Jordan hits back over Jewish land claims

The two nations signed a peace treaty in 1994 and Jordanian law does not prevent foreigners from buying land in special zones.

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AMMAN // Documents that prove Jewish ownership of property purchased in Jordan during the Ottoman rule do not have any legal standing, a Jordanian minister said in an attempt to allay public concerns over a plan by an extremist right-wing Israeli group to expand settlements beyond the West Bank, into Jordan. "Selling lands to foreigners is governed by a strict and meticulous legislation," the minister of state for media affairs and communications, Nabil Sharif, said.

The minister's statements come as The Israel Land Fund, which has bought land and dozens of houses in occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, announced plans to bring Jews from European countries to purchase Jewish property in Jordan since the government here does not allow Israelis to buy property. "There are thousands of Jewish properties in Jordan which were purchased during the Ottoman era and under the British mandate" which ended when Jordan became independent in 1946, the fund's chairman Arieh King told Agence France-Presse.

"We have records of the ownership," he added. Jordan sequestered most Jewish-owned land following the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. But according to Mr Sharif, a land settlement law enacted in Transjordan in 1933 cancelled all ownerships registered under Ottoman rule. "The documents do not have any legal value," he said. Jordan and Israel are bound by a peace treaty signed in 1994 and there are no articles in Jordanian law that ban Israelis from purchasing land.

Foreigners are allowed to purchase land in the kingdom within specially-zoned areas, provided that their home country permits reciprocal treatment. Israel, however, does not allow Jordanians to buy property within its borders. "We are [confident] that our laws are capable of confronting any situation," Mr Sharif said. Foreigners who seek to purchase land in Jordan require several official approvals, starting with the ministry of finance and ending with the security services.

For analysts, attempts by the Israel Land Fund to purchase property in Jordan did not come as a surprise. "It reflects the right-wing Likud policy to [solving] the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the expense of Jordan," said Adnan Hayajneh, a professor of political science at the Hashemite University in Zarqa. Others see it as part of an Israeli project to control Jordan. "This is part of Israel's interests ? Israelis believe from a religious point of view that Jordan is part of their country," said Badi al Rafiah, head of the anti-normalisation committee at the Jordan Professional Associations.

"The attack on Jordan [has become] more evident, whether in terms of statements or actions." In May, statements made by Arieh Eldad, a member of the far-right National Union Party in the Knesset, that Jordan should serve as an alternative Palestinian state, sparked fury in the kingdom. Jordan advocates a two-state solution, but Israel, many politicians say, continues to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr Sharif condemned the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that Jerusalem would remain the undivided capital of Israel. He told the state-run Petra news agency that the statements contradict "solid and well-known legal and political facts". Commenting on Israel's unilateral measures in East Jerusalem, including its demolition of Palestinian homes, the minister said: "They are an obstacle to intense international efforts towards peace, which are currently under way, foremost of which is the US push to achieve the two-state solution."