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Jordan: The need for realpolitik

Jan 27,2019 - Last updated at Jan 27,2019

It has become clear lately that Jordanian-Israeli relations are not in the best shape. Several recent incidents and crises have demonstrated a lack of mutual coordination or understanding in bilateral relations. Incidents such as the shooting of a worker inside the Israeli embassy, before that the killing of a Jordanian judge on the border as well as disputes around the Jordanian position in opposition to Israel at UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, suggest issues in communication and coordination between the two countries.

There has also been some strong disagreement regarding the new Ramon Airport in Eilat, right on the shared border near Aqaba. Jordanian authorities view this airport as a violation of the international standards regarding respect for the sovereignty of airspace and territory of Jordan. However, there is also a political angle to this, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted at the opening ceremony of Ramon Airport that it will boost Israel’s tourism and serve as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

Interestingly, the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries included an agreement to shift operations from Eilat to Aqaba airport and for it to be renamed Aqaba-Eilat peace international airport. This part of the agreement was never achieved, and Israel has since acted independently to turn the Ramon Airport in Eilat into a regional hub, specifically for the movement of tourists into the cities around the Red Sea, including Egyptian resorts, such as Taba and Sharm El Sheikh.

While the peace treaty and security coordination between the two countries continues, the airport signals tension on both sides. Jordan must ensure that such a key peace deal guarantees its strategic interests. Meanwhile, there has been an increasing criticism in Israel of Jordan, its policies and its recent media statements that some consider to be anti-Israel propaganda, which is not considered to be acceptable from an ally. There is also a perception of growing anti-Israeli sentiment amongst Jordanians.

Regardless of what is driving the deteriorating relations, it is important for Jordan to reshape its strategy on how to deal with these challenges. Politically, the peace agreement with Israel should more comprehensively protect Jordan’s strategic interests. Similarly, Jordan needs to focus on restoring its economy, which requires cross-border cooperation. Therefore, if Jordan is to maintain the peace treaty with Israel, political understanding, mutual interests and Jordan’s national security should be at the top of the mutual agenda.

There is no doubt that after 25 years of having a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, things are not going well. Normalisation of relations does not appear to be popular on either side, although Israel is engaging positively with other Arab countries. This could lead to new peace treaties and, therefore, new opportunities for economic and other closer ties, at Jordan’s expense. Jordan’s approach to this, and other bilateral relations, cannot be based on emotion or ideology, but rather must be based on the geopolitical situation it finds itself in and the realpolitik that is dominating the region and the rest of the world.

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