AMMAN, Jordan (Oct. 13)
In the two years since Israel and Jordan signed their historic peace treaty, relations between the two countries have reached a nadir.
Early last week, Israel’s ambassador to Amman, Shimon Shamir, cabled alarming messages to Jerusalem, describing the deteriorating relations with Jordan in the direst of terms.
Only after he was described as virtually begging for a meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Kabariti was he granted one — and their ensuing discourse was cold, observers said.
Shamir was later quoted as saying that never before had he felt so humiliated as during that session with Kabariti.
Discontent with the October 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty has spread far beyond government circles in a country that traditionally has been one of Israel’s warmest neighbors.
Last weekend, scores of activists, political parties and trade unions in Jordan called on Arab governments to reconsider their ties with Israel as a response to what they view as the intransigence of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And at Hashemiyah Square, located in downtown Amman, almost every Jordanian a recent visitor here encountered sounded bitter about the peace process.
Sa’ad Silawi, bureau chief of the Middle East Broadcasting Center here, questioned whether Netanyahu could safely visit Amman.
“I don’t think he can, and I would not advise him to do so, after what he has done,” said Silawi, who felt that the burden of proof regarding Israel’s intentions in the peace process now rested squarely with Netanyahu.
Others here expressed similar emotions, and on more than one occasion, their anger was aimed directly at the Israeli prime minister.
What makes the criticism voiced on the street particularly disturbing is that it has filtered down directly from the highest levels of government.
Jordan went out on a limb vis-a-vis the more hard-line governments of the Arab world when it signed the peace with Israel two years ago. Jordan justified the move on the basis of the peace moves Israel had made at the time with the Palestinians.
But with recent events all but bringing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a grinding halt, Jordanian leaders have felt that the current Israeli leadership pulled the rug out from under them — to the evident satisfaction of the hard-line Arab governments.
Beyond the peace process with the Palestinians, Jordanian leaders were angered by Israel’s recent decision to open another entrance to a tunnel located near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The Jordanian government said Israel’s unilateral decision to open the entrance deprived Jordan of its special status as guardian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, which was specifically granted them under the terms of the 1994 peace accord.
Jordan has long felt that this provision of the accord was in Israel’s own interest, because it would undercut Palestinian claims to eastern Jerusalem.
Moreover, Jordan was doubly angered when Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold, failed to mention Israel’s plans when he visited Amman days before the Sept. 23 opening of the tunnel entrance.
Gold has since stated that he did not know about the decision to open the entrance when he visited Amman.
But this excuse scored no points with the Jordanian leadership.
Marwan Muashar, the Jordanian information minister and a former ambassador to Israel, said in an interview that there had previously been an exchange of correspondence “in which the Israeli government expressed desire to open the tunnel.”
But Jordan rejected the idea time and again, pointing to the potential dangers involved in opening the tunnel, he said.
Indeed, days after the entrance was opened, the move sparked three days of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed that left 76 dead on both sides.
When King Hussein met Netanyahu at the Oct. 1-2 emergency summit convened in Washington to discuss the eruption of violence, the king reportedly expressed his deep disappointment with the Israeli premier.
On Sunday, Hussein went further, publicly warning that Israel’s current policies were putting the entire region “on the brink of an abyss.”
“His Majesty feels that Netanyahu should have seized the moment in Washington. He should have taken a courageous decision to lead this peace process forward,” Muashar said in the interview.
“His Majesty felt that forces opposing the peace process should not be given ammunition.”
With Palestinians making up two-thirds of Jordan’s 3.5 million population, and with a strong Islamic fundamentalist opposition in the country’s Parliament, the Jordanian leadership has become increasingly aggressive in its stance toward Israel.
In Israel, meanwhile, there were growing indications that the government was taking the Jordanian criticisms seriously.
A flurry of meetings was planned for this week in an effort to repair Israel’s damaged relationship with the Hashemite kingdom.
Gold met Sunday with the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, Omar Abdul-Monem Rifai, to plan a higher-level meeting later this week involving Netanyahu; Foreign Minister David Levy was slated to visit Jordan during the week, as was President Ezer Weizman.
Hussein said Sunday that he expected “to hear some good news soon.”
He did not elaborate, but it appeared clear that he expected some movement to emerge from this week’s meetings with the Israeli leaders — as well as from the resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Amman, many Jordanians made a distinction between the Israeli people as a whole and the Israeli government.
“Most Israelis want peace,” said Sa’id, the owner of a clothing store at Hashemiyah Square. “It’s Netanyahu who doesn’t.”
Another man standing there harked back to bygone days.
The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the peace accord with King Hussein, “was very good,” he said. “He was our darling. Had he lived today, the situation would have been much better. We trusted him, there was understanding between him and His Majesty.”
But another man, Mohammad al-Mughrabi, had a far less sanguine viewpoint.
“The peace process was a flop from the beginning. Both Rabin and Netanyahu followed the same guidelines. Rabin was more pragmatic and diplomatic, but they are both the same.”
The Jordanian government, for all its recent criticisms of Israel, does not appear ready to abandon the peace process.
“We have to make one thing clear,” Muashar said in the interview. “We respect our agreements, and we will still respect them till eternity. We signed a peace treaty with Israel, a treaty Jordan will always respect.
“There is no need and no will to cut off relations. On the contrary, the alarm bell that His Majesty is sounding should drive the peace process forward.”