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NEWS ANALYSIS Jordan’s dismay with Israel permeates David Levy’s visit

AMMAN, Jordan, Dec. 23 (JTA) — Foreign Minister David Levy’s visit here came during the lowest point in Israeli-Jordanian relations since the two countries signed their historic peace treaty two years ago. Levy came to the Jordanian capital last week in an effort to smooth out the differences that have surfaced in Israeli-Jordanian relations in recent months. But Levy could not deliver what the Jordanians wanted. And the usually friendly Jordanians had deep frowns on their faces as they delivered a stern warning to Israel. “Expanding the settlements in the West Bank endangers the talks on the permanent settlement with the Palestinians,” said Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Kabariti. The settlement policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he added pointedly, “amounted to a direct threat on the stability of Jordan.” Initially, Kabariti was to address a news conference with Levy, but the joint appearance was canceled. Levy later met with Crown Prince Hassan and King Hussein. No members of the media were allowed. By ignoring the journalists who escorted Levy on his one-day visit to Amman, the Jordanian leadership was hinting that it had very little in common with Israel at this state of the peace process. It was Levy’s first visit to Jordan. In different times, it could have been a celebration of the warm ties that existed between the two states, which had been in a state of war for 46 years before the signing of the October 1994 peace accord. For most of the time since the signing, Jordan was considered Israel’s closest Arab ally. But there were no celebrations during Levy’s visit, which came days after the Israeli Cabinet voted to grant special tax breaks and other financial incentives to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Jordan’s cold reaction to the Cabinet decision did not reflect any deep Jordanian concerns for the welfare of the Palestinians. Rather, it signaled its worries about the Hashemite kingdom’s own stability. These worries can be summed up with a single statistic: More than 3 million of Jordan’s 4.2 million citizens are Palestinians. This figure is the driving force behind the Israeli school of thought championed by National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon that declares that Jordan is Palestine — an opinion that leaves no room for an additional Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. In the past, Sharon supported toppling Hussein to allow for a Palestinian leadership in his place. Fear of such a development was one of the reasons Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, after which Sharon and others departed from that stance. But Jordanian concerns about Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians are still there — and it was the theme that dominated Levy’s visit. Here is the scenario that Kabariti, and later Hussein, spelled out for the Israeli foreign minister: As a result of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, negotiations with the Palestinians stall; a wave of violence engulfs the territories, and tens of thousands of Palestinians, frustrated with the failed peace process, flee to Jordan; pressure on Jordan to cool relations with Israel comes from the Arab world, from the local opposition and from Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan; unrest in the territories spills over to the East Bank and threatens the very stability of the Jordanian regime. What the Jordanians wanted was some sort of reassurance that there would be no expansion of the settlements. But Levy could not deliver. A week earlier, Hussein had dispatched Marwan Muashar, Jordan’s information minister and former ambassador to Israel, to convey the king’s worries to Israel’s leaders. He was treated with full respect, but the day after his visit, the Jerusalem Planning Committee decided in favor of building Jewish housing in the predominantly Arab Ras Al-Amud neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. The committee’s decision still had to meet with the approval of the Netanyahu government, but the Jordanians were distrustful. Some of that mistrust dated back to the fall, when Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold appeared in Amman to calm Jordanian worries about the new Israeli government. The visit took place on the Friday preceding Yom Kippur. When Yom Kippur ended, Israel opened a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel located near the Temple Mount. The move was followed by three days of Palestinian rioting that left 15 Israelis and 60 Palestinians dead, with hundreds more wounded. Gold had not said a word about the tunnel to the Jordanians, who had been given special status as custodians of Arab holy sites in Jerusalem under the terms of the 1994 peace treaty. Israeli officials explained that Gold was unaware of the plan to open the tunnel entrance. The Jordanians were not pleased. This displeasure was still in evidence when Muashar spoke last week of the need to return to an “atmosphere of trust” between the two countries. Levy did his best to alleviate Jordanian concerns. “We shall refrain from anything that will violate the sovereignty and integrity of Jordan. Israel did not sign a peace treaty with Jordan to endanger the country,” he said. Muashar was not reassured. He reiterated the Jordanian concern that the settlement policy might lead to a collapse of the entire peace process. Levy concluded his visit to Amman by attending an inauguration ceremony for the new Israeli Embassy there. Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Shimon Shamir, spoke of the progress in the two country’s relations during the past two years: the open borders; the 250,000 Israeli tourists to Jordan; the 200 visas granted daily by the Israeli Consulate to Jordanians visiting Israel; the expansion of mutual trade; the establishment of 15 joint industrial ventures; the transfer of millions of cubic feet of water from Israel to Jordan; the air links between the two countries. Had a Jordanian official made that speech, there would have been a far less enthusiastic litany of achievements, particularly because Jordan has repeatedly stated that it has not reaped the fruits of peace — not where the water agreement is concerned, not with joint industrial ventures and not with plans to establish a joint Eilat-Aqaba air terminal. The inauguration ceremony for the new Israeli Embassy was short and not particularly sweet. The most senior Jordanian representative at the ceremony was Ibrahim Narawi, director general of the Foreign Ministry. Israel’s friendliest Arab neighbor had no smiles to spare.