Middle East Roundtable
Edition 39 Volume 7 - October 29, 2009
Jordan-Israel peace after 15 years
• Trickier than meets the eye - Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
What political capital did this treaty leave behind to cover the cost of peace with Syria and the Palestinians?
• Deep frustration in Jordan - Smadar Perry
We could have done a lot better.
• Walking a thin line - Rana Sabbagh-Gargour
The opponents of the peace treaty feel their skepticism has been vindicated.
• Cold peace - Ziad Abu Zayyad
Jordan's dream of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the region has faded.
Trickier than meets the eye
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
It is easy for peaceniks to praise the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty; it expanded the circle of peace to a second major Arab state, legitimized much-valued cooperation between two neighbors and passed the tests of Jordanian succession and Palestinian intifada. Rejectionists find it equally easy to criticize the treaty, using the same arguments but with an opposite spin. Both focus on what meets the eye; but a closer look at the 1994 treaty reveals a trickier aspect. Although it created a solid Israeli-Jordanian peace, the treaty has for all practical purposes impeded progress toward broader Arab-Israel reconciliation.
Peace with Jordan was easy for Israel. In a sense, the two neighbors "grew up" together. The leaders on both sides understood, even if they sometimes ignored, each other's constraints. They clashed only under severe pressure, as was the case over Jerusalem in 1948 and in the 1967 war. But even then, they tried to find ways to limit the damage to their co-existence. Since Jordan dropped its West Bank claims--thanks to the PLO's shortsightedness--there have been no major Jordanian claims to territories controlled by Israel. Peace with Jordan, therefore, came at almost no territorial cost to Israel and, consequently, at little domestic political cost. For an Israeli prime minister, peace with Jordan was a dividend, not an expenditure.
But this is precisely the problem with the 1994 treaty, because the same cannot be said for Jordan. Although keen on peace with Israel, recognizing Israel publicly and flying its flag in Amman was certainly not a politically lucrative position for its king. Declaring an end of conflict with Israel while the latter occupied Palestinian territories didn't resonate with Jordan's Palestinian majority. Even the two issues that King Hussein had a claim on--Jerusalem's Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian refugees--were practically ignored by the 1994 peace treaty. Only Hussein's statesmanship could see this treaty through in Jordan.
All this could have been a petty calculation; who got more than the other out of a peace deal is of little interest. But the treaty raised a more fundamental question: what political capital did it leave behind to cover the cost of peace with Syria and the Palestinians?
Toward the end of 1993, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin faced a choice between pursuing a costly path to peace with Syria and tapping the Jordanian dividend right away. All those who wanted broad Arab-Israel reconciliation, including the Clinton administration, urged him to move on the Syrian track first. Progress on the Syrian track was expected to be politically costly for Rabin, but key to comprehensive peace. For Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the Israeli choice to make peace with Jordan meant that Rabin was bent on isolating Syria in order to ignore it or force it to accept a humiliating deal. A friendlier interpretation, by American officials, saw in Rabin's choice a sign of political weakness: an easy way out of the required territorial concession on the Golan. Either way, Rabin's choice was a bad omen.
It was ominous because it confirmed what Arab leaders feared; that their Israeli counterparts are unable to muster enough political support to make the difficult decisions needed for peace. Rabin's choice in the fall of 1993 recalled PM Menachem Begin's choice in the fall of 1977.
Back then, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat created an opening for possible Arab-Israel reconciliation. Begin and his Likud crowd, however, were in no mood to relinquish their "promised land". They grabbed the opportunity to reach a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty while carefully closing the window on broader Arab-Israel reconciliation, the price of which would be withdrawal from the Golan and the West Bank. Sadat tried to create a link between the two tracks, with support from US President Jimmy Carter. But Begin stood his ground. Faced with a choice between failure and bilateral peace, both Sadat and Carter chose the latter. Begin won the battle, but obviously Arab-Israel peace lost out.
Bilateral peace treaties do not "grow" into broader peace. Begin used one to avoid a broader and more costly peace. Rabin used another as a respite; as an additional resource to face the costs of the 1993 Oslo shock. Rabin wasted the Jordanian dividend and undermined his own ability to pay the political cost of withdrawal from the Golan or Palestine.
Peace with Jordan was an immediate gratification Rabin couldn't resist. But in doing so, he depleted his own "peace accounts" and undermined his ability to pursue the difficult peace path with Syria and the PLO. The easier peace with Jordan was achieved at the expense of broader Arab-Israel peace and was not a prelude to it. Deferred gratification is a virtue of those who think about the future of their children; this does not usually include politicians.- Published 29/10/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is a distinguished visiting lecturer at the American University in Cairo. He worked as an advisor to the UN envoy to the ME peace process (2001-2004) and to the Egyptian foreign minister (2005-2007).
Deep frustration in Jordan
It's mainly a sour sensation. On the street in Jordan, people ask angrily and sincerely why Jordan ever bothered signing a peace agreement with Israel. And on the Israeli street, people wonder why this peace agreement, which was meant to be special and to constitute a leading example for other Arab states like Lebanon, the Gulf emirates and Morocco, never managed to take off. Well, maybe it got a little bit off the ground, but then it landed with a bang. When, on the Israeli side, we assess the situation on the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, the impression is not only sour but, more to the point, there is a sense of missed opportunity. A process destined to generate great things fizzled from the very beginning.
We could have done a lot better. With a little forethought and vision we could have turned Aqaba and Eilat into twin cities generating a long list of cooperative ventures and economic benefits: a shared seaport and airport, the latter hosting tourist flights that keep the hotels filled all year long. Eilat and Aqaba are only 20 minutes apart by car, the Israeli port is overflowing and Aqaba offered to host its cargo ships. The site for a shared airport has even been selected, but the Israeli side has dragged its feet for reasons that to this day are not clear.
What do we have? Some 200 Jordanians cross the border daily to work in Eilat. That's almost it. This is neither normalization nor the "special" kind of peace promised by the late King Hussein. The peace process stopped before it could even begin to bloom, just months after the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.
Here we recall the words of King Hussein in his touching eulogy to Rabin in Jerusalem: "I lost a partner," Hussein said of his friend. The human dimension, a vital element even in relations between former enemies, has faded away. The telephones don't ring, meetings are few and far between and the human gestures that set the tone on the streets have followed suit and disappeared.
Yes, there are security ties. Intelligence and security warnings are definitely exchanged. On both sides of the border they have found strategic common denominators and the precise terminology for managing them. We have not yet heard just how many Israeli lives the Jordanians have saved over the years. But who cares?
Dry statistics tell the story of lost expectations. On the eve of the peace-signing ceremony at the Arava border crossing, 82 percent of the Jordanian population (including Palestinians) supported the agreement and praised at length the planned economic and other cooperation. This week, 15 years later, 80 percent of Jordanians (mainly Palestinians) demand to cancel the agreement, expel the Israeli ambassador and "erase the little that has been achieved and everything that was promised". Israelis, it emerges, are experts at making promises no one bothers to keep.
Yet when we examine all the missed opportunities, it turns out Israelis are not the only ones to blame. Take for example the issue of visas. An Israeli desiring to pop over to Jordan boards a plane or a bus and buys a visa at the border or the airport in Amman. In the other direction, nearly every Jordanian of Palestinian origin is suspect in Israeli eyes of vanishing inside Israel and following in the footsteps of thousands who have already exercised their "right of return" or simply sought work in the Arab sector in Israel. Hence what awaits a Jordanian visitor--and their numbers are dwindling--is an exhausting bureaucratic experience: standing in line at the entrance to the Israeli consulate, presenting a bank statement and family history, being over 65 or 70 years old and mainly, arming himself with patience. "Popping over to eat fish at the Sea of Galilee or humus in Acre" is out of the question.
Above and beyond all this, there is deep frustration at the highest levels in Jordan that no one on the Israeli side takes the trouble to pick up the phone occasionally, to maintain an atmosphere of partnership, to think together what to do about Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and how to deal with Hamas, to make decisions together, to avoid surprises. In Amman, all eyes are focused on regional sources of tension. In Jerusalem, everyone looks mainly toward Washington. That we could have been looking together in the same direction; that we have a long list of shared interests--these assets we have lost, perhaps forever.- Published 29/10/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org.
Smadar Perry is Middle East editor of the daily Yediot Aharonot.
Walking a thin line
King Abdullah is loosing patience with Israel. Israel's accelerated anti-peace policies and unilateral actions in occupied Jerusalem are embarrassing him at home and threatening Jordan's national security and stability 15 years after the two countries signed their peace treaty. The outpouring of emotion at that signing ceremony between Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein has well and truly been replaced with feelings of disappointment as bilateral ties hit rock bottom.
Like most Jordanians, Abdullah feels Israel has taken Jordan for a ride without consideration of its strategic needs or the sensitivities of its population. It is important to remember that half of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation and insist on exercising their rights to return and compensation.
The peace treaty was supposed to end the state of belligerency that existed between the two neighboring states and usher in an era of comprehensive Middle East peace. This was meant to have culminated in the creation of an independent, sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on the 1967 border with mutually agreed territorial swaps equal in size and value. Instead, successive Israeli governments have expanded settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem without addressing the Palestinian issue. Comprehensive peace remains an elusive dream.
Abdullah, who became king after the death of his father in 1999, is now absorbing one blow after another from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The personal chemistry that allowed Hussein and Rabin to pursue a vision for comprehensive peace with courage and clarity simply does not exist between Abdullah and Netanyahu.
Israel is resisting a US-led, Arab-backed comprehensive peace plan, at the heart of which is the two-state solution, a strategic goal for Jordan. Despite the treaty that recognizes Jordan's "special role" over holy Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, Israel is also pursuing aggressive unilateral actions in the divided city, to alter its Arab identity. It is excavating in and under al-Haram al-Sharif affecting the integrity of the Muslim site, impeding the work of Jordan's Awqaf teams seeking access to the site and continuing to demolish homes of the city's Palestinian residents.
These deteriorating conditions across the river are reviving the notion of Jordan as an alternative homeland for Palestinians, a long-standing right-wing Israeli dream that official Jordan had hoped was buried with the signing of the treaty. In parallel, Netanyahu is pushing for "economic peace" with the Palestinian in whatever is left of the West Bank along with greater self-rule. This is a scenario that could eventually push Jordan to enter into a confederation with that limited territory, which would destabilize Jordan's delicate demographic balance.
Regional instability, meanwhile, has turned the peace treaty into a political liability, inhibiting the government's margin of maneuver and preventing the normalization of ties between the peoples as well as governments. Today, a "cold political war" is being waged between Jordan and Israel. Their respective embassies in Amman and Tel Aviv maintain a minimum of bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade, health and water. Stronger cooperation between their security agencies helps maintain a quiet border.
Apart from rehabilitating Jordan's political ties with America, Europe and Gulf Arab states--which ruptured because Amman refused to join the military alliance that ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1991--and restoring badly-needed financial assistance, the peace treaty has not impacted the lives of ordinary Jordanians. The much-touted economic dividends that King Hussein promised his people did not materialize, except for a few joint projects here and there.
The opponents of the peace treaty thus feel their skepticism has been vindicated. The government now finds it more difficult to rein in opponents who have gone wild both in the street, the media and inside professional unions. For now, the king's strategic and political options also remain limited. Other than re-calling his ambassador in Tel Aviv for "prolonged consultation", he cannot meet popular demands to freeze the treaty and expel the Israeli envoy. The country has limited natural resources and remains heavily dependent on the treaty to nurture the political, economic and military strategic alliance with the US that Abdullah has deepened.
Jordan can neither change its strategic commitment to peace, nor count on a unified Arab and Palestinian position. Abdullah can only walk a thin line, stepping up his criticism of Netanyahu while managing public opinion, instilling gradual political reform to widen popular participation and praying that US President Barack Obama and the international community will convince Netanyahu to embrace a bigger picture.- Published 29/10/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org.
Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, an independent journalist, is former editor of the Jordan Times.
Ziad Abu Zayyad
Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the Wadi Araba peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Significantly, there were no official celebrations. Rather, frustrated and disappointed comments were relayed, even if in diplomatic tones, reflecting a high level of disillusionment. Relations between Israel and Jordan are normal but increasingly cold. Obviously, expectations of the peace treaty have not been met, yet both sides can claim they have benefitted to a certain degree from their cold peace.
The euphoria of peacemaking witnessed in 1994 did not last long. It was the Palestinians who had cleared the way for the rush to conclude an Israel-Jordan treaty, but not without a certain level of resentment. Jordanians showed a high level of support for the attempts of the Palestinian delegation in Washington to be recognized as an independent delegation rather than as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, as demanded by Israel, yet the PLO leadership opened a secret back channel in Oslo. This was viewed later as a stab in the back.
As a result of that Jordanian resentment, and motivated by Jordan's interest to achieve Israeli recognition of its borders with Israel--thus putting an end to the Israeli right wing's denial of the Palestinian right to establish a Palestinian state on part of Mandatory Palestine and its insistence that Jordan should be the Palestinian homeland--Jordan rushed to accomplish a peace treaty with Israel believing that the whole region was on the path to comprehensive peace.
It is clear that without the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles at Oslo, Jordan could not have signed its own treaty, especially not one that saw Jordan lease part of its territory in Wadi Araba to Israel, contrary to the principles established by Anwar Sadat in Egypt's treaty with Israel, i.e., that Israel should withdraw from every inch of occupied territory before it can achieve peace.
One day after the signing of the Oslo DOP in September 1993, Jordan and Israel signed a Common Agenda, defining the issues that should be negotiated to conclude a peace agreement. In October 1993, King Hussein sent Crown Prince Hassan to Washington to meet President Bill Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The parties agreed to create a bilateral economic committee and a US-Jordan-Israel Trilateral Economic Committee. In July 1994, Washington hosted the first official meeting between King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
There, Hussein and Rabin signed the Washington Declaration, formally ending the 46-year state of war between the countries. The accord included agreements on economic cooperation, telephone links, water, border crossings, tourism, air space and Jordan's relationship to holy shrines in Jerusalem. Rabin visited Jordan on August 9, 1994, the first Israeli leader officially to do so. The culmination of the many rounds of talks and agreements led to a peace treaty that was signed at the Wadi Araba crossing on October 26, 1994 and the establishment of full diplomatic relations on November 28.
The Oslo peace process opened the door not only to Jordan-Israel peace but encouraged several Arab countries to exchange missions with Israel and start a process of normalizing relations. But instead of being encouraged by these developments, Israel began to slow down the peace process while trying to enhance the normalization process, until the peace process inevitably went off the tracks.
Fifteen years later, comprehensive peace has not been achieved. Contrary to what was supposed to be the end result of the peace process, Israel now rejects a two-state solution, expanding Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, building a separation wall, creating facts on the ground to prevent any chance of creating a Palestinian state, changing the status and image of Jerusalem and making life intolerable for Palestinians in the hope that they will leave "voluntarily".
Jordan's dream of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the region has faded. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a source of tension and instability in the region. This conflict affects Jordan and its delicate social and political fabric, and has had a negative impact on Jordan-Israel relations. Increasingly, voices are calling for a freeze on relations with Israel and even of the peace agreement. Jordan's national security interests require positive developments on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Without such developments, Jordan may find itself having to make a back-to-the-wall decision to protect its social fabric and defend its national security.- Published 29/10/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org.
Ziad Abu Zayyad is co-editor of Palestine-Israel Journal, a lawyer, journalist, and a former PA minister and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.