Jordan and Israel: Awkward Bedfellows
By Samantha Sisskind
AMMAN, JORDAN – Two groups met at the banks of one of the world’s most meandering and politically significant rivers in the world. Standing in a rickety wooden hut framed by thick brush on the east bank of the Jordan River was a group of American students, and directly across on the west bank of the river was an equally sized group of American tourists, waiting upon steps leading to a mammoth stone Israeli military outpost. Not twenty feet separated the two groups, yet each pretended that the other wasn’t there. The tension between the two groups, viewing the same site from opposite perspectives, was palpable. They wondered, “do we acknowledge each other, or do we just continue to ignore each other, take a picture of the river and go?” Finally, a student on the Jordanian side of the river sighed loudly, threw his hands to his sides, and yelled across the river, “Well, this is awkward!” effectively slicing the taut atmosphere and leaving those on all sides of the river in stitches.
This light-hearted story’s implications echo in political reality. The relationship between Jordan and Israel, described as a warm peace following the peace treaty in 1994, has since cooled, and now more closely resembles geopolitical awkwardness. Jordan and Israel are two countries adjacent to one another, yet both are at a loss for how to act toward each other.
After the Second Intifada, relations between Jordan and Israel declined as the violence discouraged Jordan from engaging in cross border cultural and economic ventures, and worsened even more so as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza. This past spring, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that the relationship between Israel and Jordan is at its worst in years, claiming that Jordan was better off economically before the treaty in 1994. In addition, Israeli opposition to Jordan’s recent nuclear energy aspirations after uranium was discovered in Jordanian soil has also worn on the ties between the two countries. The King cites a lack of trust between the two nations and accuses Israel of being less than straightforward in their efforts for peace in the Middle East.
Israel maintains similar frustrations with Jordan regarding items of the cooperative treaty of 1994 that weren’t kept. Earlier this year, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein lamented that Jordan had not followed through with their commitment to foster cultural exchange and interfaith dialogue as stipulated in the 1994 treaty. In addition, the Jordanian government irritated Israel when it reneged on an earlier promise not to open up talks with Hamas, though Jordan says it only initiated the talks to boost coordination between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas for the sake of the peace process.
The negative turn in relations between Jordan and Israel has been complicated further by the halted negotiations over the issue of settlements. Failure to reach a resolution yet again after two months of talks has left Jordan frustrated with the lack of progress and Israel irritated by Jordan’s intervention. Moreover, Jordan recently seized the opportunity to win European affections after foreign ministers from France and Spain were “snubbed” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Recent events in the peace process have cemented this uncertainty. For Jordan, Israel’s decisions regarding the Palestinian question affect its population and its infrastructure, which accommodates displaced Palestinians; any negative change in the current state of affairs poses a threat to the security of Jordan’s borders and its internal stability. For Israel, it is important to recognize that Jordan is the one nation on its borders with which Israel can have a cooperative relationship at the present time. Israel needs Jordan’s cooperation to advance its own security interests as well. In the end, both Jordan and Israel have much more to lose than to gain by not aiming to restore good cooperative relations with one another.
Unquestionably, the population of Jordan is growing restless with Israel. Jordan’s relationship with Israel is a prominent issue in today’s Jordanian national elections with most candidates espousing platforms critical of Israel. Some express the widespread fear that Israel will expel more Palestinians from the West Bank who will resettle in Jordan and make it a de facto Palestinian state–70 percent of its population is already Palestinian. According to one candidate, “It would mean Jordan’s demise and the obliteration of our national identity,” Though the majority of the population is Palestinian or of Palestinian descent, the nationalist Jordanian identity is strong, and Jordanians support a separate state of Palestine. Though the pro-West King and parliament of Jordan will not sever the peace agreement any time soon, the souring relationship ensures there will be no a swift agreement or cooperation from other Arab states with Israel in the near future, which stunts the peace process.
Back at the river, IDF soldiers and royal security forces abruptly ended the fraternizing between the students and tourists on opposite sides, illustrating the non-confrontational posture both states have taken toward one another on a diplomatic level. Direct interaction and cooperation have been replaced with toleration and separation until either party determines once and for all how it will treat the other. While the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel set a standard for cross-border cooperation, the integrity of the treaty is compromised by a lack of trust that permeates the relationship. The crucial nature of the Jordanian-Israeli relationship for the security of both states and the stability of the region is worth reiterating. If the two states do not make a point of repairing their relationship, they will hinder the progress of Middle East indefinitely.
Well, this is awkward.