December 12, 2018

Jordan Cancels ‘Island of Peace’ Lease Agreement With Israel

Bending to domestic pressure, including a protest on Oct. 19 that saw Jordanians take to the streets of Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced the end of a special arrangement that allowed Israel to lease two parcels of land inside the kingdom along the southern border with Israel.

Israel leased the two enclaves — al-Baqoura and al-Immor, also known as the “Island of Peace” in the southern Arava desert — as part of the 1994 Wadi Araba agreement between the two countries.

In a gesture of goodwill following the 1994 Israel – Jordan peace treaty, Jordan allowed Israeli farmers who settled there to continue cultivating the land.

But in recent days, Jordanian rhetoric has shifted. During the Oct. 19 rally, demonstrators, including politicians and trade union representatives, called on the government to “reassert Jordanian sovereignty” over the lands.

According to the 1994 treaty, Jordan agreed to place the two parcels of land under a “special regime.” Israel pledged to recognize Jordanian sovereignty over the land while leasing it for 25 years. Each party, however, reserved the right to terminate the agreement.

King Abdullah said on Oct. 21 that Israel was informed of the decision, stressing that the lands “would remain Jordanian, and Jordan will exercise full sovereignty over them.”

Yehya al-Soud, a Jordanian parliamentarian, told The Media Line that the monarch “responded to his people’s wish and desire,” explaining that the Jordanian constitution allows “the king to decide on either the conclusion or cancellation of agreements” with other states.

In another special arrangement between the two countries, Jordan is responsible for the Waqf — the Jordanian Islamic trust. The Waqf grants the Hashemite kingdom the right to administer and provide funding for Jerusalem’s Muslim sites of worship.

Al-Soud explained that Jordanians are frustrated with the Waqf agreement, which they believe Israel violates on a daily basis.

“Every day Israeli settlers illegally break into Al-Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by high-ranking Israeli security officers,” he contended.

He stressed that the U.S. administration is fully biased toward Israel, and disregards the views of the international community. “It’s time for the whole world to side with the international community,” al-Soud added.

Oraib Rintawi, a Jordanian political analyst, conveyed to The Media Line that “Jordan, in canceling the lease, has completely complied with the terms and mechanisms of the agreement.

 “The Jordanian move could strain Israel-Jordan relations, and it might affect other agreements between the two countries.” — Moeen al-Taher

“Jordan is a country that respects the law and works within it,” he continued, explaining that Amman is not obligated to renew the lease, which ends in late October next year.

“Jordanians are angry with Israel about a range of issues—about how they treat the Palestinians, violate agreements surrounding al-Aqsa Mosque and dealt with the Israeli Embassy incident in Amman,” Rintawi said.

Last year, Israel and Jordan sparred over a confrontation at the Israeli Embassy in Amman in which Ziv Moyal, an Israeli security guard, killed two Jordanians who had allegedly attacked him.

“Logically, Israel has to accept Jordan’s decision [on the lease]. However, knowing the Israeli arrogant mentality, Israel won’t be logical in its response,” Rintawi asserted.

If Israel refuses to abide by Jordan’s decision, he added, “this would show the world that Israel does not have any intention of returning the leased lands.

“It has used the same policy against the Palestinians, occupying their lands in order to create sovereignty. This time they are dealing with us, and Jordan is an independent state with sovereignty and strong international ties.”

Moeen al-Taher, a Jordanian political analyst, told The Media Line that based on its officials statements, Israel could pressure Amman in different ways to come up with a new formula for extending the lease.

“The Jordanian move could strain Israel-Jordan relations, and it might affect other agreements between the two countries. The Jordanian people could put more pressure on the government to cancel other agreements with Israel in the future,” al-Taher said.

Gad Shemron, an Israeli political analyst, told The Media Line that Amman’s decision has nothing to do with how Jordanians feel about Israelis. Instead, it relates to how “King Abdullah II is facing a very poor domestic economy,” he said.

Shemron added that Jordan is also trying to pressure Israel into building a pipeline to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. “It’s pure business,” he concluded.