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Remembering the Wadi Araba Treaty and Jordan’s ‘cold peace’ with Israel

October 26, 2021 at 8:55 am

What: The signing of a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, which ended over four decades of conflict.

When: 26 October 1994

Where: Wadi Araba, Jordan-Israel border

What happened?

The major role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the 1967 war it fought with its allies Egypt and Syria against Israel (known as the Six-Day War) cemented Amman’s position in the Arab world as a bulwark of resistance against the occupation state. Its minor participation in the 1973 war also reinforced that view, although declassified US documents showed later that it was more of a symbolic move in secret agreement with Tel Aviv than a serious attack.

As is often the case, behind-the-scenes talks between Jordan and Israel had been going on for some time before King Hussein Bin Talal and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres attempted to arrange a peace agreement in 1987, through which Amman would have regained control over the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

That effort was unsuccessful due to obstacles from within Israel. However, discussions about a peace agreement resurfaced in 1994 following the Oslo Accords that the Israelis signed with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its leader Yasser Arafat the previous year.

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With significant pressure from US President Bill Clinton, who had promised King Hussein that Jordan’s debts would be waived if a peace treaty was agreed, negotiations ensued and the Kingdom signed a non-belligerency agreement with Israel. The three countries also signed the Washington Declaration in the US capital on 25 July 1994, officially ending the state of war between Amman and Tel Aviv.

On 26 October that year, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdelsalam Al-Majali and his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Rabin, observed by Clinton and other officials, then signed the Wadi Araba Treaty, named after the valley where the ceremony took place near the Jordan-Israel border. Under the terms of the treaty, open relations between the two neighbouring states were established, allowing for a number of possibilities, including economic ties, trade, security, intelligence-sharing, and water allocation.

The treaty and its protocols were hailed on King Hussein’s official government-run website as an effort to “lay a firm foundation for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace.” It “guaranteed Jordan the restoration of its occupied land (approximately 380 square kilometres), as well as an equitable share of water from the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers.” It also defined Jordan’s western border clearly for the first time since its independence in 1946.

What happened next?

Although the Jordanian government has viewed and continues to view the treaty as a positive achievement resulting from King Hussein’s search for peace in the region and prosperity for his country, many Jordanian citizens have long been opposed to it and any normalisation with Israel.

It was viewed largely positively by Israelis, however, as Jordan was the second Arab state to make peace with Tel Aviv. It represented to them the possibility of greater recognition and normalisation within the Arab world.

Egypt was the first Arab state to normalise ties with Israel. The Wadi Araba Treaty was praised by President Hosni Mubarak. The Syrian regime of Hafez Al-Assad condemned it.

Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad [Wikipedia]

Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad [Wikipedia]

The signing of the treaty boosted Western cooperation and aid for Jordan, especially trade and military aid from the US. The Jordanian government became one of Washington’s key allies and partners in the Middle East. Western intelligence agencies have since used Amman as a major hub in the region.

Despite the praise and optimism which Western and Israeli commentators have heaped upon the treaty, however, many negative aspects and consequences have emerged. In 1997, for example, agents from Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad were sent to Amman to assassinate Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. Meshaal, a Jordanian citizen, was followed by the agents who injected an unknown chemical into his ear. The culprits were caught by his bodyguard.

A furious King Hussein lobbied Clinton to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide an antidote and threatened to storm the Israeli Embassy with Special Forces if it was not forthcoming in time to save Meshaal’s life. Netanyahu bent under the pressure and Meshaal survived.

Although the assassination attempt failed, it set back relations between Jordan and Israel significantly. King Hussein’s trust in Tel Aviv’s commitment to peace was affected badly.

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That incident was followed by numerous disappointments in the relationship between Jordan and Israel. This was due primarily to the Israeli occupation and continued violations of Palestinian rights; official discrimination and the imposition of what is now called openly an apartheid regime on the people of occupied Palestine; and the unhindered growth of illegal Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

More than anything, however, Israel has demonstrated its total lack of respect for Jordan’s position as the official custodian of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Armed incursions by Jewish settlers have taken place countless times over the decades, with the full backing of Israel’s police and security forces.

Although Amman and Tel Aviv continue to cooperate with one another, not least over their $10 billion gas supply agreement and the sharing of water, protests by Jordanian citizens are ongoing and elements in Israel still view the relationship as an opportunity for political leverage.

Relations were soured even further when reports emerged that Netanyahu plotted with Saudi Arabia to overthrow Hussein’s son and the current Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II, earlier this year.

King Abdullah put it best when he admitted in an interview in 2009 that the treaty between the Hashemite Kingdom and the self-proclaimed Jewish state “is a cold peace, and our relationship is getting colder.” Almost thirty years since the Wadi Araba Treaty was signed, little has changed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.