The Secrets of The New Israel-Jordan Relations Lifted

Published October 18th, 2021 - 06:16 GMT
The valley between Jerash and Salt in the north of Jordan
The valley between Jerash and Salt in the north of Jordan (Shutterstock)

Relations between Jordan and Israel have been tense for years; they were especially bad after 2018 when the now ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu secretly visited Amman.  All this however, is water under the bridge now, and things are changing very quickly exactly to the opposite.

Under the new Israeli government of Naftali Bennett that took office last June in a coalition form, relations between Jordan and Israel have moved from a “cold war” status to a very definite “business-as-usual atmosphere” with Amman becoming the latest capital for Israeli politicians to visit. It was before out-of-bounds, “self-imposed” so to speak, but no more!

Starting the beginning of last July Bennett made a trip to Amman where he met in secret with Jordan’s King Abdullah. Despite Bennett’s extreme right-wing credentials there he made it clear, that he would be willing to supply water-parched Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of water, outside the around 45 million the Kingdom is supposed to receive free of charge under the 1994 Jordan-Israel accord that sealed the first-ever peace process.

It's a different pedestal now much different from the Madrid Peace Conference that started the ball-rolling back in 1991 but at a very slow non-committal way with Israel almost dragged to the negotiating table. This time around there is a robust atmosphere despite the tense relations that existed between Israel and Jordan.

After the King’s meet, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi met with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid at the King Hussein Bridge in the Jordan Valley to shake hands on the water agreement despite the fact that this was a precious, fresh drink that needed to be paid for. The ministers said this would be left to technical committees of the two countries to finalize the deal but at least it was transparent and forthcoming.

This was the beginning of improving relations for at the end of August the Israeli president Isaac Herzog travelled to Amman and met with King Abdullah. Again, there was a huge surprise. A few months previously, no Israeli leader would have thought of doing this.

Later Herzog, a long time politician who had been leader of the Israeli Party and is now the Israeli president, who had been in the job for just few months, said it was a “very positive and important evening” that he spent with the King.

The mere fact that an Israeli president was prepared to come to Jordan showed a new kind of pragmatism that was now being followed in Israel. It was only a few months before that Israel put such obstacles in front of the visit of the Jordan Crown Prince to Jerusalem that in the end it was cancelled. Prince Hussein was to visit the holy places in the city but the Israeli authorities came up with strenuous restrictions that Amman would not accept.

Subsequently however, Jordan showed the Israelis that two can play that game and Amman refused to grant Benjamin Netanyahu permission to fly over Jordanian airspace to get to Abu Dhabi. In the end the flight had to be cancelled and shortly after Netanyahu left office.

It’s different now. Maybe it is because of the nature of the current coalition government in Israel, those from the right, left and center and the fact it included an Arab-Israeli Islamist party. The fact of the matter also is that nobody wants this coalition to fall and have an election with the possibility of Netanyahu coming back – he had already spent 12 years as a prime minister and – and nobody wanted him to return to the “stop-go” extremist, rigid form of politics of one-track-mind. Everyone including the extremists like Bennett, who used to be Netanyahu’s deputy had a belly-full of the former prime minister who just wouldn’t go away.

All these issues – coupled with the fact there is a new man in the White House, Joe Biden who doesn’t believe in the policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump – may have allowed Israel to think of new perspectives that although normalization with Arab countries is good peace with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority is definitely a bonus because of their geographical proximity.

On that level as well, the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz met with the Mahmood Abbas in Ramallah recently who thought of the unthinkable and crossed into the self-controlled Palestinian territory. Non of this happened before. Under the Netanyahu government there was "no politics"; it was just a "siege security mentality" of basically leaving the Palestinians but make sure you control them at the same time without acknowledging their existence except through the barrel of the gun. 

With the change of administrations in Israel and the United States it is realized that Trump’s “sectional interests were short-sighted at best as peace, normalization, development and cooperation need to be with the parties that are directly involved and have a vested interest – Jordan and the Palestinians. It’s Amman that is the traditional bed of support for the Palestinians through the traditional Hashemite role as the custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem, a just peace for the Palestinians, and no to the expansion of settlements, as well as those in the Jordan Valley an area that was to pass to Israel under the Trump Deal of the Century project.

Besides, the Palestinian question, with its identity, culture and population is already a body politic that is existentially there whether Israel likes it or not. It is simply no good saying that it could be brushed aside or circumvented as more Israeli politicians recognize this fact despite their recent war on Gaza in May 2021, its incursions in Jerusalem’s holy places or its squeeze and “snatch” of Arab neighborhoods and attempts to hand them to Israeli Jewish settlers.

While it would still be very difficult to truly say the Israelis are moving in the right direction there are changes happening on the ground no matter how meager they are. Take for instance the meeting at the King Hussein Bridge. Israel also agreed then that it would allow the ceiling for Jordanian exports to the West Bank to increase from $160 million to $700 million which means restarting and strengthening economic exchange.

Fast forward to September and October. The Israeli Minister of Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Karine Elharrar travelled to Jordan to sign the water agreement with the Jordan Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al Najar. The signing was amidst the Joint Water Committee of the two countries that manages bilateral water relations. The meeting was above board and cordial; the Israeli minister was courteous up to the point of embarrassment, but what this action could mean is a start of things that could be built upon.

The 50 million cubic meters could be the start and maybe doubled for next year without the officialdom that was needed in this current deal. But next year is still a long time in politics and many things can change. What is important however, is this deal may already open up new horizons to the long stalemated peace process that has so far been elusive and is effectively needed.

Jordan has already stated time and against it will not go below the demand for a two-state solution that exist side-by-side for the Israelis and Palestinians. In this respect the ball is in the Israeli corner. We wait and see what happens next.


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