▶ King Ab­dul­lah de­cided not to re­new lease of Baqoura and Ghamr to Is­raelis

The National - News - - NEWS - TAY­LOR LUCK Am­man

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

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