Israeli farmers to quit Jordanian lands as 25-year lease expires

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A Jordanian soldier pulls a Jordanian national flag in an outpost at the border area between Israel and Jordan at Naharayim in this file photo. — Reuters

JERUSALEM — A deal dating from Israel's historic 1994 peace treaty with Jordan allowing Israeli farmers to lease two sites along their common border runs out on Sunday but the tenants say that nobody has told them what happens the day after.

In the peace negotiations, Jordan agreed to lease the lands to Israel for a 25-year renewable period, with Amman retaining sovereignty.

One of the sites is Naharayim, a spit of land where the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers meet — which is called Baqura in Arabic.

The other location, deep in the Negev desert south of the Dead Sea, is known in Hebrew as Tzofar and in Arabic as Ghumar.

In October last year, Jordan's King Abdullah said his country had notified Israel that it wants to take them back.

Now with the deadline only hours away, Idan Greenbaum, head of the Israeli regional council for the Jordan Valley, says Jordanian officials have told him that as from Sunday the Naharayim site will be out of bounds.

Israeli authorities, he told Israeli army radio on Friday, have told him nothing.

"As of this time no Israeli official has chosen to update us," he said.

Asked for details, the Israeli foreign ministry sent the reply, "the agreement will expire on Nov. 10th", without elaborating.

Since the heady days of the 1994 treaty, which made Jordan only the second country after Egypt to make peace with Israel, relations with Amman have been strained.

Opinion polls have repeatedly found that the peace treaty with Israel is overwhelmingly opposed by Jordanians, more than half of whom are of Palestinian origin.

In 2017, an Israeli embassy security guard in Amman killed two Jordanians.

Three years earlier, an Israeli soldier at a border crossing killed a Jordanian judge he deemed a threat.

Just last month, Amman recalled its ambassador from Israel over the prolonged detention without trial in the Jewish state of two Jordanians.

Israel has not commented on the reasons for their imprisonment, though Israeli media have said they were detained on suspicion of security-related offenses.

They were freed and returned to Jordan on Wednesday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the Jordanian ambassador would return shortly.

Private television station Channel 13 reported on Thursday that Netanyahu's National Security Adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, had met on Monday in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi who told him there would be no extension to the Naharayim and Tzofar leases.

Citing "senior sources" in Jordan, it said Safadi instead suggested that compensation be paid to the Israeli farmers for crops remaining at the sites after the handover. — AFP


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