Jordanians feel cheated by treaty

As the Jordan-Israel peace treaty marks its fourteenth anniversary today, the sense of optimism that prevailed when the late King Hussein signed the deal has faded.

American President Bill Clinton, center, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Salam Majali, right, sign the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan during signing ceremony at the Wadi Araba, on the Israel-Jordan border crossing, near Eliat, Oct. 26, 1994. The treaty brings to an end a 46 year state of war between the two countries. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, stands second from left at back and King Hussein of Jordan is fifth from left. Others in the picture are American, Israeli and Jordanian government representatives. (AP Photo/Staff/Nightswander)
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AMMAN // As the Jordan-Israel peace treaty marks its fourteenth anniversary today, the sense of optimism that prevailed when the late King Hussein signed the deal has faded. Many Jordanians remain overwhelmingly opposed to it mostly because the so-called fruits of peace - economic prosperity and stability in the region - have not materialised. Projects that Israelis and Jordanians envisaged such as a joint airport in the port city of Aqaba in southern Jordan have not been built.

Politically, King Abdullah is not convinced that Israel is serious about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ties between both countries are cool at best. "The anniversary of the treaty has turned into a nightmare upsetting Jordan," wrote Fahed Kheitan, an editor and columnist with the independent daily Arab Elyawm. "Jordanian officials are disappointed with Israel, and we no longer hear in political circles any positive views about Israel."

Jordan was the second Arab country, after Egypt, to sign a peace treaty with Israel following secret negotiations with the Jewish state. It enabled Jordan to come out of isolation from the West and many Arab countries because of its perceived support for Saddam's regime during the 1991 Gulf war. But the Palestinian issue continues to overshadow Israeli-Jordanian relations. "As long as there is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the public cannot accept peace with Israel," said Omar Rifai, who served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel between 1996 and 2000.

Mr Rifai, also a former Jordanian representative to the Arab League, said: "Peace in our region is like the four legs of a chair; with the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Lebanese and Egyptians. But the chair is wobbly." Nassar Habasheh, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: "The Palestinian cause is directly linked to us, and therefore Jordan continues to play a pivotal role to push for the two-state solution."

King Abdullah has publicly questioned Israel's intentions in the process on several occasions, most recently in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "Israel has to decide whether it wants to keep its future as fortress Israel or if it wants to engage in the Muslim and Arab worlds," he told the paper earlier this month. He said the Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by Arab leaders in the 2002 Beirut summit, provides a genuine opportunity for a peace settlement that guarantees the Palestinian people's right to an independent state and Israel's acceptance by 57 states - one third of the United Nations' member states.

While the Arab peace plan has been in place, "I have not heard of an Israeli peace plan," King Abdullah said. Even after 14 years of peace between Jordan and the Jewish state, there are continued calls, mostly by Jordan's vocal Islamists, political activists and professional associations, to renege on the treaty. The activists organised a conference yesterday in protest against the peace deal. "Our motto is to cancel the treaty, and we continue to call for expelling the Israeli ambassador from Jordan," said Badi al Rafiah, head of the anti-normalisation committee at the Jordan Professional Associations.

"The public still rejects the treaty and refuses to normalise with the Zionist enemy," he said. For Jordan, solving the Palestinian issue is much in its own self-interest, not only because half of its population of 5.8 million is of Palestinian origin, but also Jordan's long-term survival hinges on a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Fears are rife within political circles over Israeli ambitions to solve the conflict at the expense of Jordan. Israeli right wing politicians promote a Jordanian option known as the alternative homeland that suggests that Jordan is the Palestinian homeland.

"Each time the Israelis build a settlement, it displaces Palestinians out of the West Bank and this causes a problem for Jordan ? We have problems with Israel that are related to the peace process itself, and the daily Israeli practices against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza," said Fayez Tarawneh, a former prime minister, and the former head of the Jordanian delegation to the Israeli-Jordan peace talks.

The Kingdom for years has opposed this option because it threatens its national sovereignty. But a recent notion in Israeli circles is not helping matters, either. Israel, according to analysts, wants Jordan to have a role in the West Bank to oversee the security situation. "What the Israelis are calling for is basically dragging Jordan into having a role in the West Bank. This means Jordanians will be in charge of whatever happens in the West Bank by default," said Fares Braizat, deputy head at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. "So Jordan, according to this scenario, will act as a party who provides security for the Israelis.

"Given the Israeli rethinking about this project, the peace treaty is not regarded seriously in Israel. Israel is disrespecting the treaty."