How Jordan reclaimed two fertile enclaves from Israel

1 / 3
2 / 3
A file photo taken on November 10, 1994, shows Jordan's King Hussein (R) and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin shake hands after exchanging the documents of the Peace Treaty at Beit Gabriel conference center, on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. (AFP)
3 / 3
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (2nd R) and Jordan's King Hussein (2nd L) are directed where to sign by unidentified aides as US President Bill Clinton (C) looks on during ceremonies at the White House in Washington, on July 25, 1994. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2019

How Jordan reclaimed two fertile enclaves from Israel

  • A 25-year-old lease permitting Israel use of farms in Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr was allowed to expire
  • Both areas contain aquifer-rich tracts of land that were being used for decades by Israeli farmers

AMMAN: Few Jordanians had expected it to happen, so when the Royal Jordanian Army raised the national flag over the twin enclaves of Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr on Sunday, the mood across the country was a mix of delight and satisfaction.
On Monday, Jordanian TV showed King Abdullah II, in military uniform, touring Al-Baqoura, accompanied by Crown Prince Hussein and the army’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti.
The events this week mark the end of a controversial 25-year-old lease agreement that came as a part of the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty.
In 1950, Israel took the 6,000 dunams (1,482.63 acres) that make up Al-Baqoura, including an 820 dunam plot that the British Mandate government had given to Pinhas Rottenberg, a Zionist leader, in 1926 to build an electricity-generating company using the waters of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers.
During the 1967 war, Israel captured a further 4,000 dunams of land in Al-Ghamr, south of the Dead Sea. The plots in both Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr are rich in water supplies from natural aquifers located in Jordanian territory.
Jamal Jeet, an attorney and spokesman for the unified Jordanian Hirak (movement), knew more than a year ago that strong public support was needed if Amman intended to refuse to renew the lease agreement.
Annex 1b and 1c of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty allowed Israeli farmers to continue farming those tracts without paying any fees or taxes to Jordan. But Jeet was aware that the same section permitted the abrogation of the lease agreement, provided one side gave the other a year’s notice.
“I knew that the land was Jordanian and that we needed to cancel the 25-year-old lease,” Jeet said. As he told members of the Jordanian Bar Association: “We need(ed) to do something unorthodox.”
“I wanted advice from the association’s head, Mazen Rosheidat, about an idea I had,” he told Arab News.
“We didn’t want to issue a statement and make a symbolic act of protest. I wanted a legal notice to be issued and delivered at every courthouse in Jordan.”
Rosheidat not only welcomed the idea but suggested that it be brought under the auspices of the bar association. Two committees were formed — one to draft the text of the legal petition, and the other to help distribute it.
“Once the legal documents were ready, we made sure that a lawyer would take the lawsuit to the local courthouse and deposit it with the court clerk,” he said.
The document called on the government to issue a one-year notice — before November 2018 — for a formal end to the lease arrangement.
Jeet also made sure that activists throughout Jordan took part in a campaign in tandem with the legal process.
A mural was placed at the Jordanian Professional Association’s headquarters in Amman and hundreds of lawyers, doctors and engineers signed the document calling on the government of Omar Razzaz to issue the warning.
The campaign could not have occurred at a more politically opportune moment.

Ties between Jordan and Israel had cooled due to a number of decisions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the withdrawal of support for a two-state solution, a refusal to stop Jewish hardliners from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the sidelining of Jordan as the administration of US President Donald Trump worked on a new Middle East peace plan.

FASTFACTS

• Al-Baqoura is 6,000 dunams of fertile, aquifer-rich land east of Jordan River.

• Al-Ghamr is a 4 kilometer-wide, aquifer-rich area of land along Jordanian border, within Aqaba governorate.

• Israel occupied Al-Baqoura in 1950 and 4,000 additional dunams of land in Al-Ghamr, south of the Dead Sea, in 1967.

• Jordan and Israel signed Wadi Araba Peace Treaty in 1994.

• Jordan announced in October 2018 it would not renew the 25-year lease.

• The lease officially expired on Nov. 10, 2019.

The relationship had deteriorated so much that Abdullah had stopped taking phone calls from Netanyahu after the Israeli leader was seen greeting an Israeli security guard who had shot two Jordanians and returned home after Amman, respecting his diplomatic immunity, handed him over. The guard did not face any legal action upon his return.
For Jeet, the very first sign that the association’s campaign had been successful came when the king issued a short tweet on the issue on October 18 last year. “Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr have been on the top of our priorities and our decision is to end the annexes in the peace treaty in light of what is good for Jordan and Jordanians,” it said.
That post kicked off a series of legal steps, culminating in the official decision to allow the Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr lease agreements to expire.
The Jordanian government’s decision was not strongly contested by Israel, which had been preoccupied with two election campaigns and a corruption scandal embroiling Netanyahu.
For Kamel Abu Jaber, a former Jordanian foreign minister, the significance of the return of Al-Baqoura and Al-Ghamr cannot be overstated.
“This is very important not only to Jordan but to the Arab and Islamic worlds,” he told Arab News. “It shows that the peace treaty, with all its problems, produced the return of the land.
“Jordan is able to put pressure on Israel as a result of Article 9 of the treaty with Israel.”
For his part, Adnan Abu Odeh, who served as an advisor to both Abdullah and the late King Hussein, and as Jordan’s permanent representative at the UN until 1992, says the return of two enclaves will encourage Jordanians.
“It is important because it encourages Jordanians to keep pushing for their rights and their interests, and (because) the government responded positively to public demands,” he told Arab News.
Abu Odeh pointed out that in recent months Jordan had confronted Israel using legal means, such as its move to recall its ambassador, an action that prompted Israel to release two Jordanians.
“I hope that this will bring about further change in Israel’s (behavior) in terms of what is happening in Jerusalem,” Abu Odeh said.
Jordanians who had gathered near Al-Ghamr on Monday were permitted by the Jordanian army to visit the reclaimed tracts of agricultural land. Al-Baqoura remains a closed military area.
Jeet told Arab News he was cautiously optimistic but keeping his emotions in check. “We plan to hold a major rally to celebrate the return of Jordanian land,” he said, adding that he was disappointed a planned press conference by the foreign ministry at the Al-Ghamr site was moved to Amman.
He said what also worried him was a statement by a ministry source that Amman had assented to a one-time visit by Israeli farmers to harvest what was planted before the end of the lease.
Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said on Monday that Israel had given the names of four non-Israelis who would be harvesting the land.
He said the press conference was moved to Amman because the original site in Al-Ghamr lacked the requisite technical facilities.
Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Arab News that Jordan has come out a winner in the latest negotiations.
“Amman’s decision to terminate the state-to-state arrangement and allow only a one-time, six-month extension should come as no surprise,” he told Arab News.
“Time will tell whether Israeli farmers who own land inside Jordan would be able to arrive at a new technical access arrangement to continue farming their lands while residing in Israel.
“Such a private arrangement may be possible only if it excludes the Israeli government and is devised exclusively within the bounds of Jordanian law.”


Ex-housekeeper sues Israeli PM’s wife over abusive behavior

Updated 52 min 46 sec ago

Ex-housekeeper sues Israeli PM’s wife over abusive behavior

  • Last year, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds

JERUSALEM: A former housekeeper at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence is suing the leader’s wife Sara for pain and suffering allegedly caused during her employment there, the housekeeper’s attorney said on Thursday.

Opheer Shimson says his client is demanding $190,000 in damages for the abuse from Sara Netanyahu. He said the woman, an immigrant from France in her mid-50s and a mother of five who wished to keep her identity secret, worked at the residence for five months until last November, when she was injured from a fall caused by what he described as Sara Netanyahu’s tyrannical demands.

He said the woman, a staunch supporter of the prime minister, kept a diary detailing the verbal abuse she endured from his wife.

“She adores the prime minister and saw her work at his home as a form of national service,” Shimson told The Associated Press. “But she’s been traumatized by her experience. Everyone knew what was going on there, and no one can say otherwise.”

Sara Netanyahu has been accused of abusive behavior toward her personal staff before. This, together with accusations of excessive spending and using public money on her own extravagant personal tastes, has earned her an image as the Israeli Imelda Marcos, the Philippines’ former first lady who became infamous for her massive collection of designer shoes.

Last year, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds after she reached a plea bargain settling allegations that she overspent some $100,000 of state money on lavish meals. She’d previously been indicted for graft, fraud and breach of trust.

In 2016, a court ruled the prime minister’s wife mistreated a housekeeper and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Several other employees have accused her of abuse, mistreatment and harassment. Another pending lawsuit alleges she forbade a former staffer to eat or drink on the job and required her to change her clothes dozens of times a day. The plaintiff, who is also seeking damages, says Sara Netanyahu also required her to wash her hands dozens of times a day and dry them with a towel separate from the one used by the Netanyahu family.

The Netanyahus have angrily rejected all the charges, calling them part of a media-orchestrated campaign against the family to oust them from power.

Israel heads to the polls next week for its third election in less than a year. Two weeks later, Benjamin Netanyahu goes on trial for charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from accusations he accepted lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promised to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage.

The latest allegations against Sara Netanyahu include details on a bevy of berating comments she unleashed on those who worked for her. Shimson said the personal diary would be presented in court as evidence.

“Enough, save me, I want to die, the problem is that I don’t have any choice and everyone knows that,” reads one of his client’s entries, which was first published on Israel’s Channel 12 news. ”It’s impossible to live every day with a psychopath. I’m dying to leave before it’s too late.”

In another entry, she said Sara Netanyahu screamed at her for forgetting to throw out the garbage, called her stupid and dirty and demanded she take a shower. The woman wrote that Sara Netanyahu accused her of trying to cause friction with the prime minister.

“She said to me: ‘What do you want? For me to be like you, divorced?’” she wrote. “Even the prime minister told her to stop. She was in a trance. In the afternoon she had a fit, lay down on the ground, screamed and screamed like a lunatic, and shook with rage. She rolled around on the floor, and said that all of that was because of me.”

The ruling Likud Party denounced the TV report about the lawsuit as a “cruel, false, recycled and gossipy piece that was timed for release on the eve of elections and whose purpose was to harm the Likud.”