CELEBRATION AS JORDAN RECLAIMS VILLAGES
▶ King Abdullah decided not to renew lease of Baqoura and Ghamr to Israelis
The Jordanian flag yesterday flew over two villages whose reclamation from Israel after 60 years triggered celebrations in the kingdom but also cast uncertainty over peace between the neighbouring nations.
King Abdullah officially announced the return of full Jordanian sovereignty over Baqoura and Ghamr in the Jordan Valley on Sunday and prayed in Baqoura on a visit with the military yesterday.
Jordan gave the two parcels of land to Israel on a 25-year lease after the signing of the 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty. Amid growing anti-Israel sentiment, the Jordanian government notified Israel last year that it would not be renewing the lease for another 25 years.
“This is the land of our ancestors; the land we have lived and died in and died for,” said Mohammed Al Rashid, 55, an Amman accountant. “This is what we waited for – and it is only just the beginning.”
Hibba Bani Hani, 25, an unemployed university graduate, said: “The Jordanian people demand this because it is a basic right we have been waiting for: a chance to tell Israel ‘no’.”
Baqoura and Ghamr became national causes and a symbol of frustration among Jordanian citizens and even the governing elites over Israeli policies and a peace deal they claim has been unfulfilled.
Economic integration with the West Bank has not occurred, and water-sharing agreements have been breached.
Potential mega projects such as a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal to desalinate water and generate electricity have been abruptly halted or shelved in recent years.
Officials and observers say the actions of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have bordered on insulting, such as the hero’s welcome for a security guard who killed two unarmed Jordanian civilians at the Israeli embassy in Amman in 2017 and the recent detention without charge of two Jordanian citizens, who were released last week after going on hunger strike.
The restrictions on entry to Al Aqsa Mosque and detention of Waqf officials administering the site, who are Jordanian government employees, are seen as not only offences against the Hashemite custodianship of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem enshrined in the peace treaty, but a direct threat to stability in Jordan.
“Jordanians have seen no peace dividends,” said Hassan Barari, a political analyst and commentator on Jordanian-Israeli relations.
“This is linked to the rise of the right in Israel and the defeat of the peace camp in Jordan.
“Now, the Jordanian government sees that peace may never be realised with Israel.
“If they don’t change course, peace with Jordan will be nothing more than a document.”
But despite the euphoria over the reclaiming of the villages, confusion persists about land rights.
In Baqoura, an area of 82 hectares, several farms are owned by Israelis, some of them descendants of Jewish families who have deeds and land registered under the Transjordan emirate in the 1920s.
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry says the four square kilometres of Ghamr are owned directly by the Jordanian treasury and were leased to Israel for cultivation.
As of yesterday, Baqoura and Ghamr were closed to the general public and the foreign ministry cancelled a press trip to the areas on Jordan’s western border, which are considered military zones.
According to the foreign ministry, Israeli farmers will be able to obtain visas at the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv and enter only once crops are ready for harvesting – a period of two to three months – but they will no longer enjoy tax and legal exemptions granted previously.
“We remain committed to complying with our legal commitments under international and Jordanian law, which includes respecting private property in Baqoura,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said yesterday.
For Jordanians who demand a tougher stance on Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands, the move is only the beginning.
“You will see many more Jordanians encouraged to take part and promote anti-normalisation activities in the future,” said Oraib Rantawi, analyst and director of Al Quds Centre for Political Studies in Amman.
Fewer people believe in the peace process “and now they will be emboldened to demand a new approach with Israel”.
An image of Jordanian King Abdullah and his father King Hussein at the ‘Island of Peace’ on the Jordanian side of the border with Israel, in the area that has been reclaimed by Amman