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Israel - Jordan Relations

Security cooperation with Jordan is the "main pillar" of Israel's security, although Israeli-Jordanian ties are "peace with the regime, not the people." The Jordanian-Israeli security relationship remains robust while political relations are deeply troubled. Israel's failure to halt settlement expansion or make serious efforts to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank had left Jordan questioning Israel's commitment to peace with the Palestinians. Jordan is not going to continue watching quietly as its interests get trampled by Israel's refusal to move forward with the Palestinians.

On October 26, 1994, leaders of Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty at Wadi Araba ending the formal state of war between the two countries. Ten years later, the treaty remains the centerpiece of Jordan's security strategy. Peace along Jordan's border with Israel and the West Bank has been the basis of the stability Jordan has enjoyed during the last decade. Just as important, strong cooperation between Jordanian and Israeli security forces has repeatedly helped thwart potential terrorist threats to both countries. Pragmatic Jordanian thinkers affirm this view.

The treaty defined the borders of the Jordanian state and cemented its legitimacy. Not only do the two sides work together closely on border security, but counter-terrorism cooperation is exceptional, having led to the capture of numerous cross-border infiltrators in the last several years. The peace treaty helped define Jordan as a state and made more Israelis acknowledge that "Jordan is Jordan, not Palestine." The treaty reinforced the same point for East Bankers and Jordanian-Palestinians. A solid security arrangement and clearly defined borders weaken the arguments of Israeli hard-liners advocating the Jordan "transfer" option for Palestinians, while giving Jordan an avenue through which to advocate its interests. Robust military-to-military relations between the two countries, largely insulated from political disputes, further enhance Jordanian security.

The peace treaty has been a boon to Jordan's economy. Strong U.S. commitment for the treaty led to forgiveness of $700 million in Jordanian debt and an increase in assistance to the point that Jordan is now one of the leading recipients of U.S. aid in the world. USAID programs have helped restructure and liberalize the Jordanian economy, setting the stage for accelerated growth. The number of foreign tourists visiting Jordan, though down from its peak in 2000, is up significantly from pre-treaty levels. And the landmark U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement should continue to boost investment and commerce in the country -- helping to anchor this moderate, stability-minded, pro-U.S. regime despite regional turmoil.

Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs), a product of the peace treaty, provide another engine of economic growth. The QIZs in Jordan -- based on a requirement for Israeli content in Jordanian goods that then qualify for quota-free and duty-free access to the U.S. market -- grew from annual exports of $18 million in 1998 to over $560 million in 2003. The QIZs are an important source of jobs. About 60 factories manufacture products for export directly to the U.S., giving steady employment to over 36,000 line workers (the number grows to over 40,000 in high season). Approximately 45% of these jobs are held by Jordanians, with the rest filled by foreign (mostly South Asian) workers. Other factories subcontracting work to QIZ exporters employ several thousand more, while backward linkages to Jordanian companies that provide goods and services to QIZs -- such as construction, catering, and maintenance -- account for yet more employment. Due to the QIZs, relations between Israeli and Jordanian business persons are solid and expanding. In the first seven months of 2004, Israel exported about $100 million in goods to Jordan -- less than half of this sum was to QIZs. The value of Jordanian exports to Israel for the same period totaled $60 million, up 15% from 2003.

Despite the benefits Jordan enjoys from its relations with Israel, formal diplomatic relations between the two states are rocky, with the GOJ often feeling slighted or ignored by the GOI. Israel's Ambassador similarly has a litany of perceived and real slights. "There is no question but that we are facing today a difficult political relationship," stated outgoing Foreign Minister Muasher in a 2004 interview with Israeli daily Haaretz. "When we signed the treaty in '94, we had expected 2004 to be a totally different era in the Middle East." Jordan held off returning its ambassador to Tel Aviv, and one reason is GOJ inability to obtain the release of several Jordanians jailed in Israel for pre-treaty killings. The fact that Hizballah was able to negotiate the release of its prisoners is an embarrassment for the Jordanian government. It is regularly assailed in the press by kin of the detainees and by the Islamist opposition for its inability to aid the Jordanian prisoners.

A prime advantage of the treaty for most East Bankers was that it permanently would bury the concept of Jordan as Palestine. For may Jordanian-Palestinians, signature of the treaty evoked complex emotions but also offered the hope that with basic issues of Jordan's relations with Israel and Palestine put to rest by the treaty, their own status in Jordan could be regularized and improved. Unfortunately, in the absence of a resolution of peace process final status issues for Palestine, issues of national identity continue to bedevil Jordanian politics. Comments by Likud hard-liners in Israel that "Jordan is Palestine" still turn stomachs in Amman, while public statements by PM Sharon advisor Dov Weisglass stoked GOJ fears that Israel is not serious about a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. "When Weisglass says that Israel's aim is to freeze the peace process and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, we have to take this very seriously," Muasher told the Israeli press. "The prospect of killing the two-state solution is threatening the interests not only of the Palestinians, but of Jordan as well." Uncertainty on these points continue to play into the hands of East Bank hard-liners who are reluctant to move forward on expectations that with Jordan once and forever disconnected from Palestine, it was safe to begin to enfranchise fully Palestinian-Jordanians.

Outside the government, sentiment on the street toward Israel is uniformly negative. A continued diet of television images of destruction and death in the West Bank/Gaza, along with press editorials slamming Israel as, for example, "an extremist and deformed society," help keep such anti-Israel feelings among Jordanians strong. Widespread public opinion sees little positive in Jordan's peace treaty with Israel. Israel's disrespect for Jordan's interests has become particularly clear and Israel takes its relationship with Jordan for granted. Many expect popular views of Israel to grow even more critical the longer the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues. Israelis have a hard time understanding that there will not be a real, warm peace between the two countries until the Palestinian issue is resolved.

Many Jordanians, influenced by anti-Israel sentiment, dismiss the benefits Jordan derives from its relations with Israel or regard them as insufficient to justify cooperation with a state they see as oppressing the Palestinian people. Because the strong security relationship works behind the scenes, Jordanians do not naturally identify this as a plus. On an economic level, the benefits of the treaty have not been as significant as the GOJ or the Jordanian populace had (unrealistically) anticipated. Vocal anti-normalization campaigners have prompted many Jordanians outside the business sector to dismiss the positive impact of the QIZs and to claim that they do not create "good" jobs. Some also ask where are the railway systems, electricity grids and dozens of other projects that Israel promised Jordan at publicized meetings in Casablanca and Amman. Shimon Shamir, Israel's first ambassador to Jordan, was quoted in Israeli daily Haaretz as saying that peace with Jordan should have been a "display window" for the Arab world, but "from Jordan's perspective, disappointment is the main motif of this peace."

Many Jordanians opposed the signing of a peace treaty independent of a resolution to the Palestinians' final status issues. The treaty failed to define the "national identity" of Jordanians vs. Palestinians as had been hoped. The Jordanian government was in a weaker position domestically and regionally due to overarching sentiment against cooperation with Israelis. A few commentators have speculated that peace with Israel hurt the cause of political pluralism and reform in Jordan. They assert that in order to defend its relations with Israel from popular opposition, the GOJ has stifled public dissent and clamped down on Islamists and other groups challenging its policies toward the Jewish state.

The hope was that Jordan, reassured about its border and territorial integrity, would turn to internal political reform. While there have been many reasons for the slow progress on this front, it is true that failure to reach a permanent two state solution provides tensions and pretexts blocking moves toward strong Jordanian-Palestinian representation in parliament and government. However, critics overlook the prospect that without a peace treaty, Jordan would hardly have had a security or economic climate conducive to liberalization. Jordan's "peace camp" -- made up of activists, academics, and business people enthused by the possibilities after the treaty -- has gone to ground. Few want to risk their reputations by speaking out in favor of the peace treaty.

Despite diplomatic squabbles and deep concern over Israeli intentions in the West Bank/Gaza, the GOJ has never regretted its strategic choice for peace and remains committed to its relationship with Israel. The benefits resulting from the Wadi Araba treaty, while invisible to some, are clear to the palace and ruling elite. However, years of intifada made it ever more difficult to justify to Jordanians the GOJ-GOI relationship.

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Page last modified: 22-03-2019 04:00:18 ZULU