HomeFeatured Blogs20 Years of Jordan, Israeli Peace: Palestine Still A Deal Breaker

20 Years of Jordan, Israeli Peace: Palestine Still A Deal Breaker

Twenty years after Israel and Jordan signed a historic peace agreement, the absence of progress toward an independent Palestinian state continues to weigh heavily on ties between the two Middle East neighbors.

Widespread public sentiment in Jordan to downgrade relations over Israeli policy for the Palestinians makes it awkward for government officials to openly embrace Israel.

But at a Tel Aviv ceremony marking the treaty anniversary on Sunday, Jordanian Ambassador Walid Obeidat touted the countries’ recent economic cooperation, marking rare candor from a Jordanian government official about the upside of normalization for the Hashemite kingdom at a time most remain mum.

“This 20th year of the peace treaty has witnessed the advancement of major projects that ultimately serve the advancement of bilateral and regional interests,” the Jordanian ambassador said at a ceremony with Israeli and U.S. officials at the Yitzhak Rabin Center.

Hailing a December 2013 agreement to share water between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians as a “promising project”, the ambassador said the deal will satisfy the water needs of all three neighbors. He also highlighted agreements by companies this year to import natural gas from Israel’s off-shore reserves.

Cooperation on energy, he said, “undoubtedly” would advance peace. Critics of the deal in Jordan, meanwhile, have said the government was not being forthcoming on the terms, and that it could give Israel too much sway over the kingdom.

Though the two countries have cooperated quietly on security for decades, friction between the neighbors is common. Last week King Abdullah likened Israel far-right vigilantes to the Islamic State, a comparison that offended many Israelis. Jordan was outraged by the killing of a judge at a border crossing earlier this year by Israeli security forces.

Indeed, the Jordanian ambassador also issued some stark warnings about the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, saying that it hurt Jordanian interests and would have “severe” fallout for regional stability – pointing to the recent Gaza war as an example.

Mr. Obeidat called for a halt in Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, saying that it called into question whether Israel was negotiating in good faith for a peace deal. “Settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be halted to validate that negotiations are serious,” he said.

Tourists pose for a picture in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The ambassador also expressed concern about the Old City of Jerusalem – where Jordan has a legal status enshrined in the peace treaty as a custodian of Muslim holy sites. He said efforts by members of Israel’s government coalition to change the religious status quo at the plaza known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount “must be stopped.”

Efforts by Jewish religious activists to push the government to allow them more access and prayer rights on the Temple Mount have spurred calls by Palestinians to “defend” the mosques, a factor in the recent turmoil in the city.

“If allowed to continue, it will ultimately imperil the treaty. This adversely affects peace efforts, and regional stability, and fuels tension, and feed extremism” Mr. Obeidat warned. The Israeli prime minister got the message, and on Monday responded, saying Israel has “no intention whatsoever” to change the religious status quo on the Temple Mount.

Finally, Mr. Obeidat also seemed to pour cold water on a recent call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Arab countries in the Persian Gulf to boost normalization with Israel as a way to promoting Israeli–Palestinian peace at a later date.

Despite the Israel-Jordanian economic projects, normalization with Arab states elsewhere in the region would not come before the Palestinians get full sovereignty, the ambassador said. A comprehensive peace deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors, he said, will have to wait for progress on the two-state solution.

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(via WSJ Blogs)

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