Israeli soldiers look out at Naharayim, known to Jordanians as al-Baqoura, along their common border in the North last October. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel Faces Deadline on Land Leased Under 1994 Peace Treaty

Jordan gave notice a year ago, but experts believe the Israelis will seek to extend arrangements for the two pieces of border real estate

In two months, Jordan intends to terminate the special arrangement that allows Israel to lease two parcels of border land just inside the kingdom: Naharayim/al-Baqoura, also known as the “Island of Peace,” in the North; and Tzofar/al-Immor (also known as al-Ghumar), in the South.

On Saturday, during an “Ask the Government” cross-platform session of parliament, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry affirmed that November 10 would mark an end to the agreement on the land, and that Israel had been informed of this in October 2018.

The 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty includes an appendix wherein Israel recognized Jordanian sovereignty on the land in question although Israeli farmers could continue to cultivate it under a 25-year renewable lease. However, in October of last year, after much domestic pressure − including a wave of protests in Amman – King Abdullah II announced there would be no extension.

Bassam al-Manaser, a Jordanian political analyst and former member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Media Line: “The Jordanians realize that Israel has no intention of achieving peace with the Palestinians, and Jordan has a chance to express its rejection of the current Israeli position.”

That “position,” he explained, includes what he sees as efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to bypass the Palestinian issue and improve Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the expense of Jordan’s own diplomatic ties with the two Gulf states.

Manaser added that Netanyahu was “trading in the blood of the Palestinian martyrs” for his campaign in next week’s Israeli election, something that had created frustration on the Jordanian street.

For this reason, he said, Amman will not reverse its stand although “Israel won’t accept the [land] decision and will try to buy time.”

He also cited what he called “the continuous Israeli violations of agreements surrounding al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.”

Under the peace treaty, Israel is supposed to recognize Jordanian control of Jerusalem’s Wakf, or Muslim religious trust, under which the Hashemite kingdom administers and provides funding for the city’s Muslim sites of worship. However, unrest there has often led to Palestinian clashes with Israeli police, something that infuriates Jordan and much of the Muslim world.

Oraib Rintawi, an Amman-based political analyst, told The Media Line that the peace agreement “allows both sides to exit from it” and that “Jordan, in canceling the lease, has complied with the terms and mechanisms of the agreement.”

Nevertheless, Rintawi believes that this will pose the biggest challenge yet to diplomatic ties between the two countries because Israel will refuse to abide by the Jordanian decision, in which case “Jordan would resort to all available means. The kingdom would approach the United Nations or apply pressure via diplomatic procedures…. The Jordanian position is united at the level of the king and people, and will not be reversed.”

Washington, Rintawi added, “should exert pressure on Israel to hand back these lands. [Israel] knows very well that they are Jordanian.”

Moshe Marzook, an Israeli political analyst, told The Media Line that there would be no change in Jordanian-Israeli relations as there were several shared interests, including trade and water, that connect the two countries beyond the leases.

“It’s difficult for Jordan to threaten these interests,” he said.

Marzook explained that the matter was sensitive and had to do with domestic pressures on the Jordanian government from opposition voices that want to cancel the peace treaty altogether.

“Israel won’t leave [the lands] now,” he said. “There will be a delay from the Israeli side to discuss the matter and perhaps renegotiate new and better conditions for both sides that would persuade Jordan to reverse its decision.”

Naharayim/al-Baqoura is about 250 acres in size, while Tzofar/al-Immor encompasses about 300 acres.

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