Jordan wants Israel to return lands leased under 1994 peace deal

A view of the Jordan River Naharayim Isle of Peace

A view of the Jordan River Naharayim Isle of Peace

Jordan's announcement on Sunday that it wanted to opt out of annexes from its 1994 peace treaty with Israel that leased two border areas that historically were hard to delineate to Israel is a sign that not all is well in ties between the two countries.

For instance, Alan Baker, a veteran diplomat and former legal advisor to the foreign minister who is now director of the International Law Program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said Israel allows planes to and from Jordan to overfly its airspace, saving considerable time and money.

"Baqoura and Ghamr have always been at the top of our priorities and our decision is to terminate the annexation of Baqoura and Ghamr from the peace treaty is based on our commitment to take all necessary decisions for Jordan and Jordanians", the King said in an Arabic tweet.

Jordan leased the two territories to Israel under Annexes 1/B and 1/C under the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Agreement in 1994. The agreement would remain in force for 25 years and renewed automatically unless notice of termination was given by either party one year in advance.

Activists have been asking the government not to renew the agreement and to annul Israel's ownership of Jordanian lands.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday his country will negotiate with Jordan an extension of the 25-year lease.

Abdullah did not give a reason for his decision, but he has faced escalating domestic pressure to end the lease and return the territories to full Jordanian control. The Jordanians might already be drinking Israeli water, are scheduled to be heating their homes with Israeli natural gas in 2020, and benefit in numerous ways from security cooperation with Israel, but, for the most part, they don't like Israel.

Reacting to the Jordanian announcement, Mr Netanyahu said that the whole peace deal between Israel and Jordan was "important and valuable to both countries". In an "era of regional turmoil" his Kingdom - between Syria to the north, Iraq to the east and Israel to its west - Jordan wanted to protect its "national interests", Abdullah said. Last Friday, demonstrators in Amman took to the streets urging him to exercise Jordanian sovereignty with some even pushing for the Wadi Araba peace treaty to be rescinded altogether.

In very general terms, it's fair to say that the 1994 peace agreement did not filter down to Jordanian masses.

Despite the two sides sharing close security ties, there has been increased tensions between Jordan and Israel over the Israeli governments "provocative" measures ranging from placing restrictions on the Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque and the Noble Sanctuary - recognised in the peace treaty as under Jordanian custodianship - to the continued construction of settlements on 1967 territory. Israel, however, said it intends to extend the deal. However, Israel-Jordan relations have been strained in recent years, particularly due to Amman's stance on the issue of Jerusalem.

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