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Jordan Cancels Land Lease with Israel

Amman insists decision to terminate arrangement is final despite Israeli reports to contrary

The Jordanian government has denied reports in the Israeli media that it has extended the lease to Israel of two parcels of border land.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said that November 10 would mark the end of the lease for al-Baqura, also known as the “Island of Peace,” in northern Jordan, and for al-Ghamr in the south. It said Israel was informed of the decision last October.

Sufyan Salman al-Qudah, the ministry spokesman, said the decision was final.

“We had consultations [with Israel] on the termination and not about renewal; about moving from the previous arrangement to the next stage,” he said.

Al-Baqura is about 250 acres in size, and al-Ghamr about 300.

Moshe Marzouk, an Israeli analyst, told The Media Line that “if Jordan insists on canceling the lease, the land will return back to Jordan in a year.”

Noting that the lease is part of the peace agreement the two countries signed in 1994, Marzouk said it includes “many other” clauses and that the “cancelation of any of them might affect the others.” Nevertheless, he continued “the land belongs to Jordan, and it’s up to the Jordanian government to cancel the agreement partially or not.”

Gad Shimron, a former Mossad operative, told The Media Line that “legally, Jordan is entitled to have the areas back, but most likely the two sides will reach a compromise to protect their common interests. I am quite sure that this will be the outcome.”

Shimron explained that it is a matter of mutual need.

“Jordan needs Israel and Israel needs Jordan,” he said. “Neither side wishes to quarrel over such minor issues. Compromise is the logical result.”

The peace treaty includes an appendix stating that Israel recognizes Jordanian sovereignty over the areas, with Israeli farmers having the right to cultivate it under a 25-year renewable lease. Last October, after much domestic pressure, including a wave of protests in Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced that there would be no extension.

Yahya al-Saud, a Jordanian lawmaker, told The Media Line that “Jordanians of all backgrounds” oppose renewing the lease, and that some want the cancellation of the entire peace agreement.

“The Jordanian street is frustrated by [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s radical policies, the Israeli occupation’s violations against the Palestinian people, and Israel’s attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause and end the status of Palestinian refugees by targeting UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency],” Saud stated.

Saud accused Israel of “trying to mislead the Jordanian people by spreading lies through its media, but King Abdullah ll stands with his people, as he always does. He would never go against the will of the Jordanian people. Not to mention how Israel violates its agreement with Jordan regarding the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, which Jordan is responsible for.”

Under the treaty, Israel agreed to recognize Jordanian control of Jerusalem’s Wakf, or Muslim religious trust, through which the Hashemite Kingdom administers and provides funding for the city’s Muslim sites of worship. There have been intermittent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the sites.

Bassam al-Manaser, a former member of the Jordanian parliament, told The Media Line that the decision not to renew the lease was mostly due to Netanyahu’s recent election promise to annex the Jordan Valley.

“Jordan is under tremendous pressure politically and economically, as well as in terms of security,” he said. “The most important question is to what extent Jordan can hold to its position of canceling the lease.”

Al-Manaser added that “Israel doesn’t need Jordan as much as it used to. Israel used the peace agreement to open doors in the Arab world. Now, with Gulf-Israel relations improving, the Jordanian role has become marginal to Israel.”