Some 25 years after the historic peace agreement between Israel and Jordan was signed the time has come to restart the strategic relationship between the states and fuse the written words with real substance. We recently visited Amman as part of the Israel-Jordan Policy Dialogue of the Mitvim Institute. Despite frustration, anger and disappointment on the Jordanian side, we returned with a clear sense that renewed substance can be poured into the relationship, restoring it. After all, both countries have a clear interest in cooperation and the relationship between them has survived for a quarter of a century despite regional challenges and crises, such as the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Naharayim terror attack, the Second Intifada, military operations in Gaza, crises surrounding the Jerusalem issue (including the relocation of the US Embassy) and hostile public opinion in Jordan.
The huge potential in the relationship has not yet been realized. Israel can successfully promote bilateral cooperation with Jordan in tourism, water and hi-tech, but there is also the feasibility of promoting wider regional cooperation that will increase regional stability and the volume of trade. Jordan can also fulfill an important role in the political arena: leveraging the status it holds over holy sites in Jerusalem, supporting the advancement of Israeli-Palestinian peace and serving as a stabilizing force in the region in general. In order to achieve these goals, Israel must change direction: seek to open new dialogue channels, prioritize relations with Jordan, be attentive to Jordan’s needs and complaints, and reexamine joint projects. Politicians and decision-makers in both countries must understand that inaction and neglecting the relationship will take a high toll.
The establishment of a new government in Israel in 2020 could provide an opportunity for significant change. This can begin with positive Israeli statements about the relations and their importance. Statements should then be transformed into concrete actions. This requires planning ahead of time. As such, we present a list of key recommendations the next Israeli government can take to restart the relationship with Jordan.
Expressions of goodwill and general support for the strengthening of relations are needed. Calls to annex the Jordan Valley and/or parts of the West Bank should be avoided and Jordan’s special role regarding the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem should be reaffirmed by Israeli leaders. Beyond that, Israel and Jordan need real ‘glue’ – substantial projects that will bring them together and focus the relations on growth and development. Israeli decision-makers should prioritize renewing joint projects in the fields of water and infrastructure, increasing exports of Jordanian goods to the Palestinian Authority and advancing cooperation in tourism, hi-tech and medical tourism.
Discussion of water issues should be expanded to include broader solutions in which Israel can assist Jordan. Such support should begin with catalyzing the Aqaba desalination project (even disconnecting it from the Red Sea-Dead Sea project if necessary) and expediting an expanded agreement of water supply from the Galilee to Jordan. Concurrently, we recommend advancing a comprehensive program for collaboration in other fields related to water and energy. That would include, for example, supplying desalinated water from the Mediterranean, supplying electricity from Jordanian solar fields (against Israeli gas supplied to Jordan) as well as other water and wastewater treatment projects, including cooperation in the reconstruction of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.
Transportation is another field deserving of attention. During the last two decades, a network of regional railroads has been developed; this can facilitate a land bridge enabling rapid, economically competitive movement of goods between the Gulf states and the Mediterranean Sea. Jordan is strategically located at the junction of this railway system. Israeli-Jordanian cooperation is critical for the implementation of this initiative, which has vast potential to become a game-changer for the Jordanian economy.
Other high-priority issues (both new and pending) include the ‘Jordan Gateway’ joint industrial park, facilitation of trade through the trade corridor via Haifa Port, development of a new version of the QIZ trade agreement focusing on tourism and cooperation in exporting advanced industrial products and services to other markets. Israel must pay close attention to joint programs that have stalled and therefore generate frustration on the Jordanian side. We propose setting up an intra-ministerial task force on the subject, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office and including representatives from the foreign ministry, as well as from the and ministries of regional cooperation, economy and defense.
Furthermore, the numerous obstacles to maintaining contact with Israel that Jordanian businesspeople face should be removed. Currently, they endure a cumbersome process to get visas to enter Israel, including prolonged and unexplained delays in processing applications, inconsistencies in rejection or approval and reluctance to in granting multi-entry visas. These difficulties drive away many of those Jordanian businesspeople who are interested in developing business relations with Israel, and this must be changed.
We are convinced that despite the unfulfilled potential and differing readings of the peace treaty by both parties a boost of energy and attention dedicated to renewing Israeli-Jordanian relations – along with advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – will transform the dynamics, create a healthy partnership and inject real substance into the peace treaty. In turn, these will provide for multiple economic and political opportunities that will expand bilateral relations and bear the fruits of peace. The stability and prosperity of the Hashemite Kingdom must be a priority for Israel, since it will provide stability on its longest border and cooperation from which both parties will benefit.
Yitzhak Gal is a researcher at the Mitvim Institute and an adviser specializing in the Arab markets; Ksenia Svetlova is director of the Program on Israel-Middle East Relations at the Mitvim Institute and a former member of Knesset.