The Jordanian flag flew on Monday over two villages whose reclamation from Israel after 60 years triggered celebrations in the kingdom but also cast uncertainty over future peace between the neighbouring nations.
King Abdullah officially announced the return of full Jordanian sovereignty over Baqoura and Ghamr in the Jordan Valley during an address to parliament on Sunday and prayed from Baqoura in a visit with the military on Monday.
Jordan gave the two parcels of land on a 25-year lease to Israel after the signing of the 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty. Amid growing anti-Israel sentiment, the Jordanian government notified Israel last year that it would not be taking the option to renew the lease for another 25 years.
“This is the land of our ancestors, the land we have lived and died in and died for,” said Mohammed Al Rashid, 55, an Amman accountant who said he had heard of the “occupied” areas since he was a child. “This is what we waited for - and it is only just the beginning.”
“The Jordanian people demand this because it is a basic right we have been waiting for: a chance to tell Israeli ‘no’,” said Hibba Bani Hani, a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate. “But this is the least the government can do; let’s see the government hold Israel accountable for jailing our citizens, Palestinian women and children, and killing peaceful protesters.”
Baqoura and Ghamr had become national causes and a symbol of rising frustration among Jordanian citizens and even the governing elites over Israeli policies and a peace deal they claim has been unfulfilled on the ground.
Economic integration with the West Bank has not occurred, and water-sharing agreements violated. Potential mega-projects such as the Red-Dead canal to desalinate water and generate electricity, have been abruptly halted or shelved in recent years.
Officials and observers say the actions of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have bordered on insulting, such as the hero’s welcome for a security guard who killed two unarmed Jordanian civilians at the Israeli embassy in Amman in 2017 and the recent detention without charge of two Jordanian citizens, who were released last week after going on hunger strike.
The restrictions on entry to Al Aqsa Mosque and detention of Waqf officials administering the site, who are Jordanian government employees, are seen as not only violations of the Hashemite custodianship of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem enshrined in the peace treaty, but a direct threat to stability in Jordan.
“Peace has become frozen as Jordanians have seen no peace dividends. The government is seen by the public as appeasing Israelis without delivering anything to the people,” says Hassan Barari, political analyst and commentator on Jordanian-Israeli relations.
“This is linked to the rise of the right in Israel and the defeat of the peace camp in Jordan; now the Jordanian government sees that peace may never be realised with Israel.”
“If they don’t change course, peace with Jordan will be nothing more than a document.”
But despite the euphoria over the reclaiming of the villages, confusion persists over the issue of land rights. In Baqoura an area of 82 hectares, several farms are owned by Israelis, some of them descendants of Jewish families who have deeds and lands registered under the Trans-Jordan emirate in the 1920s. The Jordan Foreign Ministry says the 4 square kilometres of Ghamr are owned directly by the Jordanian treasury and were leased to Israel for cultivation.
As of Monday, Baqoura and Ghamr remained closed to the general public and the Jordanian foreign ministry cancelled a press trip to the areas. Both areas at the western edge of the Jordanian border are considered military zones.
According to the foreign ministry, as per an arrangement with Israel, Israeli farmers will be able to obtain visas at the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv and enter only once crops are ready for harvesting - a period of two-to-three months- but they will no longer enjoy the tax and legal exemptions granted previously.
“We remain committed to complying with our legal commitments under international and Jordanian law, which includes respecting private property in Baqoura,” Jordan Foreign Minister Aymen Safadi said in a presser on Monday.
For Jordanians who are against the peace treaty and demand a tougher stance on Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands, the move is just the beginning.
“You will see many more Jordanians feel encouraged to take part and promote anti-normalisation activities in the future,” said Oraib Rantawi, analyst and director of the Amman-based Al Quds Centre for Political Studies.
“Less and less people believe in the peace process and now they will be emboldened to demand a new approach with Israel.”