Despite strains, Jordan stays tied to Israel

Woman gives man medal

King Abdullah II of Jordan receiving the “Scholar-Statesman Award” from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank affiliated with the Israel lobby group AIPAC, in New York City on 21 November. (via Twitter)

Relations between Israel and Jordan are at an “all-time low,” according to King Abdullah II.

But ironically the monarch spoke those words last month at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank affiliated with the powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC.

He was there to receive the pro-Israel group’s “Scholar-Statesman Award.”

The king nonetheless insisted the moribund two-state solution is “the only way to move forward.”

“The alternative is worse for all of us,” he insisted, indicating that a one-state solution with equal rights for all “is something we can’t deal with.”

“Unfortunately, we’re in pause mode,” he added.

The king’s remarks come in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley – about a quarter of the occupied West Bank on the border with Jordan.

Annexation would make it even more difficult to pretend that the already defunct two-state solution remains viable.

Israel has been quietly ethnically cleansing the Jordan Valley of its indigenous Palestinians for years.

The Trump administration’s recent announcement that the United States no longer considers settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal under international law further encourages Israeli colonization.

Military exercises

Israeli military officials reportedly warned Netanyahu that annexing the Jordan Valley may push the Jordanian king to suspend ties.

The Jordanian army conducted a military exercise earlier this month simulating an attack from the West – in other words from Israel.

King Abdullah and his prime minister observed the exercise, in which a potential invasion would be foiled by blowing up the Jordan River bridges.

Dubbed the “Swords of al-Karamah,” the name recalls the 1968 Battle of al-Karamah when the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerrillas forced Israel to withdraw from the town of al-Karamah in the Jordan Valley.

Al-Karamah is also the Arabic word for dignity.

Analysis in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper concludes that the Jordanian military exercise was intended to appease the Jordanian public rather than demonstrate any real challenge to the Israeli army.

Indeed, despite the tensions, evidence suggests that the Jordanian air force unofficially took part in a military exercise hosted by Israel while the latter was bombing Gaza in November.

The Jordanian government ignored requests to comment on the report, which has yet to be denied.

This underscores the reality that whatever popular anger exists in Jordan, the state remains – along with Israel – a key part of the US-dominated regional architecture. Jordan cannot take more than cosmetic action against Israel without angering Amman’s chief patron, the United States – something Jordanian leaders would scarcely feel they can afford to do.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is reportedly seeking to visit Amman in an attempt to ease tensions.

But it is difficult to see how that would do anything other than generate further opposition among Jordan’s population, who overwhelmingly view Israel as an enemy.

Prisoners for land

In November, Israel released two Jordanian citizens it had been holding for more than two months without charge or trial.

During Israeli-Jordanian negotiations over the pair, rumors emerged of a deal for their release in exchange for the return of al-Baqoura and al-Ghamr, territories that Jordan leased to Israel for 25 years under their 1994 peace treaty.

The peace treaty, widely rejected by Jordan’s population, normalized relations with Israel despite there being no restoration of Palestinian rights or an end to Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Al-Baqoura, in northwest Jordan where the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers meet, and al-Ghamr, south of the Dead Sea, were farmed or used by Israelis before and during the lease.

Israeli farmers will still be permitted to enter al-Baqoura and harvest produce cultivated before the lease ended.

When King Abdullah announced last year that Jordan would not renew the leases, right-wing figures including Israel’s agricultural minister threatened to reduce the water supply to Jordan.

Under the treaty, Israel is obligated to pump a significant amount of water to Jordan, which the latter depends on.

Gilad Sharon, the son of late prime minister and notorious war criminal Ariel Sharon, echoed those threats in October, just weeks before the territories were set to be returned.

“If you push Israeli farmers out of the al-Baqoura and al-Ghamr enclaves, you will be thirsty,” Sharon wrote in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

At the palace, they would continue to “serve chilled mineral water,” Sharon wrote, but “the people of the kingdom will feel the thirst.”

As unconcerned as his late father about harming innocents, Gilad Sharon has also previously called for “flattening” Gaza as the US flattened Hiroshima with an atomic bomb.

Israel has regularly violated the terms of the peace treaty, including by undermining Jordan’s role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Billions of dollars in gas

Last month, the Jordanian Campaign to Stop the Zionist Gas Deal filed a complaint with Jordan’s public prosecutor.

The group alleges that the governments of several prime ministers and Jordan’s government-owned national electricity company NEPCO broke the law and violated the constitution by agreeing to buy gas from Israel.

Israel is set to start pumping natural gas to Jordan by the beginning of 2020 despite strong opposition from the public and parliament.

Jordan will be paying an estimated $10 billion over 15 years for natural gas, with much of the money going into Israeli government coffers.

The full text of the secret Israel-Jordan gas deal was revealed this summer for the first time since it was signed in September 2016.

Critics of the deal say the text confirms their suspicions that the Jordanian government misled the public about its involvement in the deal, as well as the conditions for its cancellation and its implications for the Jordanian economy.

Gulf states warming up

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly pushing for “non-belligerence agreements” between Israel and several Gulf states.

According to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, citing unnamed Israeli, Arab and American sources, the agreements would be an “interim step between the secret relations Israel has with those countries now and full diplomatic relations.”


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.