Under a blistering sun back in 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan, along with U.S. President Bill Clinton’s support and watchful eye, signed the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in the Arava valley of Israel, north of Eilat and near the Jordanian border. It was an act undertaken by giants. As a reporter there, I sat for hours and watched them moved by their desire for peace while pondering how they could resist the blazing sun without a hat on their heads.
The two leaders also agreed to a special arrangement in relation to land parcels near the border, which King Hussein decided to lease to Israel until 2019 in order for them to cultivate. Next year, these were due for automatic renewal. The terms of this agreement state that 25 years after the initial signing, each party had the option of discontinuing the lease of the land, provided that it was done one year in advance, i.e., on Oct, 26, 2018.
Today, avocados and olives are produced on that land. Israeli farmers come from the kibbutzim every morning to cultivate these crops and others. A stone arch with images of King Hussein and his son, Abdullah, Jordan’s current king, mark one area — the Island of Peace in Naharayim. However, this is also the memorial site in memory of seven Israeli girls who were killed by a Jordanian soldier while on a field trip there in March 1997. King Hussein of Jordan personally went to Israel to extend his condolences, kneeling before the parents of the seven Israeli girls killed and asked their forgiveness in the name of his country. This is the kind of gesture that is taken when peace is sincerely desired.
Yet Jordan’s current king, Abdullah II, doesn’t seem to muster the same sensitivity. He has announced with much fanfare that part of the treaty shall be repealed, that Jordan will not give its land to anyone, and that he chooses to protects his country’s interests, doing “whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.” Did something happen? No. It’s a mistaken and hypernationalistic sentence because no one is putting that into question. His decision is applauded by his people — about 75 percent of them Palestinian — who are beset by Islamist threats, invaded by Syrian refugees, suffering because of an impoverished economy, and therefore ready at any chance they get to accuse the monarchy of ignoring the Palestinian cause.
The land in question isn’t important in and of itself, but it’s a symbol of peace with Israel. This, for the sake of consensus, explains why King Abdullah II is willing to sacrifice a part of 1994 peace deal: the economic crisis, rising unemployment, protests against inflation. They all go together with anti-Israeli incitement and disseminating prejudices, always a useful reserve card for every Arab leader. Attack Israel or pretend to, and find consent.
So why isn’t Israel worried? Because it supplies water to Jordan. Soon, a pipeline will transfer $10 billion worth of natural gas from Israel to Jordan, and a whole series of financial benefits will flow to that country, as well as the advantageous image of stability it has thanks to the support of the U.S. administration. Indeed, Jordan can benefit from a certain guarantee: If Israel is committed to compensating the king adequately (and it will), things can reasonably be settled, and the agreement can be renewed.
But let’s not underestimate Mideast surprises. It may well be that—in light of the various hypotheses circulating in relation to U.S President Donald Trump’s mysterious peace plan — the Jordanian-Palestinian solution is something that King Abdullah II is defending against by creating a situation of impracticable general tension. If that’s the case, then he could even abandon agreements with Israel. This, of course, would go against all logic, peace, and overall wellbeing of his people.
Jordan has always been a vital partner for Israel, but equally Israel has been a vital asset for Jordan.
A version of this article appeared on JNS on October 23, 2018.