Despite more than two decades of cooperation, relations between Israel and neighboring Jordan have reached a new low. While the two countries have a peace agreements, have exchanged ambassadors and cooperate in a number of fields, most Jordanians still view Israel as an enemy state.
For example, strong opposition to recently-signed gas deals with Israel is coming from Jordanians, particularly those with Palestinian backgrounds. Many Jordanians are no longer interested in peace with Israel, including government officials who say the so-called “peace agreement” is beginning to resemble the “cold peace” with Egypt, which includes only minimal security arrangements between the two countries, but no real peaceful cooperation, as many in Israel had hoped for.
On October 28, 2018, exactly one year ago, Jordan’s King Abdullah surprised Israel when he unilaterally canceled a clause of the peace treaty ending the leasing of its enclave west of the Jordan River called the “Island of Peace.” The decision for Jordan to take back the land is legal under the peace agreement, but this move put an end to the dreams of many Jordanians and Israelis for a warm peace.
Relations with the neighboring kingdom have had many ups and downs over the years. It is no secret that the Jordanian king has been working against Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount in recent years by inciting resistance to any Jewish presence on the sacred plateau. For years, King Abdullah II has condemned Israel in order to curry favor with the Islamists within his kingdom out of fear of the instability they threaten to unleash. For those who do not remember, Jordan initiated and supported decisions by UNESCO denying any connection between the Temple Mount and the Jewish people, a fiasco that infuriated Israel.
Even though Jordan was not harmed by the Arab Spring demonstrations, kingdom officials are justified in their concerns of violent demonstrations over a spiraling economic situation. There are other many factors also threatening to topple the royal regime of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan; Islamists in the kingdom, local ISIS elements, and in recent years the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who threaten to undermine the kingdom’s demographic stability. Today, it appears that many Jordanians will join the kind of demonstrations now going on in Lebanon and Iraq.
Add to all that the fact that the King of Jordan is among the weakest leaders in the Arab world militarily, economically and politically. How does he plan to get out of this mess? Condemn Israel, of course. This is the formula he has learned from other Arab leaders. The more you rage against Israel, the more you become popular in the eyes of your people.
But it’s a delicate balancing act. To survive, he must publicly appear hostile toward Israel. At the same time, behind the scenes, a more reasonable relationship must be maintained with the Jewish state both to keep the American administration happy and to maintain the supply of water from Israel stipulated in the peace agreement. Abdullah could make himself look like Israel’s greatest enemy publicly, but if the water stopped flowing for his people, he’d be in trouble nonetheless.
The King of Jordan is not afraid to condemn and instigate trouble against Israel in the public discourse, as long as the world still sees the Israeli flag flying in Amman. The idea is that in public, anything goes, so long as the wrong people don’t find out that in reality you are still collaborating with the Zionists – a lesson the King learned from the get-go when he received the throne from his father King Hussein.
Israel is obligated by law and in accordance with the agreement it signed to evacuate the “Island of Peace” and an adjacent enclave in the Jordan Valley. Israeli media are reporting in recent days that the sides have reached a six-month extension of the agreement, but the media in Jordan and official spokesmen denied an extension had been reached. The areas in question are agricultural lands, but also a region in which during the last century a water-powered electric plant was built that provides power to tens of thousands of civilians.
It is not clear what the future holds for peace in the region and whether Israel will punish Jordan if they cancel the land agreement clause by limiting their annual supply of water. One thing is clear, that the peace with Jordan is freezing cold.