10 years after Israel-Jordan peace, no ones celebrating

jerusalem | Ten years ago this week, in the midst of a desert storm in the Arava Valley, the late King Hussein of Jordan and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel signed a peace accord ushering in an era of hope that relations between the neighbors would become a model for a new Middle East.

The 10th anniversary of that momentous day went by this week with little fanfare and no official celebrations marking the milestone.

What happened?

The Israel-Jordan peace agreement was like the official marriage of a couple that had been carrying on a secret relationship for years. The leaders of both countries sighed with relief, pleased that they would no longer have to hide their affair.

Today, ties between Israel and its eastern neighbor are not at their best. This, though, has less to do with the couple itself not getting along than it does with tension inside the “family” — the Arab world, that is, and in particular the Palestinians, who comprise two-thirds of Jordan’s 5.5 million population.

“We cannot ignore what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza; neither can we ignore terrorism,” Marwan Mu’ashar, Jordan’s foreign minister, told Israeli journalists in Amman recently.

The Israel-Jordan peace deal was followed by inflated optimism. Rosy scenarios envisaged other countries in the Middle East following suit, the economies of both countries prospering, the border opening up for mutual tourism and trade thriving.

But this week in Amman, Israeli Ambassador Ya’acov Hadas sat in a fortified embassy, totally isolated from the local political community, lamenting the stagnation in relations. Meanwhile, masses of Jordanians marked the anniversary by demonstrating against ties with the Jewish state.

Since the signing of the peace treaty in 1994, Jordan’s monarchy has tried to maneuver carefully between its reliance on Israel as the behind-the-scenes guarantor of the regime and its desire to maintain close ties with the Arab world, which frowns on friendly relations with the Jewish state.

In a hopeful development this week, an Israeli-Jordanian committee met to discuss construction of a new joint academic center in the Arava region.

The committee will map out a site for the “Bridging the Rift” binational university, a joint project of Stanford and Cornell universities. Biology Professor Marcus W. Feldman is overseeing the project at Stanford and is committed to traveling to the region at least three times a year to oversee it.