ISRAEL TO LOSE NAHARAYIM, TZOFAR TO JORDAN ON SUNDAY

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Naharayim Memorial. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The agreement made in the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries granted farmers access.

BY TOVAH LAZAROFF, KHALED ABU TOAMEH  NOVEMBER 7, 2019 23:31

Barring a last-minute miracle, a special territorial arrangement set out in the Israeli-Jordan 1994 peace treaty appears set to come to a quiet close on Sunday, when Israelis will no longer be able to access land at Naharayim and Tzofar.

The diplomatic loss follows a tense moment in Israeli-Jordanian relations, and at a time when Israel has had a caretaker government for almost 11 months.Read More Related Articles

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah on his Twitter feed blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the territorial loss, writing that “For months now, Jordan Valley officials have been asking Netanyahu to get involved, but what does he care about farmers and the disintegration of peace with Jordan? He is busy with prosecutions and political games.”

The Hashemite Kingdom had notified Israel last November that it planned to reclaim Tzofar in the Arava Desert, as well as Naharayim – also known as the “Island of Peace” – which is located at the intersections of the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers a short distance from the Sea of Galilee.

Until Thursday, those connected to the land had hoped that the Israeli government would come to an arrangement with Jordan that would allow for farmers to work in fields on both tracts of land, and for tourists to continue to visit Naharayim from the Israeli side.

“We are disappointed because until now, even until today, we thought that something will change at the last minute, but it didn’t happen,” Jordan Valley Regional Council head Idan Grinbaum told The Jerusalem Post.

He heard no formal confirmation from the Prime Minister’s Office, but was instead notified by Jordanian officials on Thursday that requests to extend the agreement had not been granted.

“Until this moment, 48 hours or 72 hours before Sunday, no Israeli official from the government, a minister or other officials have found the time or the courage to tell us officially … that [this] is the end,” Grinbaum said.

Instead, a Jordanian official told him that starting Sunday, “We would not be able to enter the island. It means that the special regime has ended after 25 years.”

The land at Tzofar and Naharayim had been a sticking point during the negotiations for the 1994 peace treaty. The issue was resolved when an agreement was brokered so that Tzofar and Naharayim would be under Jordanian sovereignty with arrangements granting access.

For the last 25 years, farmers from Moshav Tzofar have leased the land from Jordan for agricultural purposes. In Naharayim, the land is owned privately by Jews and by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF).

In his role as council head, Grinbaum has been one of the public figures working to prevent the loss of Naharayim, a place of personal significance to him. Grinbaum was born on Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, whose residents have farmed in Naharayim since the 1920s.

The kibbutz and the KKL-JNF held a special ceremony in Naharayim during the Sukkot holiday, with Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz as the featured speaker.

But nothing is planned to mark the loss of the land. The park at Naharayim is set to hold tours on Friday and Saturday for hundreds of Israelis.

Ashdot Yaakov resident Eli Arazi, who has been at the forefront of the battle to keep Naharayim, said he believed it would not be saved because King Abdullah II had to “show his opposition that he is doing what he promised. So this will pass quietly,” even though behind-the-scene efforts were still ongoing.

Last Saturday, Jordanian parliament member Saleh al-Armouti called on the parliament to use its next session to address the areas being returned by Israel. In a Facebook post, he pointed out that the next session of the parliament, scheduled for November 10, coincides with the end of Israeli control over the area.

“I call on decision-makers in Jordan to hold the session there, because that would strengthen our position on this historic day,” he wrote. “The Jordanian people are impatiently waiting for this historic day.”

It was not clear on Thursday whether Armouti’s appeal has been accepted.

The lead up to the loss of land at Naharayim and Tzofar was marked by a diplomatic crisis with Jordan over the arrest of two Jordanians – 24-year-old Hiba al-Labadi and 29-year-old Abdul Rahman Miri – in conjunction with security-related allegations.

Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel, Ghassan al-Majali, in protest. On Wednesday, Labadi and Miri were sent back to Jordan, and Majali is expected to return to Israel. As part of the talks for the release of the detainees, National Security Council director Meir Ben-Shabbat on Monday was in Jordan, where it has been reported that he discussed the issue of Naharayim and Tzofar as well.

Grinbaum said that in spite of everything, he remains optimistic about Jordanian-Israeli ties.

“Even though it is going to be the end of the special regime regarding the Island of Peace, the good relationship with the Jordanian side will continue,” he said. “We do things together and will keep on doing them in the future.”

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