, despite the fact that Jordan is within its rights to terminate the agreement
Osama Al Sharif
The concept of “leasing” these lands to Israel was always a subject of controversy for the majority of Jordanians, who saw it as an affront to national pride. The issue of the expiry of the annexes was raised often, but more so following last year’s deliberate killing by an Israeli security guard of two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman. Jordan’s subsequent demands, which included putting the security guard on trial, the provision of compensation to the families of the victims and an official apology, were not all met by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It was always believed that a final decision on the fate of Baqoura and Ghumar would require careful consideration by the Jordanian government in light of its impact on the tense relations with Israel. It is now clear that the king has made such a decision after weighing up all options and reactions. This is a major move by the king at a time of difficult regional circumstances, as he himself told a group of Jordanian political figures on Sunday. He added that Jordan’s priority is to protect its interests and that it will implement its full sovereignty over its lands.
Reacting to the Jordanian decision, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that Israel plans to negotiate with Amman to ensure that the deal remains intact. “There is no doubt that the entire agreement is important and dear to both our countries. We will negotiate with Jordan for its extension,” he said. The annexes allow for bilateral discussions and Israel will attempt to politicize the issue, despite the fact that Jordan is within its rights to terminate the agreement.
There are issues that need to be dealt with before the termination takes effect. For example, the Baqoura land was sold to a Jewish businessman, Pinhas Rutenberg, for public use by the British mandate authority in 1921, provided that he did not transfer ownership to a third party. But Rutenberg sold most of the land to Jewish settlers in 1929 and the deeds were officially registered in Jordan. While Jordanian sovereignty over Baqoura is not in question, the fact that most of the land there is privately owned by Israelis will be the main stumbling block. The Jordanian government can buy the land back or, if that fails, then the Israeli owners will be treated under Jordanian laws that cover foreign land ownership in the kingdom.
Domestically, the king’s decision is a much-needed shot in the arm for the government at a time when it is facing public pressure over its unpopular economic policies. The current euphoria will boost national unity and divert attention, for some time, from the difficult economic decisions that the government and parliament will be taking by the end of the year.
But, when it comes to relations with Israel, anything can happen. Jordan has been at the forefront with its rejection of US and Israeli moves on Jerusalem, illegal settlements in the West Bank and the protection of Muslim and Christian sites in the Holy City. Israeli provocations, especially with regard to Al-Aqsa Mosque, are expected to continue. Moreover, the entire region will undergo major policy challenges if and when President Donald Trump announces his regional peace plan.
But, for now, Jordanians will unite behind their leadership while celebrating this historic and bold decision. Israel, on the other hand, will get ready to engage the kingdom in protracted negotiations in an attempt to extract concessions.
- Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010