Edition 39 Volume 2 - October 28, 2023
The tenth anniversary of Jordan-Israel peace
Ten years of cold peace -
Hasan Abu NimahPeace cannot be realized by leaders signing documents in spectacular ceremonies; peace must be the outcome of the voluntary will of the people.
Across the Jordan River -
Oded EranIsrael should conduct its Palestinian policy independently, but take into consideration Jordan's sensitivities.
Back to the previous pattern -
an interview with
Abdel-Elah al-KhatibWe have not devoted enough effort to talking to different segments of Israeli society.
A bad deal for Palestinians -
Daoud KuttabMost Palestinians feel that the Jordan-Israel treaty has left Israel the winner and Palestinians the losers.
Ten years of cold peace
Hasan Abu Nimah
Someone not steeped in the region's affairs might have to search deep in the annals of history to realize that Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty ten years ago. There are no visible manifestations of normal relations to indicate the existence of such an historic achievement to ordinary observers. Actually, the opposite is true; after a full decade of "peace," Israeli cars entering Jordan still have to exchange their Israeli license plates for temporary Jordanian ones to disguise their origin. And, except for the surge of visitors that followed the Wadi Araba treaty signing on October 26, 1994, the greatly reduced volume of Israeli visitors tends to remain highly discreet if not invisible.
The reasons are obvious, and the present situation confirms a long-existing fear: peace cannot be realized by leaders signing documents in spectacular ceremonies. Peace must be the outcome of the voluntary will of the people; it must be just, genuine, convincing, reciprocal and comprehensive. These indispensable characteristics have been absent from all of the peace treaties or accords concluded so far between Israel and its Arab neighbors, without exception.
As a war-weary president, Anwar Sadat was compelled to sign a peace treaty with Israel on very harsh terms, mainly because Egypt was exhausted by a state of continuous confrontation. And without any prospect of ending the historic conflict otherwise, so were the PLO and Jordan when they signed their respective accords with Israel. In fact, when the Arabs chose "peace as their strategic choice" at the Arab League summit in Cairo in 1995, they were, also, simply running out of alternatives. Israel, rather than seizing the historic opportunity to engage in serious negotiations with its Arab neighbors on the basis of fair and reasonable terms for a lasting settlement, chose to exploit their weakness and impose--with full American backing--further injustice and humiliation, albeit in the name of making "peace".
Sadat had struggled desperately in his negotiations with the Israelis to avoid a separate peace, in favor of establishing a peace formula on the basis of the relevant Security Council resolutions for application on the Syrian and the Jordanian-Palestinian fronts as well, but he failed. Israel never wanted to deal with the Arabs collectively. Israel insisted on taking its Arab neighbors one by one, believing that by isolating each state, it could secure the best terms, and then use any precedents set when negotiating with the next. This method was successfully used in the 1949 armistice talks, and Israel has used it ever since.
Israel's eventual acceptance of the 1991 Madrid conference was predicated on the condition that Madrid would be no more than a brief ceremonial entry to direct, separate negotiations with each Arab state. One of Israel's main strategic goals was to sideline the UN, which it also achieved in the 1990s with the support of the Clinton administration. The US later created the "Quartet" in order to disguise the absence of the UN, and give false international legitimacy to a process controlled by the Americans with Israel's advice, if not outright instructions.
The sad result is that Israel has not only blocked all progress toward a comprehensive and accepted peace, of which the Egyptian, the Palestinian and the Jordanian agreements were meant to be only initial steps; it has actually been undoing the benefits of these initial steps.
It is a great mistake to measure the success of the Jordanian-Israeli peace on the basis of economic or material benefits that have anyway been far fewer than even the most pessimistic expectations. Nor would it be fair to assume that direct economic prosperity and improvement of the quality of life could not have significantly buttressed support for the treaty. Yet, we should clearly keep in mind that no amount of economic progress would be sufficient alone to build peace without justice.
The greatest truth that Israel has obstinately refused to understand is that it cannot have normal relations and warm peace with Jordanians, or with any other Arab state, while its occupation forces commit regular atrocities against the Palestinians, and occupy other Arab lands.
In past decades, Israelis used to justify their reluctance to leave the occupied Arab territories with the contention that they wanted real peace. They repeatedly claimed that while the Arabs would be getting huge areas of land, Israel would only be getting a piece of paper.
The truth is that the Arabs have proven their readiness for real, genuine, and comprehensive peace which would have gained for all the people in the region, mainly the Israelis, the security they have never had. If, as a result of Israel's deliberate and intransigent policies, its peace with Jordan and the other peace treaties and agreements are viewed as worthless pieces of paper, then Israel should know where to lay the blame.- Published 28/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org
Hasan Abu Nimah is a former ambassador of Jordan to the United Nations. He was a member of the Jordanian (and the Jordanian-Palestinian) delegation to the post Madrid peace talks in Washington, DC. Currently he is a writer and a political analyst on Middle Eastern issues.
Across the Jordan River
Exactly seven years ago I submitted my credentials to the late King Hussein as Israel's second ambassador to Jordan. The excitement at hearing the Israeli anthem played at the old Royal Court was enhanced by the knowledge that the king had taken a very courageous decision. Not his first, but probably one of his last. Ten days earlier Mossad agents had been caught in an abortive attempt to kill a Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, in the streets of Amman. In a way, the proximity of the two events reflects the problems, the attitudes and the complex web of relations between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
For years the kingdom was taken for granted. The departure of the British godfathers, the growth of anti-western regimes in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, and the rise of Palestinian nationalism, all contributed to the relative weakness of Jordan. Israel viewed itself, rightly or wrongly, as Jordan's sole guarantor. That perception was certainly enhanced in 1970, when Syrian tanks, already rolling toward Jordan, were stopped by the Israel Air Force.
The Mashal affair is just an example of that attitude. It also highlighted the kingdom's and mostly King Hussein's mature handling of the affair and generally of relations with Israel. Surrounded by uneasy and always scheming neighbors, Jordan had to juggle several balls in the air: its relations with neighbors such as Syria under the Assads, Iraq, mostly under Saddam Hussein, rivals from the Arabian Peninsula who had defeated the Hashemites at the beginning of the twentieth century and pushed them to the north and, above all, the explosive Israeli-Palestinian arena to the west.
It is against this backdrop that Israel should appreciate the way Jordan conducts relations with it. In many cases Israel's responses have been positive, showing recognition and vision. These include the annual transfers of sizable quantities of water even in dry years. Cooperation with Jordan on the creation of Qualified Industrial Zones, which have generated thousands of jobs in Jordan and a dramatic increase in exports, is another example. But the glass could be fuller with bold initiatives that could transform sub-regions straddling the border. In the Aqaba-Eilat region, for example, Jordan and Israel could gain from closer cooperation by reaching an agreement by which Israel would use the port and airport of Aqaba, creating jobs and higher incomes for Jordanians, and the land on the Israeli side currently used by those two facilities would be developed for other, more profitable purposes. Cooperation in other fields, such as tourism, could also inject new life into an industry that has suffered a serious decline in recent years. For these initiatives to happen, both countries and their leaders have to show courage and vision to overrule skeptics, even when the latter might, in the short-run, be justified in their skepticism.
In anticipation of dangerous and unsettling future political, demographic and economic changes, a high level of understanding and a close dialogue on short term and strategic policies are essential if Jordan and Israel wish to protect their individual and mutual interests. The east bank of the Jordan River is a mirror of what happens on the west side. Higher tension or periods of tranquility are reflected in the reactions of public opinion and the Jordanian government. It is essential for Israel to take this, whenever possible, into consideration. Conversely, actions or inaction by Jordan, in matters related and relevant to Israel, have an impact there. The Jordanian monarch and the government have not always been cognizant of this sensitivity. The Jordanian official reaction to the anti-normalization groups, for example, was slow and feeble.
In an unstable region such as the Middle East, tacit strategic understandings between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan helped the two cross some unsettling currents, even before the formal treaty was concluded. The first war in the Gulf, in 1990-91, is a good example. The second Palestinian intifada and the stalemate in the political process between Israel and the Palestinians have put relations between Israel and Jordan to a test. King Abdullah II of Jordan has shown great fortitude, resolve and maneuverability in overcoming the strain and difficulties presented by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Israel should conduct its Palestinian policy independently, it should take into consideration, as much as possible, Jordan's sensitivities on this issue.
In my stay in Amman I witnessed how, when necessary, the political leaders of Jordan and Israel and those responsible for handling various aspects of the relations made use of the geographical proximity. They met aboard almost every means of transportation except, if I am not mistaken, a train. In this connection I have two hopes: that the absence of the train does not prevent Jordanians and Israelis from meeting at all levels, and that eventually a feasibility study will prove that a railway between the Red and Dead seas is a sound economic idea. The frequent meetings and joint projects would ensure the longevity of the 10-year-old Jordan-Israel peace treaty.- Published 28/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org
Oded Eran is director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as Israel's ambassador to Jordan and the EU and is a former negotiator with Egypt and the Palestinians.
Back to the previous pattern
an interview with Abdel-Elah al-Khatib
BI: Does the current state of the Jordan-Israel relationship meet with your expectations?
al-Khatib: No, of course not, because the willingness to develop the relationship and to consecrate the concept of peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Israelis has been severely affected by the events of the last four years. After the signing of the peace treaty we witnessed the beginning of a change in the pattern of Israeli-Palestinian relations, from occupier-occupied to a more positive normal relationship. The events of the last four years brought us back to the previous pattern and this has affected our ability to develop our relationship.
BI: From the Jordanian perspective, where did Israel go wrong in cultivating the relationship?
al-Khatib: Mainly on the Palestinian issue, but also we felt there was not enough attention paid to the spirit and letter of the peace treaty, showing enough good will toward developing Jordanian-Israeli relations. But definitely the prevailing atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians has undermined our ability to convince Arabs of the value of the relationship.
BI: And from the Jordanian standpoint, what would you do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
al-Khatib: I would have preferred to have focused more on moving the Israeli-Palestinian process forward and cultivating the peace camp within Israeli society. We have not devoted enough effort to talking to different segments of Israeli society.
BI: Suppose the Israeli-Palestinian peace process does not revive in the near future. How will this affect the Jordan-Israel relationship?
al-Khatib: This would continue to undermine our ability to expand and develop bilateral relations and would put Jordan under more pressure from the Arab and Muslim world. But let's hope that the most important value of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty will be to prove to Israelis and Arabs that peace can and will work.
BI: How much weight do you attach to the growing Jordanian-Israeli commercial and strategic relationships?
al-Khatib: These are important, but alone they cannot sustain the relationship between the two peoples. The core is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
BI: How would a dramatic change in the Palestinian leadership situation affect the Jordanian-Israeli bilateral relationship?
al-Khatib: It all depends on how the Palestinians handle the situation. If they maintain a level of unity and fill the void and create the conditions that would allow others to be more involved in the process, this would change the current stalemate.
BI: And if there is chaos?
al-Khatib: That's bad news for all--Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, the whole region. I don't agree with Israeli voices that wish to create chaos on Palestinian territory. This is very shortsighted and won't help regional stability.- Published 28/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org
Abdel-Elah al-Khatib was foreign minister of Jordan from 1998 to 2023. He is a former minister of tourism.
A bad deal for Palestinians
Palestinian-Arab relations vis-a-vis Israel have always been rocky. Palestinians have regularly argued that their struggle is the foremost Arab cause and have tried very hard to rally Arab peoples and governments to their side. For the most part, however, Arab countries have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause, and Arab countries neighboring Israel have related differently as to the best course of action to solve the Palestinian problem.
At times, Palestinian guerillas have carried out cross border raids against Israel with the express purpose of provoking Israeli retaliation against the Arab country from which the operation originated, thus forcing this Arab country to take the Palestinian cause seriously.
Syria has traditionally tried very hard to convince Palestinians and others that in order to reverse the occupation of Arab lands, a strategic military solution is needed. And since such a solution continues to elude Arab armies, the Syrians have chosen to do nothing until such a day arrives.
More moderate Arab countries, like Jordan, have always argued that there is no military solution and that only through politics and diplomacy can occupied lands be returned. They have argued indirectly that in order to succeed politically with Israel you need to protect the borders from incursions by Palestinian fighters and at the same time try and use their good offices with the Americans to gain what is not being gained on the military front.
This Jordanian argument was not popular with most Palestinians and Arabs. The man on the street kept repeating the slogan of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the popular former Egyptian leader, that what was taken by force will only be returned by force. And it was for this reason that Jordan's King Hussein kept all his contacts with Israel secret. But when the Palestinians finally made a political breakthrough in Oslo, Jordan felt relieved of the obligation to keep its talks secret and quickly followed the White House lawn Arafat-Rabin-Clinton signing ceremony with a ceremony of their own. Within a year, the Wadi Araba peace agreement was signed by Jordanian and Israeli officials and was quickly ratified by their respective parliaments.
As long as Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were moving forward that agreement was not much of a source of concern. In fact, the peace process was a vindication for the Jordanian philosophy of using the political rather than the military option.
But as the peace process faltered, the pressure on Jordan as well as Egypt increased. And when in 2023 the Palestinian intifada erupted, pressure on these two moderate Arab countries really escalated. Palestinians, who have considerable clout in the Jordanian professional associations as well as with left wing Arab parties, found their influence increased in various ways. Public demonstrations and other forms of protests were stepped up and as an immediate result the ambassadors to Israel of Jordan and Egypt were recalled and have not returned since.
Popular displeasure in Jordan also took another important form, with the strong attacks by the professional associations on anyone who deals with Israelis. An anti-normalization committee was formed that began collecting and publicizing so-called black lists of those it called normalizers with Israel. And though the Jordanian government reacted strongly against the committee, arresting leaders and trying to ban some of them from participating in elections, the head of the committee, Ali Abu Sukr, ran and won a seat in the present parliament in Jordan.
In addition to the effort against Jordanian-Israeli political rapprochement, another reaction emerged in support of military acts. Posters and other paraphernalia idolizing Palestinian suicide bombers and martyrs have become one of the prominent ways that many Palestinians in Jordan and other places have been expressing their opinions.
Palestinians by and large have been extremely disappointed with the political process. They feel that the Jordan-Israel agreement only provided Israelis with a sense that their main Arab neighbors had been neutralized and therefore left Israel able to crush Palestinians without any deterrence from the Arab countries. The Jordanian borders, the longest Israel has with any of its neighbors, have been largely quiet due in large degree to the efforts of the Jordanians to keep Palestinian militants from carrying out any cross border attacks.
One of the few positive elements for Palestinians of the Jordan-Israel agreement was that it allowed many Palestinians living in Jordan to visit their relatives in Palestine with a visa from the newly established Israeli embassy in Jordan. Ironically, however, this small benefit has been largely curtailed ever since the Jordanian ambassador in Tel Aviv was recalled.
With the tenth anniversary of the Jordan-Israel agreement, most Palestinians feel that Israel is the winner and Palestinians the losers, having found themselves without any hope of future military intervention by or through Jordan in defense of the Palestinian people. And while the benefits of this peace agreement might be felt in some small ways in Israel and with the Jordanian ruling elite, for Palestinians especially, as well as Jordanians, the peace agreement has been a bad deal.- Published 28/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.
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