OSAMA AL-SHARIF July 13, 2021
Jordan and Israel are hoping to reset ties after years of strained relations under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A month after a new coalition government was formed in Israel, ending 12 years of Netanyahu rule, the two sides took a number of initiatives to normalize relations.
Last week, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi met with his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, on the Jordanian side of the border and reached an agreement for the sale of 50 million cubic meters of water from Israel to Jordan. Israel gives the kingdom 30 million cubic meters annually under the 1994 peace treaty.
The two sides also agreed to increase Jordanian exports to the West Bank from $160 million to $700 million annually. “The kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbor and partner,” Lapid said. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”
The Israeli media has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid a secret visit to Amman last week to meet with King Abdullah. While Jordan has not commented on the claim, such a meeting would be the first between leaders of the two countries in years. King Abdullah had rebuffed Netanyahu’s requests for a meeting or even a telephone call. The king distrusted the Israeli leader over his violations of agreements with Amman, especially concerning Al-Aqsa Mosque, of which the king is a custodian.
Under Netanyahu, relations between the two countries soured, reaching crisis point when an Israeli diplomat shot dead two Jordanians in the embassy compound and an Israeli soldier killed a Jordanian judge at the Jordan River crossing point. No one was held accountable for either crime by the Israeli side.
But ties grew even worse under the Donald Trump administration. King Abdullah opposed Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as the White House’s so-called “Deal of the Century” peace proposal. Last year, the king went as far as questioning the fate of the peace treaty if Netanyahu carried out his threat to annex the Jordan Valley. Earlier this year, Amman was furious when Israel reneged on an agreement to allow Jordan’s crown prince to visit Al-Aqsa. In retaliation, Jordan refused to give clearance for Netanyahu’s plane to land in Amman en route to the UAE.
Under pressure from the Joe Biden administration, Netanyahu approved the sale of an additional 50 million cubic meters of water to Amman, which is witnessing a severe water shortage. The election of Biden to the presidency was a relief for Jordan, which felt marginalized by Trump. As soon as Biden was elected, he received a call from the king in which he recommitted the US to the two-state solution — a matter of principle for Amman.
With Netanyahu finally out, Jordan is hoping that ties with Israel can return to normal. But that is easier said than done. The new coalition government in Israel is shaky and may not survive for long. Bennett is a hard-liner who supports Israeli settler organizations as well as far right claims over Al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, Israeli incursions of Al-Aqsa have continued under the new government, an issue that is certain to trigger a harsh Jordanian response.
But security and intelligence coordination between the two sides remained unaffected, even under Netanyahu. Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s former coalition partner and defense minister, and now part of the new coalition, has not been shy in declaring the importance of Jordan as a neighbor and ally. He has attacked the former prime minister for damaging bilateral relations and is seen as an important supporter of Jordanian stability.
To the objection of most Jordanians, Amman has become increasingly dependent on Israel for energy and water. Last year, Jordan began receiving Israeli natural gas under a $10 billion deal that has been opposed by parliament and most Jordanians. Still, Jordan had to cancel a project with Israel that would have provided energy and desalinated water from a canal linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. That agreement was never honored by Israel.
Jordan cannot compromise on the two-state solution nor can it accept Israeli actions in East Jerusalem.
King Abdullah will be the first Arab leader to be received by Biden next week. Bennett, too, will visit the White House before the end of July. The Biden administration is prioritizing the Jordanian-Israeli relationship as an important part of its Middle East policy. More importantly, it is boosting Jordan’s role in the region, especially with regard to supporting the Palestinian Authority, backing Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government in Iraq, and providing logistical support to US military in the region.
However, while ties with Israel can only improve after years of turbulence, trouble could be lurking ahead. Jordan cannot compromise on the two-state solution nor can it accept Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, including the almost daily incursions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the move to Judaize the holy city by pressuring Palestinians to leave. King Abdullah’s role in Jerusalem has been recognized by world leaders, and future attacks on the city will force the Jordanian monarch to react.
But for the time being a semblance of normality has been restored between the two countries. That may not last for long and it will depend on the survival of the Israeli coalition government.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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