Israel, Jordan mark 25 years of imperfect peace

Oct 25, 2019, 5:51 AM
Israelis visit the Naharayim park on Israel-Jordan border, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The Naharayim par...
Israelis visit the Naharayim park on Israel-Jordan border, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The Naharayim park opened 25 years ago as a symbol of the landmark peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. Now, as the two countries mark a quarter century of official relations, the park and its "Isle of Peace" are being shuttered.  (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

NAHARAYIM PARK, Israel (AP) — The Naharayim park was established 25 years ago as a symbol of the landmark peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. Now, as the two countries mark a quarter century of official relations, the park and its “Island of Peace” are being shuttered.

It is a fitting reflection of the Israeli-Jordanian relationship — one that began with great promise, but which has been plagued by mistrust, disappointment and missed opportunities. While the peace agreement remains intact, there is a sense on both sides that it should have delivered much bigger dividends.

“I am not certain that we gave it our full attention,” said retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who was Israel’s chief negotiator for the peace deal.

Speaking on Israeli public radio, Rubinstein said there were things Israel could do “to lend a better atmosphere” and suggested Israel show more “respect” for its eastern neighbor. He declined to elaborate.

It is a far cry from the heady times of the peace agreement, signed at an emotional ceremony on Oct. 26, 1994, attended by Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the late King Hussein and President Bill Clinton.

Following up on a historic interim peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians a year earlier, all three leaders delivered moving speeches promising warm relations and a better future.

“This is our gift to our peoples and the generations to come,” said Hussein, who died in 1999. “It will not be simply a piece of paper ratified by those responsible, blessed by the world. It will be real, as we open our hearts and minds to each other.”

Twenty-five years later, the peace agreement remains a vital strategic asset for both countries.

The deal has brought Israel much-needed quiet and a valuable partner along its longest border, while buttressing Jordan’s position as a crucial ally of the West in one of the world’s most volatile areas.

The two countries maintain close, covert security relations. Israel, a world leader in desalination, provides large quantities of water to Jordan, one of the driest countries on earth, and has agreed to sell natural gas to Jordan as well.

But the warm relations envisioned at that signing ceremony remain elusive, and in Jordan there is little public support for the agreement.

Jordan has a long list of complaints — beginning with the deep freeze in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Although Jordan has renounced any claims to these territories, which the Palestinians seek as parts of a future state, it retains deep connections.

A majority of Jordan’s population is believed to have Palestinian roots, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. Without progress on the Palestinian front, Abdullah is unable — and unwilling — to warmly embrace Israel.

Israel’s policies at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site — a hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — have also put pressure on the king.

Jordan serves as custodian of the site’s Muslim shrines. During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term, visits to the compound by right-wing Jewish groups that want to alter its status have increased, igniting clashes with Muslim worshippers and straining relations with Jordan.

Jordan also remains bitter over a 2017 incident in which an Israeli guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman shot and killed two Jordanians, saying one had tried to attack him with a screwdriver.

Netanyahu gave the guard a hero’s welcome, infuriating the Jordanians. Diplomatic relations were repaired only months later after Israel expressed “deep regret” and replaced its ambassador.

More recently, Netanyahu angered Jordan by vowing to annex the Jordan Valley — a strategic area of the West Bank along the Jordanian border.

“There is no real social and popular peace between Jordan and Israel,” said Amer Sabaileh, an independent Jordanian analyst.

He said Jordan needs “more understanding from the Israeli side” and that Israel’s approach to various issues has “put Jordan in a very difficult situation.”

Speaking at a Tel Aviv conference last month, Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Amir Weissbrod, acknowledged that relations aren’t perfect.

But he listed a long line of successes, including the water and energy cooperation, Jordan’s use of Israel’s Haifa port and an expanding program that allows hundreds of Jordanians to enter Israeli border towns to work.

Describing Jordan as a “strategic partner” and gateway to the broader Arab world, Weissbrod said: “We must try to make the utmost effort to ensure the stability and success of Jordan.”

Yet he also said there is more that Jordanian leaders could do, particularly in terms of building support among the Jordanian public.

“They can’t hide the degree of the relationship, and there are achievements to talk about,” he said.

Jordanian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Against this backdrop, Jordan last year announced that it was ending a special lease agreement under the 1994 treaty that returned two farming areas — Naharayim and Tzofar — to Jordanian sovereignty while allowing Israel continued use of the lands. Without Jordanian objections, the leases for the areas, known in Arabic as Baqura and Ghamr, would have automatically renewed.

Naharayim, located along the Jordan River in northern Israel, has become a popular tourist site. It includes a small park and picnic area, the ruins of a historic power station and the “Island of Peace,” where Israelis can briefly enter Jordanian territory without having to show their passports.

“We regard this place as part of a normalization and relationship with our neighbors from the other side of the border,” said Idan Grinbaum, head of the local regional council. He said he has sent a letter to Abdullah asking the king to reconsider but has not heard back.

The site has a painful history. In 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire at an Israeli crowd, killing seven schoolgirls on a class trip.

After the shooting, King Hussein traveled to Israel to ask forgiveness from the girls’ families. Twenty years after his death, Hussein remains a beloved figure in Israel for what was seen as a courageous act.

With the site set to revert to full Jordanian control in early November, Grinbaum said he still hopes that leaders can find a way to preserve Naharayim as a symbol of peace.

“We still think that joint projects can happen here for both countries, for the benefit of citizens in both countries,” he said. “Unfortunately, in reality things are not that simple.”


Akour reported from Amman, Jordan.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


A woman sits on the rubble as emergency rescue teams search for people under the remains of destroy...

Race to find survivors as earthquake aid pours into Turkey, Syria

The death toll has risen to above 5,300. Monday's quake and strong aftershocks hit hundreds of kilometers across southeastern Turkey and neighboring Syria.
1 day ago
quit their jobs...
PAUL WISEMAN AP Economics Writer

US added a strong 517,000 jobs in January despite Fed hikes

The Fed is aiming to achieve a "soft landing" — a pullback in the economy that is enough to tame high inflation without triggering recession.
5 days ago
Thousands of fraudulent nursing diplomas  were dispersed in Florida. (Canva)...
Associated Press via Miami Herald

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested

The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
6 days ago
Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
21 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
27 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
29 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

This article about skijoring is sponsored by the Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. Participate in Skijoring the Bear on February 20th, 2023.  What is skijoring? Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and […]
Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Israel, Jordan mark 25 years of imperfect peace