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MIDEAST MIRROR 30.10.18, SECTION A (ISRAEL)

 

Values and interests

 

Israelis are heading to the polls to elect local and regional representatives, with a newly instituted vacation day seeking to challenge widespread voter apathy and raise the country's traditionally low turnout rates. Ballot stations nationwide opened at 7 a.m. and will close by 10 p.m.  The preliminary results are expected to trickle in overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, with a final count anticipated by Wednesday. Some 6.6 million Israeli citizens and residents over the age of 17 are eligible to cast their votes in the local elections, electing officials to some 251 city, town, and regional councils nationwide, according to Interior Ministry figures. In Israel's largest cities, veteran mayors in Tel Aviv and Haifa were battling increasingly formidable challengers, while in Jerusalem, where the incumbent is not running, the race appeared to be wide open. Jerusalem is holding the most nail-biting contest in the country, with no clear winner emerging in the run-up to the race. The front-runners in the mayoral race are Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin and Jerusalem council members Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch. Ultra-Orthodox candidate Yossi Deitch, a Jerusalem deputy mayor, has also been campaigning for the post and has cast himself as a dark horse. In East Jerusalem, most of the city's 300,000 Arab residents were expected to uphold a longstanding boycott of the municipal elections.

A top Palestinian body on Monday passed a motion urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas to suspend all agreements with Israel and revoke recognition of the Jewish state until Israel formally recognizes a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. "We recognize the right to resist the occupation in all methods that comply with international law," the Palestinian Central Council, a Palestine Liberation Organization decision-making body, said in its decision. The body, convening in Ramallah, said Palestinians should end "all forms" of security coordination with Israel and nullify several economic agreements that it said were being "ignored" by Jerusalem. The vote is not binding, and a final decision rests with 'Abbas. The PLO said that a committee will now be created to examine the recommendation, which would need the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas. Formal adoption of the recommendation would bring the Oslo Accord to an end. Previous votes by the council in January 2018 and in 2015 to suspend security coordination with Israel were not implemented.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon slammed the Palestinian Authority today after the PLO Central Council decisions. "This is a big mistake," Kahlon, who is chairman of the Kulanu Party and a member of Israel's security cabinet, told Army Radio. "Over the last year, Ramllah has become more and more extreme and is torpedoing any chance of an agreement. Their desire is to starve the Gaza Strip." Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said that the PLO's decision was a "bad joke. For all we care, they can decide not to recognize the sun, the invention of the wheel, and gravity," Lapid said. "We established a glorious state with our own hands without asking anyone. We will continue to build strong and safe Israel and when the Palestinians decide to recognize reality they are more than welcome to give us a call." Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the PLO's announcement by stating: "The Palestinians have never been serious about recognizing Israel. They have always been planning to destroy Israel piece by piece and throw the Jews out of our land. The charade has ended. They have shown their true colors - the Palestinians are not interested in peace and never have been."

Elsewhere, Israel has a plan to spend NIS 2.8 billion to help expand the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement by 20,000 new homes within the next 10 years. Construction of all but 470 units in the plan still needs bureaucratic and prime ministerial approvals, including for some 4,200 units that would be in the highly controversial and unbuilt E1 section of the city. Located in Area C of the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim has a population of 37,817 and is the third-largest Jewish city in the West Bank, after Modi'in Illit, with 70,081 and Betar Illit, with a population of 54,557. Ariel, the fourth largest settlement has a population of 19,626, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics' 2017 database. The completion of 20,000 new homes for Ma'aleh Adumim could more than triple the size of the city.

In diplomatic news, Israeli leaders on Monday welcomed the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial hardliner, as new president of Brazil, hailing his bona fide pro-Israel credentials. "I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our nations and to a strengthening of Israel-Brazil ties," Prime Minister Netanyahu told Bolsonaro during a congratulatory phone call. "Looking forward to your visit to Israel," he added, referring to the far-right politician's pledge to come to Israel as president. A declared friend of the Jewish state, Bolsonaro has said that he will move Brazil's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and that his first foreign trip will be to Israel. A source close to the president-elect told Kan public radio that Bolsonaro still wants to move the embassy and that the issue will be considered soon. At the same time, the source added that the new government will investigate if such a move "would help advance the Middle East peace process." Brazil and the Arab world have close business ties and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the embassy there could hurt trade, the source added.

About Gaza, Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel's top priority in dealing with the ongoing violence is to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel and to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. While another large-scale military operation in the Strip might prove unavoidable, it is in Israel's interest to try to do everything possible, including accepting the mediation and assistance offered by the international community, to prevent such a scenario, he said. "We are acting first of all to protect Israel from infiltration by people who come to harm us – our soldiers and our communities – and who want to cross the border and kill our civilians and soldiers. We have prevented it thus far," he told Israeli diplomatic reporters during a briefing at his Jerusalem office.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces has ordered a criminal probe into the killing of Razan al-Najjar, a Palestinian medic who was killed at the end of May during protests on the Gaza border. The IDF's Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek rejected the findings of the preliminary military investigation from June. He ordered the Military Police to open a criminal investigation. The June investigation found that Israeli soldiers did not fire directly at Razan al-Najjar.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Saudi Arabia and Israel held secret meetings which led to an estimated $250-million deal, including the transfer of Israeli espionage technologies to the kingdom, citing an exclusive report by the United Arab Emirate news website al-Khaleej. Some of the spy systems, which are the most sophisticated systems Israel has ever sold to any Arab country, have already been transferred to Saudi Arabia and put into use after a Saudi technical team received training in operating them, the report added. The exclusive report also revealed that the two countries exchanged strategic military information in the meetings, which were conducted in Washington and London through a European mediator. Such cooperation would not be the first of its kind between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In September, al-Khaleej reported that Saudi Arabia had purchased Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system to defend itself from Houthi missile attacks. The deal, which was reportedly mediated by the United States included further plans to reach an agreement on broad military cooperation between the two countries.

Finally, Volkswagen and Intel Corp's Mobileye are planning to roll out Israel's first ride-hailing service using self-driving cars starting early next year. The two companies are forming a joint venture with Israeli car importer Champion Motors, under which Volkswagen will provide the electric vehicles and Mobileye its autonomous driving technology, the companies said in a statement on Monday. The Israeli government, which has accepted the proposal, will also support it by sharing required infrastructure and traffic data, the companies said.

 

 

VALUES AND INTERESTS: Nadav Eyal in Yedioth Ahronoth argues that Israel must consider the long term in its international ties. The support for Orban in Hungary, Duterte in the Philippines, and Bolsonaro in Brazil is not worth their promise to transfer embassies to Jerusalem.

"Should countries, and especially Israel, have moral or liberal considerations in foreign relations? This is a resounding question, and the answer to it, it must be said openly, is not self-evident. If the leader of the Philippines, for example, supports Israel – should we care that he admitted to killing civilians with his own hands? And if the elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, admires military dictatorship and threatens to kill leftists – is that important, given that he says he will transfer his country's embassy to Jerusalem?

Diplomatic relations are based on interests, first and foremost. A constant attempt to educate other countries, many of which are not democratic, is not necessarily effective. It is often unsuccessful when it comes from superpowers, such as the United States in the 1990s, and certainly Israeli pressure will be even less effective. Netanyahu's Israel has immediate concerns. The government wants to promote the transfer of embassies to Jerusalem and block any recognition of a Palestinian state. Whoever is willing to supply that - even if he is called Victor Orban, for example, the Hungarian prime minister, whom the Jewish community in Hungary feels incites anti-Semitism - will be considered acceptable and legitimate.

These are the claims that arise again and again when a tyrant or a democratically elected leader appears and seeks to curb freedom in his country - but says that he supports Israel. It is appropriate to answer them, because the error apparent in these assumptions is profound and has far-reaching implications.

Foreign policy is not based only on the short term, but also and mainly on long-term relations. What will happen on the day after Orban, Duterte, Trump and others? Does Israel maintain friendly relations with these people, or a relationship of demonstrable political support? In order to answer the question, we must examine how leaders use Israel, and what the second political camp has to say about it. There is a difference between friendly relations, which Israel can and should maintain with every country – except those riddled with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and a passionate and close relationship that could endanger Israel's future after the disappearance of the authoritarian leader. Perhaps Israel should maintain good relations with the Duterte's Philippines, but inviting him to Israel, the only Western country he has visited, was precisely the kind of wanton excess that will in the future come at a steep political price for Israel.

It is important for Netanyahu that the Poles block pan-European initiatives for the peace process (the truth is that there are none, but what the heck), and perhaps the government is prepared to help Poland operate leverages in order to coerce the U.S. to support it regarding Russia. But to gleefully run to a humiliating compromise agreement with the government in Warsaw concerning the historical memory of Polish collaborators with the Nazis in the Holocaust?

So the first mistake is short-term thinking: The willingness to immediately sell all the political assets that Israel holds (and the fact is that these countries are courting Israel), in exchange for a puny return of blocking some failed Palestinian initiative. The second mistake is the assumption that Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, has no moral or practical duty to act cautiously. Morally, because as a people that were persecuted for generations, Jews have always been devoted to human and civil rights, desperately advancing a liberal reality, and sometimes sacrificed their lives in its name. But even if this perception seems to be downright naïve, there is still a duty of practical caution in such relations.

The reason they seek Israel's closeness is not only that she is a successful, entrepreneurial nation with close ties to the U.S., but also the ability to be cleansed and to whitewash through partnership and friendship with the Jewish state. And that is exactly because of the Jewish people's moral duty to be cautious – i.e., because the Jews who were persecuted still took care to advance the liberal values of the Enlightenment. The duty of caution is not to corrupt anything that is of benefit to the State of Israel, and that is precisely the aura that the Jewish state enjoys because of the actions of our forefathers in the past. Let us not damage it – neither with Brazil, nor with Hungary."

Ends…

 

ISRAEL STORMING ARAB COUNTRIES: Yoni Ben-Menachem on News1 claims the PA is deeply frustrated by the success of formal Israeli visits to Gulf states. The Palestinian problem is no longer the most pressing priority for the Arab world, which fears Iran and sees Israel as a new ally.

"Senior officials in the Palestinian Authority say that during this past week Israel has been carrying out a diplomatic offensive on the Gulf states in order to begin acclimatizing them to the idea of normalization before reaching an agreement with the Palestinians on a solution to the conflict.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made a public visit in Oman and will be followed there by Minister Yisrael Katz. Minister Miri Regev joined a Judo delegation to Abu Dhabi, another sports delegation embarked to Qatar, and Minister Ayoub Karra went to an international media conference in Dubai. The next country on Israel's list is Bahrain. This is the background for understanding the statements made by Bahrain's foreign minister, who publicly defended the ruler of Oman for inviting the prime minister to visit his country. Netanyahu said on October 28 that there will be more visits to Arab countries.

The scene of the Israeli flag openly raised in Abu Dhabi, when the Israeli Judo delegation won two gold medals and the national anthem 'Hatikva' was played, only strengthens the Palestinian feeling that Israel has attained an important diplomatic achievement by demonstrating its presence in Arab countries as just another country from the region, instead of a 'hostile political entity'.

These Arab states do not object to Israel and even welcome it. A senior Palestinian official avows that Israel has managed to skip over most of the articles of the Arab peace initiative, directly to the last section dealing with normalization. It has begun normalizing relations with the Arab states, delaying to later the attempt to achieve a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has succeeded in persuading several Arab countries to accept his political approach, and he is aided by two important developments: The growing danger to the Gulf states from Iran, and the unprecedented political support he is receiving from President Trump in everything related to normalization with Arab states.

The political offensive with the Gulf states is taking place without any country mentioning the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the American embassy to it, or the low-intensity war on the border of the Gaza Strip for the past seven months. Israel's settlement in the West Bank is also no longer mentioned. The moment the Trump administration, unlike the Obama administration, removed this issue from its agenda, the Arab world began to get used to it. The Palestinians fear is that the Gulf states are beginning to get used to the new Israeli policy, which as far as they are concerned is the beginning of the execution of the ideas that appear in President Trump's American peace plan, dubbed 'the deal of the century'.

Israel has no diplomatic relations with any Arab country other than Egypt and Jordan. Egyptian President Sisi agreed to a public meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the sidelines of last month's UN General Assembly debate. Behind the scenes there are security and intelligence ties with several Arab countries. All this openness in the relations of Arab countries with Israel is taking place prior to the new sanctions President Trump is planning to impose on Iran in November.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas' mistake was misreading regional developments. The Palestinian problem no longer tops the Arab world's agenda. It is the Iranian danger that is most worrisome to the Arab countries, who are beginning to regard Israel as their natural ally rather than an enemy. At this stage the Israeli political concept is winning. As long as the Israeli government does not make any mistakes regarding its policy toward the West Bank and Gaza, the Trump administration will also adopt its point of view.

According to senior Fatah officials, in recent months the PA has sought out the Trump administration to see if there is any way of ending the rift between the PA and the administration, declared by 'Abbas after Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The secret contacts were held by Majed Faraj, Mahmoud 'Abbas' confidante, in meetings with advisor Jared Kushner and billionaire Ron Lauder. But so far they have failed to yield positive results. The very existence of these contacts indicates that 'Abbas is searching for a way to get off his high horse, following harsh criticism of his handling of the situation by the Fatah leadership, and fear that President Trump will try to impose his peace deal on the Palestinians, following the unilateral steps he has already taken on Jerusalem and refugees.

The Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their obstinate refusal and the latest developments in Israel's conduct toward the Gulf states prove that a positive change in the Arab world can be achieved in relation to Israel. As Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Ben Alawi stated last week: 'Israel is an existing state in the region and we all understand this. Perhaps it is time to treat Israel as other countries are treated.'

Netanyahu's well-publicized visit to Oman proved that it is possible to maintain diplomatic relations with Arab countries even before reaching a political agreement with the PA. These relations are limited, but it is important that the Arab world begin to get used to them, despite Palestinian protests. Israel must continue its secret diplomatic effort to persuade other Arab countries to invite Israeli delegations to visit their capitals and slowly open to public view what is happening behind the scenes. It is very important to accustom the Palestinians and the masses in the Arab countries that Israel is not about to disappear, and that she is a fact in the Middle East that cannot be ignored."

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AMMAN KNOWS ISRAEL WILL NOT RETALIATE: Yossi Ahimeir in Maariv stresses the peace agreement is no less important to Jordan than to Israel, and King 'Abdullah is banking on Israel not to reduce the water supply, not to disrupt economic cooperation, not to take defiant action on Temple Mount, and continue to guarantee the throne's security.

"On Friday, the 24th anniversary of the peace agreement between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, the Prime Minister held a historic visit. He did not come to Amman to meet King 'Abdullah and toast the continuation of peaceful relations with the Hashemite Kingdom; He went much farther away, to the Sultanate of Oman, which lies on the Southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, facing Iran. We do not have official peace relations with Oman, but Sultan Qaboos is probably willing to cooperate with us, in the name of peace.

And thus Netanyahu proved his assertion, which he makes in every opportunity, that Israel is warming its relations with several Arab countries in an unprecedented manner, in contradiction to the worsening hostility toward us in the immediate neighborhood; on our borders with Syria and Gaza, with the encouragement of non-Arab Iran and Turkey. He also went in order to signal to Iran that: You are in Syria, we are close to you, in the Persian Gulf.

While the prime minister did not visit Jordan, other Israelis did make a visit there on Friday. They were the fighters of the 669 rescue unit, which were dispatched aboard several Israeli Air Force helicopters to rescue people trapped by the floods that hit the Eastern Dead Sea. 20 Jordanian children and hikers were killed - an understandable reason for a day of mourning in the kingdom.

Even without this heavy calamity, Jordan should not have been expected to mark the peace treaty in any special way. Quite the opposite; the anniversary is usually marked by parades of opponents of the agreement, who are also identified with the opposition to the royal family. 'Abdullah understands better than anyone that these are demonstrations against his throne that usually disperse peacefully. This year, the King found a creative solution to calm the hostile spirits, by announcing that he would not extend the lease of two Jordanian enclaves in Israel – in Naharayim and the Arava. In so doing, he only exemplified his weakness. He surrendered to the anti-Israeli mood in his kingdom, which is also finding expression in anti-Semitic speeches in his parliament and in hate articles in the local media.

How different King 'Abdullah is from his father, the brave King Hussein, who towards the end of his life signed the peace treaty and even came to Israel to console the grieving families following the abominable murder of seven girls on the Peace Island in Naharayim in 1997. In the days of Hussein, the vile murderer was placed in long-term incarceration. Today he is a free man who publicly preaches the murder of Israelis.

King 'Abdullah has not broken the rules of the game. In his view, and he is right, he did not violate the appendix to the agreement. He only announced, with his grace, a year in advance, that the lease will cease, and the territories will revert to full Jordanian ownership. Their color will also change – the green and the blossoming will return to being yellow and pallid. The main thing is that this gift will satisfy the appetites of his domestic opponents.

The royal palace understands that Israel will not retaliate against Jordan. Keeping the peace treaty is as important to the kingdom as it is to its neighbor to the West. Israel will not reduce its water supply, will not cut off economic and other forms of cooperation, will not take defiant action on Temple Mount, and will not cease to guarantee the security of the throne. Negotiations are probably already being held with the royal palace in a bid to soften the steps it has taken, with its implications for the future.

While contemplating our relations with Jordan, we can hear the sounds of Hamas' frenzied rhetoric and rocket fire on the Gaza border, and the beating of the drums of war echoing from Syria and Lebanon. The prime minister's visit to distant Oman and the complicated relationship with nearby Amman are indeed important, but let us not forget: In the Middle East everything is liquid, everything might turn against us suddenly, with a 180 degrees U-turn."

Ends…

 

NO SURPRISE FROM JORDANIAN KING: Motti Karpel in Makor Rishon asserts that the annulment of Jordan's leasing agreement indicates the essence of peace agreements with our Arab enemies, and also the short-sightedness of Israeli politicians.

"King 'Abdullah of Jordan sure does have a keen sense of humor. His decision to announce the cancellation of the leasing of the territories in Naharayim and Tzofar precisely during the anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, is a real poke in the eye of all those who seek peace. If there was anything that remained intact from Yitzhak Rabin's political legacy, it was the peace agreement with Jordan. Until this week. Now it too, like every element of the Oslo process, has begun to crack.

The cancellation of the lease does not formally harm the peace agreement with Jordan. It is fully anchored in its annexes, and the Jordanians were given full right to cancel the lease 25 years later. But the cancellation hurts something deeper: The spirit of the agreement. Wording on a piece of paper is not what makes peace. There is supposed to be a spirit of compromise, trust, acceptance, reconciliation, mutual recognition and genuine and sincere willingness from both sides to march onwards together. If these are lacking, the formal details will change nothing. This is precisely the meaning of the cancellation of the lease agreements: A blow to the spirit of the peace treaty with Jordan.

The importance of the cancellation can be underestimated and seen as marginal, but in fact it points to the essence of the peace agreements with our Arab enemies; temporary arrangements, rickety by their very nature, which have only temporary and specific value. Any such agreement, with any party, must be taken with a very big grain of salt. There is no room for celebrations like those that were held here during the joyous Oslo days, and for the feelings of euphoria and messianic tidings that spread among some sectors of our society. This does not mean that it is forbidden to sign such agreements, but it certainly does mean that it is absolutely forbidden to see them as more than what they are: A temporary political arrangement, to be measured in terms of momentary loss and benefit, and not greeted with declarations about the coming of the Messiah.

In any agreement, the parties tend to postpone many elements to future periods, 25 or even 50 years ahead. This is their way of bypassing impassable hurdles. In the proposals attempting to advance a peace agreement with the Arabs living in the Land of Israel, on the basis of the two-state solution, for example, the issue of Israeli sovereignty or security responsibility in the Jordan Valley is regularly included in the category of 'so and so years, and then we shall see'. This is just one example.

This little delusion, in which politicians and policy makers deceive themselves and the public, assumes that 25 years are beyond the dark mountains of time. Well, 25 years have passed, and anyone who thought the end could be postponed in the hope that it would never come has been proven wrong. The abrogation of the lease agreements by Jordan teaches us that we must never deny the future for the sake of the present and give up eternal assets in the name of a passing political or geo-strategic need. In any such agreement, the possibility must be taken into account that when the conditions of its signatories change, the agreement will be denied. Therefore no assets that are the bedrock of our existence should be given in return for it.

A member of one of the kibbutzim in the Beit Shean Valley, who was asked this week how he received the news of the cancellation of the lease agreements, responded with one word: 'Astonishment'. The fact that he was astonished by the cancellation of the lease agreements is in itself astonishing. The brainwashing that we have all been subjected to here, caused him to view these papers as something much more real than a temporary deal, good for the moment of signing. It did not occur to him that after 25 years the checks he received might bounce back from the bank. Only those who live in an imaginary Middle East, and not in the real world, can greet this fact with astonishment."

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TO WEAKEN HAMAS NOT TOPPLE IT: Yaniv Kubovich and Noa Landau in Haaretz contend the plan to keep Hamas in power in the Strip stems from a desire to prevent a collapse of Gaza's infrastructure.

"Political and military leaders have concluded that it would be better for Israel not to overthrow the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, officials who took part in the deliberations told Haaretz. A political source said Israel's policy on Hamas has not changed; the plan to keep the group in power in the Strip stems from a desire to prevent a collapse of Gaza's infrastructure, a problem that could harm Israel as well. Accordingly, the instructions to defense officials are to deter Hamas and weaken it, but in a way that will not put its control of Gaza at risk. Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to support efforts to reach an agreement that will restore quiet to the South.

The Israeli officials' conclusion stems from Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas' rigid stance on Gaza and the attempts to reach an agreement. 'Abbas is making it difficult to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, for example, by opposing the entry of fuel trucks financed by Qatar. Israel fears that this increases the chances of an escalation. According to the officials, 'Abbas is hoping for a flare-up because he believes that this would serve the PA in its reconciliation talks with Hamas. In the near term, he plans to increase the punitive measures against the organization, the officials say.

As a result, senior political and defense officials say Israel's talks with Hamas through intermediaries will be more effective than a process that involves the PA. Netanyahu told reporters Monday that he continues to support efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Strip. 'We are working to prevent Gaza forces getting into Israel to harm our soldiers and communities,' Netanyahu said. 'On the other hand, we are working to prevent a humanitarian crisis, which is why we are willing to accept UN and Egyptian mediation efforts to achieve quiet and fix the electricity situation.'

A political source added that 'there is no diplomatic solution with a group that wants to destroy us. The only solution is deterrence and a humanitarian solution to prevent a collapse that will end up exploding in our faces.' The source added that 'the collapse is a result of Abu Mazin's decision to cut the Gazans' funding. We were close to signing an agreement for getting back to calm, but it was scuttled by the protests at the fence Friday. They were getting fuel before, so we thought things would calm down, but then they came to the fence.'

According to political sources, Netanyahu wants to avoid a war, but that does not mean he will be able to. 'Our options are occupying Gaza, but if we had someone to give it to, we would have occupied it already,' one source said. 'And it has to be done in a way that prevents casualties. But there is no one to give it to; the Arabs do not want to hear about it, so the other option is to hit it hard without occupying it. To give us time. But actually, we are already giving them pretty hard blows.' Netanyahu is willing to take criticism because he believes he still has options to achieve quiet. 'It is not only a question of political capital, we have not exhausted all options,' the source said."

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TIME FOR ISRAELI/JORDANIAN COVERT DIALOGUE: Gilead Sher and Mor Ben-Kalifa, writing in The Institute for National Security Studies argue the profound common interests that Jordan and Israel have shared for decades may help in overcoming the abrogation of the leases, provided the crisis is handled promptly, far from the spotlight.

"King 'Abdullah II's dramatic announcement of the decision not to renew the special regime governing the areas of Zofar and Naharayim that are cultivated by Israelis is based on clause 6 in both Annex 1.B and Annex 1.C of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, which was signed on October 26, 1994. Clause 6 states:

Without prejudice to private rights of ownership of land within the area, this Annex will remain in force for 25 years, and shall be renewed automatically for the same periods, unless one-year prior notice of termination is given by either Party, in which case, at the request of either Party, consultations shall be entered into.

One year before the automatic renewal of the annex, King 'Abdullah announced that he will not renew the arrangement and will impose full Jordanian sovereignty over these areas. The two annexes to the peace treaty are identical, and relate to areas in the Naharayim/Baqura region in the North and to the Zofar region in the South, extending over about 200 and 500 acres, respectively. The complex reality in these two defined regions dictated a unique arrangement, governed by a 'special regime': Jordanian sovereignty, Israeli ownership of the land and/or agricultural cultivation of the region by Israeli farmers, and land rights that Jordan granted to Israel for renewable periods of 25 years each.

Covert relations between Israel and Jordan began in the 1950s and continued in the ensuing decades. In 1987 King Hussein and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reached an informal principles agreement during a meeting in London. This agreement focused on a process, rather than on material issues: Convening an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations, which would discuss solutions for the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian problem on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242; and the formation of joint committees, one of them for the negotiations between Israel and Jordanian-Palestinian representation. However, this agreement was torpedoed by both sides, first by Israel, in the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and then by King Hussein, who after the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987 renounced any involvement and claims to Jordanian sovereignty over the Palestinian territories. A joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation participated in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. The signing of the Oslo Declaration of Principles by Israel and the PLO in September 1993 facilitated the renewal of the covert talks between Israel and Jordan, and a year later, the peace treaty was signed at the Arava border crossing. The agreement included minor border adjustments, including special provisions relating to the agricultural areas in Naharayim and in Zofar. The agreement also included a clause whereby 'Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.'

The royal family in Amman believes that if an Israeli-Palestinian permanent arrangement is not reached in general, and in relation to the Old City of Jerusalem in particular, matters could develop into a regional conflagration and pose a serious threat to Jordan. That is why the Jordanians have been active partners at key crossroads in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and first King Hussein and subsequently King 'Abdullah attended the various agreement-signing ceremonies between Israel and the PLO, including the eighth and last agreement signed to date – the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum of September 1999.

The Israel-Jordan peace treaty has survived difficult crises over the past twenty-four years, from the murder in 1997 of seven Israeli girls in Naharayim by a Jordanian soldier, and the failed attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Mish'aal in Jordan during that same year, through the al-Aqsa intifada (2000-2005) and the violent riots on Temple Mount in 2014 and in 2017, to the murder of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli security guard from the embassy in Amman in July 2017. Jordan had no ambassador in Israel for several long periods. However, and notwithstanding the political crises over the years, numerous understandings have been signed and implemented, in relation to economics, environmental quality, trade, public health, science, culture, and agriculture. Wide scale agreements have also been signed over the last decade relating to natural gas, water, and tourism.

The Red Sea/Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project, the regional flagship venture intended initially to revive the Dead Sea, provide desalinated water to the region, generate hydroelectric energy, and develop the agriculture and tourism industries - is not progressing as planned on Israel's part. For its part, Jordan announced that it is proceeding independently with the project, and accused Israel of undermining the regional cooperation. The Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli Jericho Corridor for Peace and Prosperity Initiative demonstrates efforts to promote an 'economic foundation for regional peace,' and is supposed to be a key component of the efforts to develop Palestinian industry in the West Bank. The Jordan Gateway project, a joint Israeli-Jordanian industrial zone spanning the river that is a natural border between the two countries in the Emek Hamaayanot region, is based on a free trade principle between both countries and the United States. It was agreed upon in 1998, but the bridge on the Israeli side was completed only during the summer of 2018, and the development works at the site will only begin in the near future.

As for security, both countries continue to cooperate fully along the peaceful border between them. Military and police weapons and equipment deals are carried out with the support and assistance of the United States away from public eye, and both armies maintain regular cooperation in relation to training. Nevertheless, Jordan considers the Israeli-Palestinian political deadlock and Israel's continued control over the West Bank as a substantive strategic threat. As long as the status quo continues and no progress is made toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Jordanians are concerned about expulsions of Palestinians to Jordanian territory. Prince Hassan, King Hussein's brother, once called this potential contingency a 'demographic aggression.'

Jordan is battling a poor, tense socio-economic situation, which derives inter alia from the enormous systemic economic, infrastructure, political, and social burden imposed on it by the more than one million refugees (some assess their number at 1.5 million, while the United Nations cites 760,360 refugees), the majority of whom fled from Syria, with some from Iraq and Yemen. Furthermore, the financial support from the Gulf states has diminished in recent years, and in 2017, Jordanian unemployment reached 18 percent, the highest level in 25 years. About one quarter of all college graduates are unemployed. The recession in Jordan is palpable as a result of the steadily rising prices of basic consumer goods and the drastic hikes in income tax and in corporate tax. In May 2018, The Economist ranked Amman as the most expensive city in Arab countries and 28th among cities globally.

As a result of the economic hardships in Jordan, there has been a surge in protests against the royal family over the last six months. In June, these protests intensified and spread to the major cities. Unlike most of the previous events, during these protests the demonstrators did not cover their faces. At the same time, deterrence by the security forces has eroded significantly. In response, in June King 'Abdullah dismissed Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, and replaced him with Dr. Omar al-Razzaz, an economist and the Minister of Education, with the hope that he will generate a shift in public sentiments.

The prevailing assumption is that the demonstrations are political, and many argue that they are orchestrated by political opposition factions in the kingdom. These factions also point an accusing finger at Israel, given both its behavior toward Jordan and its policy toward the Palestinians, and this assignment of blame is supported by elements in the Jordanian government and establishment. Even Trump's peace initiative (despite the fact that it has not yet been officially presented or made public) is perceived by the Jordanian government – both the King and government officials – as a potential threat to the kingdom's security, and sweeping opposition to Trump's initiative is voiced both on the Jordanian street and in the media.

Closely related issues are Jordan's honor and authority regarding its border with Israel. Demonstrators in Amman demanded that the lands in both enclaves be returned to Jordan. In August, Marwan al-Muasher, the former Jordanian ambassador to Israel and to the United States, former foreign minister, and deputy prime minister, published a lengthy article against the Trump initiative in the daily al-Rai, and called for Jordan to institute a series of measures, including 'the adoption of a resolution by the Jordanian government and parliament not to renew the lease agreement for al-Baqura lands [Naharayim]. No one in the international community will be able to claim that this constitutes a breach of the peace treaty, since Jordan is vested with the full right not to renew this agreement.'

The more vehement the demonstrations became – which were not solely about economic issues – the more intense public pressure targeted King 'Abdullah to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel altogether, with particular focus on the lands used by Israel. Of the 130 members of the Jordanian parliament, 87 signed a petition to terminate the special regime in these areas and restore Jordan's full sovereignty over them.

The current crisis could likely have been prevented, had Israel instituted a wise and forward-looking policy and thereby avoided this surprise political move that jeopardizes the future of Israeli farmers. Now that it has materialized, this crisis will hopefully not constitute a watershed in the bilateral relations. Israel and Jordan have proven in the past that they are capable of overcoming complex developments and resolving disagreements. The profound mutual interests between the countries are numerous – relating to economy, homeland security, water supply, agriculture, and of course regional security.

The peace treaty itself contains a mechanism for consultations, and these should begin immediately, at the outset of this one-year notification period, rather than once again sitting by idly. Both sides are interested in maintaining the peace treaty. Consequently, the threats made by Israeli government ministers to punish Jordan for the step that it took are both illogical and irresponsible. However, as the King will likely not retract his decision, Israel must focus on negotiations and preparations to end Israeli use of these areas - by negotiating an extension of the transition period, accommodating alternative solutions for the Israeli farmers, and determining the rate of compensation to be paid to Israel. This is a serious problem that must be handled through judicious dialogue that is independent of domestic political considerations and – most importantly – takes place far from the spotlight."

Ends…