November 11, 2019 / 1:19 PM / a month ago

Jordan's king tours enclave along Israel border after end of lease deal

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan’s King Abdullah paid his first visit on Monday to an enclave fringing the country’s northern border with Israel, a day after the expiry of a 25-year special regime that allowed Israeli farmers access to the area, official sources said.

Jordan's King Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein take part in a ceremony, in an area known as Naharayim in Hebrew and Baquora in Arabic, in the border area between Israel and Jordan, November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jordanian Royal Palace/Yousef Allan/Handout via Reuters

The king had announced on Sunday in parliament that Jordan was “imposing full sovereignty on every inch” of the enclave, to loud applause from lawmakers. Many Jordanians had viewed the arrangement as a humiliating Israeli occupation of their land.

Under the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty the enclave, made up of two territories straddling the border, was recognised as being under Jordanian sovereignty but with special provisions allowing Israeli farmers to work the land without visas.

But in 2018, Jordan said it did not want to renew the arrangement, in what was widely seen as a sign of increasingly strained bilateral relations.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states with a peace accord with Israel, and the neighbours have a long history of close security ties.

But officials say the king’s decision to end the arrangement reflected his anger at Israel’s rejection of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and at its perceived infringements of one of Islam’s holiest sites in Jerusalem. His Hashemite dynasty is custodian of the Muslim holy sites in the city.

Under the peace terms, the special regime would automatically renew unless either party notified the other a year before expiry that it wished to terminate the agreement.

DASHED HOPES

With little strategic value, the two territories have become a symbol of dashed hopes and growing anger with Israel on the part of Jordan’s political establishment, which says the 1994 treaty with its neighbour has brought no peace dividend.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Jordan remained committed to the peace treaty, which demarcated borders for the first time since the creation of Israel in 1948.

“We are a country that respects its commitments to the peace treaty, which we have to abide by fully,” Safadi said.

Many Jordanians however are opposed to normalised ties with Israel and have called on the government to scrap the peace treaty. Many citizens in Jordan are of Palestinian origin.

Safadi said his country would continue to respect private ownership by Israelis in Baqoura, which in Israel is known by its Hebrew name Naharayim.

But any Israeli who owns property in Baquora will now need to get a visa to enter Jordan and his property will be governed by Jordanian laws that apply to other foreigners, Safadi said

In the other territory, known as al Ghumar in Jordan and which Israel calls Tzofar, Israeli farmers have cultivated and invested in agro-industry, although they have not had ownership rights. Safadi said the kingdom would allow these farmers to harvest a final crop before ending their activity there.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones

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