King says Jordan to reclaim land leased to Israel under 1994 deal

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King says Jordan to reclaim land leased to Israel under 1994 deal

Jordan has told Israel that it intends to reclaim two tracts of territories remained in Israeli private ownership under a 1994 peace treaty, King Abdullah II has announced, in a move that was welcomed by activists and civil society groups opposing the deal.

As part of the agreement, Israel leased about 405 hectares of agricultural land in the southern sector of its border with Jordan called al-Ghumar, as well as the small al-Baqura area near the confluence of Jordan and Yarmouk rivers.

The areas are currently regulated through a “special regime” in the peace treaty where Israel recognizes Jordanian sovereignty with Israeli private land ownership.

The territories – water-rich farmlands currently cultivated by Israeli farmers, kept in Israeli hands for 25 years, with a 12-month notice period needed to prevent an automatic extension. The deadline for renewing the leases is Thursday, October 25.

“We have informed Israel of an end to the application of the peace treaty annexes regarding al-Baqura and al-Ghumar,” the king said on Sunday, according to the Petra state news agency.

“Al-Baqura and al-Ghumar have always been on top of my priorities. Our decision is to end the annexes of the peace treaty based on our keenness to take all that is necessary for Jordan and Jordanians,” the king added. 

“Al-Baqura and al-Ghumar are Jordanian land and will remain Jordanian.”

Following the king’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would negotiate with Jordan an extension of the leases, which expire next year.

“We will enter into negotiations with [Jordan] to option an extension of the existing lease agreement,” Israeli media quoted him as saying.

It is unclear how and when the territories will be returned back to Jordan’s ownership. The territories have been under Israeli control since 1948.

 

Growing pressure

Jordan is only one of two Arab countries that signed a peace treaty with Israel – the other being Egypt.

Observers said the king’s announcement is expected to be positively received by the Jordanian public amid increasing efforts by activists and civil society groups aimed at forcing the government to end the leasing of Jordanian territories to Israel.

It also comes a week after 85 Jordanian members of parliament signed a petition urging the king to intervene so that the lease agreement would not be renewed, according to MP Khalil Atiyeh.

“For over a year, we have been demanding the scrapping of this agreement that was not in the interest of Jordan or the Jordanian people,” Atiyeh told Al Jazeera.

Oraib al-Rantawi, a political analyst in Jordan’s capital, Amman, said, “The king saw the popular rejection against keeping this agreement with Israel, especially in the last few months where economic decline in the country has led to mass protests – and he wisely decided against it.”

Thousands of angry Jordanians took to the streets in June to protest against price increases, an income tax reform bill and official corruption, in a country where national poverty and unemployment rate stand at around 20 percent.

Political activist Hussam Abdallat praised the king’s decision as one that would “endear him to the public”.

Sufyan al-Tell, a former United Nations environmental official and outspoken critic of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, told Al Jazeera the king’s announcement is “timely and reflects the will of the people of Jordan”.

Public sentiment in Jordan against Israel is strong because of its continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its treatment of Palestinians. 

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

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