Israel cannot afford to ignore Jordan any longer

Earlier this month, Jordan officially decided to pull out of the high-profile “Two Seas Project” – a joint endeavor with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to construct a canal that would connect the Red Sea and the Dead Sea.  The plan also included the construction of a water desalination center to be used by both Jordanians and Israelis living in the Negev Desert and the Arava region.

Jerusalem and Amman signed off on the project in 2013, which was later reapproved by the government in 2019, but no progress has been made since. Furthermore, the World Bank also withdrew its proposed funding for the canal. Jordan also decided to scrap the joint desalination center, opting to build its own, a process that could take at least five years.

In the meantime, the Hashemite kingdom’s thirst for water grows every day. Had Israel’s government made good on its word, the project would have already been under construction and expected to reach completion by 2025.

The saga surrounding the defunct canal reflects all too well the sad story of Israel and Jordan’s relationship: A lot of expectations, potential and talks, but in the end – no cigar. Since Israel’s new government was sworn in a little over two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has managed to hold conversations with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Bahrain and make an official visit to the UAE.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett himself already spoke on the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Only Jordan has been left out the loop of Israeli-Arab communications (ditto the Palestinians, incidentally, save for the issue of vaccinations). Jordan is not some minor state when it comes to Israel’s relationships in the Middle East. It is an important strategic partner with whom Israel shares a long and crucial border stretching 336 kilometers.

The security ties between Jerusalem and Amman are thankfully still in good shape, with a joint command post due to be set up soon to help both countries combat rampant drug and gun smuggling efforts. But security ties are not enough.

Israel’s government over the past years, especially under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made sure to just outright ignore Jordan to the point which it led to diplomatic crises with the kingdom.

The deteriorating situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is also reverberating through the kingdom, making the ears of the citizenry open to BDS and Islamist elements.

The Palestinian issue cannot be taken out of the Israel-Jordanian equation. Israel must work with the kingdom to prevent the continued erosion of the Palestinian Authority and make sure that the necessary change in leadership in Ramallah does not fall to radicals. Economic issues are also critically vital. At the end of the day, Jordan signed its peace agreement with Israel under the understanding that in return for security it will receive big projects and investments such as the canal and industrial centers along the border area.

When Israel signed its normalization agreements last year, Jordan – along with the Palestinians and Egypt – was not invited to be a partner in the greater regional process. The Jordanians, forcing to grapple with a severe economic crisis and a large refugee community, were felt like they were left out. Israel has a vested interest in improving its relations with Jordan and making sure its neighbor remains stable on the diplomatic, economic and security fronts.

Bennett and Lapid cannot wait any longer to revive communication with their Jordanian counterparts. The kingdom is a crucial partner for achieving stability in the Middle East. Obviously we cannot return to the halcyon days of 1994, but we can improve the relations between both countries and make good on the agreements that have been signed.

*The article was published on Ynetnews, 29 June 2021
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