Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Jordanian official rejects 'negotiations with Israel over sovereignty' - Adi Hashmonai, Ariel Kahana, Erez Linn, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff

by Adi Hashmonai, Ariel Kahana, Erez Linn, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff

In message to Israel, Jordanian soldiers raise new flag on disputed area.

Jordanian solders raise a new Jordanian flag over the Island of Peace at Naharayim, Monday
Photo: Eyal Margolin / JINI 

A day after Jordanian King Abdullah II's announced plans to pull out of annexes from the 1994 peace agreement that allow Israel to lease Jordanian land for 25 years - which expire next year - Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the dispute can be resolved with dialogue.

Jordan's decision reflects what have become cool relations between the kingdom and Israel. Last week, Jordanians staged large protests against renewing the agriculture lease with Israel.

"We do not need to handle the problem and engage in negotiations in the media, that's for sure," Lieberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction Monday.

"We need to handle this with all the [necessary] sensitivity, in a diplomatic manner, through dialogue, and I am certain we will solve the problem," Lieberman said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also said he would try to renegotiate the lease arrangements.

But according to Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, there are currently no talks on the subject.

Safadi said there would be no negotiations with Israel over Jordanian sovereignty over the territory.

In an interview with a Jordanian news program, he said, "We have received no request from Israel for negotiations on the [enclaves that were annexed]. If they ask, we will enter into negotiations over the transfer of the territory, out of a commitment to our interests."

Abdullah Swalha, who heads the Hashemite Kingdom's Center for Israel Studies, told Israel Hayom that while the countries are now expected to enter negotiations, he reiterated his assessment that there is no chance Jordan will relinquish control over Naharayim.

At the same time, London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat reported that the reason for the decision by Jordan was its dissatisfaction with Israel's conduct regarding the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israeli farmers on Monday voiced concern over Jordan's intention not to renew parts of its landmark peace treaty with Israel that leased out two small border areas for agriculture, as Jordanians on the other side of the border welcomed the decision.

The two parcels of land are just a few square kilometers (square miles) that have been used by Israelis for decades.

Israeli citizens "ownership rights" in that territory date back to the 1920s, when Russian Jewish engineer Pinhas Rutenberg obtained a concession in British mandated Palestine to build a hydroelectric plant, whose abandoned structures are still standing.

The Jordan River area, known as Naharayim in Hebrew and Baquora in Arabic, was the scene of a shooting in 1997, when a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli schoolgirls.

A park to commemorate the slain schoolgirls was built next to the derelict power plant, in an area known as the Island of Peace.

The news that they may lose their leased agricultural fields took Israeli farmers in the Jordan River area by surprise.

Eran Baron, an Israeli farmer in the border village of Tsofar, said that farmers like him have invested lots of resources in Ghamr, a tract in the desert along Israel's southern border near Aqaba.

He said he has not yet heard of any formal change in the current arrangement, but if denied access to his crops, he said "we will not be able to survive here."

"We will be hurt by this move," said Avner Ron, a 66-year-old farmer from Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov. "We and the Jordanians have a year to study this issue. I hope we will reach some kind of outline that will enable us to continue cultivating agriculture."

While Jordan remains committed to its peace agreement, Israel's second with an Arab country, relations are limited largely to behind-the-scenes security ties and some environmental cooperation.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, resident Jehad Mahmoud Abu Gosh praised the king's decision.

"Maybe Israel will not like it but this decision is very good. These are Jordanian lands and they are back to us. So it gives us hope and now we have something for us," he said.

On Monday, Jordanian soldiers were seen raising a new Jordanian flag on the Island of Peace.

"For years, this [Jordanian] position had as flag, but it was torn and faded, "Ofer Levin, who until recently rain the Naharayim tourist site, said, "Today, they replaced it with a new one, as if they wanted to send a clear message of who here is really sovereign of the territory."

Jordan's relations with Israel deteriorated last year after an Israeli guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman shot and killed two Jordanians, saying one, a teenager, had tried to attack him with a screwdriver and that a second person was hit in the crossfire.

Netanyahu infuriated the Jordanians by arranging a hero's welcome for the guard. Diplomatic relations were repaired only gradually.

Adi Hashmonai, Ariel Kahana, Erez Linn, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff


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