AMMAN: Jordan said on Sunday it would not extend the 25-year deal that allows Israel to use two tracts of territory along its border just as Israel said it was still planning to negotiate an extension.
Abdullah released a statement that he intends to pull out of two annexes from the 1994 peace agreement that allowed Israel to lease two small areas, Baqura and Ghamr, from the Jordanians for 25 years. The leases expire next year, and the deadline for renewing them is Thursday.
Much of the land in Baqura in the northwestern part of the Kingdom and Ghumar in the south is used by Israeli military officers and farmers, some of whom were given private land ownership rights and special travel rights under a 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.
Baqura, in the northern Jordan Valley, was captured by Israel in 1950. Ghamr, near Aqaba in southern Jordan, was seized in the 1967 Mideast War.
Abdullah said he informed Israel of his decision. “We are practicing our full sovereignty on our land,” he said. “Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.”
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. Last week, demonstrators demanding an end to Israeli ownership of the lands marched in Jordan’s capital of Amman last week.
“These are Jordanian lands and they will remain..” the monarch said. 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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking after Abdullah’s comments on Sunday, acknowledged that Jordan wanted to exercise its option to end the arrangement.
But he said Israel “will enter negotiations with it on the possibility of extending the current arrangement.”
Under the terms of peace treaty, the lease would be automatically renewed unless either of the parties notified the other a year before expiry that it wished to terminate the agreement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry also said in a statement on Sunday.
Netanyahu said the “accord as a whole is an important thing,” and called the peace deals with Jordan and Egypt “anchors of regional stability.” He spoke at a memorial for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the peace deal with Jordan.
Jordan is one of only two Arab states that has a peace treaty with Israel and the two countries have a long history of close security ties. They have also been expanding economic ties in the last year.
But the peace treaty with Israel is unpopular and pro-Palestinian sentiment widespread in Jordan. Activists and politicians have been vocal against a renewal they say perpetuates Israeli “occupation” of Jordanian territory.
Political ties have also become strained over the Middle East peace process. An incident last year in which an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanian citizens within the Israeli embassy compound added to the tension.
Under an annex to the peace agreement, Israel uses about 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of agricultural land in the southern sector of its border with Jordan.
In the 1994 peace treaty, Jordanian sovereignty over the area was confirmed but Israelis retained private land ownership and special provisions that allow free Israeli travel.
Israel’s former ambassador to Jordan, Oded Eran, said he was not surprised by Jordan’s decision, and said there was still time for the two countries to re-negotiate the agreement. He dismissed the possibility that Jordan might pull out of other parts of the broader peace treaty.
Tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted in recent months over such issues as the contested status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, stalled Mideast peace talks, and last year’s shooting of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli embassy guard in Amman, which ignited a diplomatic crisis.
Relations thawed after Israel replaced its ambassador to Amman and Netanyahu met with Abdullah last summer to stress the importance of economic and security cooperation between the two countries.