Monday, October 26, 2009

Today is the anniversary of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty

15 years of peace


It's not exactly the peace Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein and Bill Clinton envisioned when Jordan and Israel signed their treaty on October 26, 1994 at what is today the Arava Border Crossing connecting Akaba and Eilat.

And yet this unsatisfactory peace trumps what preceded it.

Tellingly, what Israelis like about the treaty is precisely what irks Jordanians: It did not address the Palestinian issue, and it was a pure exchange of peace for peace. Israel forfeited no strategic assets; no communities were uprooted.

The treaty did momentarily seem to hold out the possibility of a deeper peace - not just between our two states, but between our two peoples. At the signing ceremony, the military bands of the two countries played in concert. Opposing generals shook hands.

But the treaty reflected the wishes of the monarch, not his subjects, despite Hussein's assertion: "I know it is supported by the overwhelming majority of our people." Actually, most Jordanians are of Palestinians origin - anywhere between 55 to 70 percent of Jordan's seven million people.

Both Fatah and Hamas called for a general strike to protest the treaty signing, while Muslim fundamentalists in Jordan gathered in their thousands to protest the "sellout."

Paradoxically, it was the September 1993 Oslo Accords which Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed that paved the way for Hussein to make peace with Israel. But unlike Anwar Sadat, who emphasized the Palestinian Arab issue during every step of the peace-making process, Hussein said nary a word about the Palestinians at the Arava ceremony.

Still, the Palestinian issue hangs over the Jordanian-Israeli relationship.

In 1974, Hussein was forced by the Arab League to step aside and accept the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Later, to hedge his bets, he also established relations with Hamas.

IN JUSTIFYING the treaty at home, Hussein told his parliament that it would enable Jordan to tackle poverty and unemployment. It didn't.

Nevertheless, thanks to the accord, Jordan receives hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid from Washington, and it can export goods with some Israeli content duty-free to the US.

Yet the peace has not dramatically improved life for the average Jordanian. Per-capita income stands at $5,100, which in world rankings sandwiches the Hashemite Kingdom between Egypt and Syria, though well ahead of the West Bank. Officially, unemployment stands at 12.6%; it's probably closer to 30%. Poverty is palpable, particularly outside Amman. Jordan is also terribly water-deprived.

Author Benjamin Balint recently returned from a visit to Jordan and says his fellow Israelis sometimes lose sight of how much events in this country resonate among Jordanians. There is an almost "quivering sensitivity" - for example, to delusionary stories about Jews threatening Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

Indeed, during Arab-orchestrated violence earlier this month, Israel's ambassador in Jordan, Yaakov Rosen, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed a letter of protest. King Abdullah II - who assumed the throne in 1999 - warned Israel of "disastrous repercussions" if it crossed a "red line" on Jerusalem. He demanded that Israel "stop all unilateral actions that threaten holy sites in Jerusalem and the identity of the holy city," warning that "such actions threaten to destabilize Israel's relationship with Jordan, inflame the Islamic world and jeopardize efforts to relaunch peace negotiations."

Under our treaty, the Hashemite Kingdom enjoys a "special role" regarding the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. So expect yesterday's renewed Palestinian violence in "defense" of the Aksa Mosque to raise hackles in Amman.

OPPOSITION to Israel-Jordan normalization is driven not only by tendentious Arab satellite news coverage, but also by Jordan's semi-tolerated Islamist opposition, which includes the parliamentary Islamic Action Front bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anti-normalization campaigners maintain a blacklist of Jordanian companies, journalists, academics and cultural figures that have contact with Israel. Jordanians who appear on the same dais as Israelis are invariably either government officials or forced to take chances because of their dependence on European or American largesse.

Because of internal pressures, Jordan needs momentum in the stalled negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more than the parties themselves. Unfortunately, by being tone deaf to reasonable Israeli concerns, and oblivious to Palestinian intransigence, Amman has abdicated a more constructive role in bringing the parties closer together. It needn't be so.

No comments:

My Archive