Jordan announced a bombshell on Sunday in relation to its peace treaty with Israel, stating it would not renew a 25-year lease of two tracts of territory along its border which is set for renewal on Thursday.
Under the 1994 historic treaty brokered under Bill Clinton, Israel retained private land ownership and special travel rights in Baquora — called Naharayim by the Israelis — in the northwestern part of the kingdom, and Ghumar — or Zofar in Hebrew — in the south. Part of the agreement signed at the White House in which Jordan became only the second Arab country after Egypt to make peace with Israel was that Jordan would lease sovereign Jordanian land to Israel.
But after sizable protests last Friday in Amman involving marchers demanding that Jordan reclaim full sovereignty over the territory, King Abdullah announced the cancellation of this part of the treaty, saying an official message has been relayed to Israel on the matter.
“Baqoura and Ghumar were at the top of our priorities,” King Abdullah tweeted via his official account. “Our decision is to terminate the Baquoura and Ghamar annexes from the peace treaty out of our keenness to take all decisions that would serve Jordan and Jordanians.”
Both sites, which Israel had leased and utilized primarily for agriculture and considers key strategic security points, are located on the Jordan-Israel border. Israel is expected to attempt to retain lease rights to the land as strategic locations essential to its border security.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news at a memorial for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Sunday: “There is no doubt the agreement is an important asset,” he said. He called the peace deals with Jordan and Egypt “anchors of regional stability.”
King Abdullah has been under intense domestic pressure not to renew the lease deals — not only the face of the recent Amman protests, but as eighty-seven lawmakers in parliament have signed a petition demanding the restoration of Jordanian sovereignty over the lands. Relations between the two countries have been severely strained over the past years over an array of key issues from the status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks to deep uncertainty over Trump administration offers of new peace talks.
But the more immediate issue which has inflamed tensions on both sides of Israeli-Jordanian relations was the July 2017 shooting by an Israeli Embassy security guard in Amman of two Jordanian citizens. The shooting happened as one allegedly tried to attack the guard with a knife, while the other Jordanian was an innocent bystander who was shot in the ensuing chaos.
The whole event sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel, which caused Israel to withdraw its embassy staff and ambassador. Israeli embassy operations resumed only after Israel paid a total of $5 million in compensation to the two families of the men killed.
Currently, there are dozens of Israeli farmers and their families living on the strips of land Jordan has said it will repossess when the treaty fails to be renewed on Thursday.
“This announcement would mean a catastrophe for agriculture. It’ll affect about 20-30 farmers and about 1,000 dunams that will be transferred to the Jordanians. It’s a disaster for Zofar. As it is, the situation of agriculture is not great,” Eyal Blum, the head of the Central Arava Regional Council, where Zofar is located, said in response.
The Israeli official further called in “inconceivable” that the territories would be given up by Israel: “The agricultural areas in the Zofar enclave are very significant for the security of the region, the state, for livelihoods and agriculture in the central Arava. It is inconceivable that after so many years, the world order will change. I call upon the prime minister of Israel to solve this crisis immediately,” he said.
Many of the protesters in Amman in recent weeks have actually demanded a complete Jordanian pullout of the historic 1994 treaty signed at the White House. After the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as the official capitol of Israel, it is likely a swell of domestic anger in Jordan will only fuel the worsening of relations.