The organizers of the Jordan environmental conference that brought together the kingdom, Israel, and the Palestinians have not expected the riots in Jerusalem that darkened the 20 years of peace event. Israelis reassured and the Jordanians stressed: “Everyone is in favor of peace; the problem is the politicians’
Roi Kais, Jordan
Difficult days are passing on the relations between Israel and its eastern neighbor in a time when the two countries commemorate 20 years to the signing of the peace agreement between King Hussein and the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
There is no progress in the diplomatic channels with the Palestinians. In Temple mount the situation is critical and is worsening. The Jordanian ambassador is still conducting consultations in Amman and has not returned to Israel. Under this tension and sensitivity, visiting the Hashemite kingdom even for a short while is a difficult mission.
Those who experienced this first hand are the organizers of the Jordan River Rehabilitation Conference represented in “EcoPeace Friends of the Earth”. They decided on a date for the conference before the latest escalation and their plans were also affected from the current situation “all events with Israel to commemorate the peace agreement were cancelled. There was an inclination to cancel this event as well but due to pressure, the event was made possible” stated one of the organizers.
It is clear in these tense days that issues related to the environment and water are capable of bringing together public officials form Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. These issues cannot be removed from the political context as believed by the participants. Such cooperation is a true expression of peace between the countries.
On the way from the border crossing in the north of the country, in the region of Irbid, to the northeast of the Dead Sea, passerby’s suspicion can be felt even through the glass of the bus.
When taking pictures in one of the markets, where portraits of the King and his successor were hanging, a local youth signaled with anger against this. We can assume that this reaction stems from general preparedness in the kingdom these days to step up pressure against extremists affiliated with ISIS for fear of spreading of the Islamic State.
One of the local participants in the environmental conference who apparently was not really worried about the issue stated that “the security forces know how to protect us and we trust them”. A Jordanian governmental official participating in the conference spoke to Ynet tried to send a message of business as usual “a lot of force is applied now on ISIS from the West; United States, United Kingdom, Europe and from Jordan. I think they will be destroyed at the end because they will not be able to stand against such force.” Indeed, from the breathtaking side of the Jordanian Dead Sea, the danger of ISIS is not considerably visible and is not really mentioned in the context of the conference in spite of the danger it poses on water resources in the Middle East as in Syria and Iraq.
Politicians Soothing Spirits.
Nonetheless, recent events in Jerusalem cast a shadow over the conference and over 20 years of Peace between the two countries. It is for a good reason that two senior Israeli speakers; Minister of Science Yaacov Peri and resigning Minister of Environment Amir Peretz allocated a substantial part of their speeches for “calming things down” “maintaining the status quo in the Temple Mount” and “the Arab Peace Initiative”. These statements are almost unavoidable in the current atmosphere and are part of the Israeli effort to contain the recent events and their consequences.
Warm words, from the politicians and from Yuval Rabin who participated in the conference, were certainly pleasing for Jordanian ears. But if anything indicates the sensitivity of the situation, it is the heavy security at the time of the arrival of the ministers and members of Knesset for fear of protests against their presence. On Friday, last week, several demonstrations led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the capital and several other cities took place against Israel and the peace agreement due to tension on the Temple Mount.
A major figure from the Jordanian side on the speaker’s platform was Mr. Saed Abu Hamour; Secretary General of the Jordan Valley Authority and Head of the Water Authority in Jordan. This personality symbolizes how cooperation should look like between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Abu Hamour, who dealt for years with the relationships between the two countries regarding water, did not hide his disappointment from the cancelation of the festive events “when the Israelis wanted to mark the occasion, the Jordanian side cancelled its presence due to the problems in Al Aqsa Mosque. Apparently, the event will be postponed to have participation from the Jordanian side.”
Abu Hamour who is an optimist by nature, summed up succinctly: “The relationship in general is not bad. I do not think that the peace agreement is in jeopardy. This problem and event happens from time to time but doesn’t destroy on the whole 20 years of history of peace. If the Palestinians and Israelis reach an agreement, this will be for the benefit of their nations. This is a good opportunity for the two people to live in peace together and live as neighbors, this is something that falls under the politician’s authority and they have to be brave and decide.”
“There are extremist in Jordan just like there are extremists in Israel”
The Jordanian official discussed the manner in which the country perceives the peace agreement after 20 years and on the issue of demonstrations “He who understands the peace agreement does not object to it because it is in the interest of our country” Abu Hamour stated. Since 1994, we eased the Palestinians lives since the signing of this agreement. I think we have to continue to improve it, not to stop it or to listen to narrow minded people living in Jordan. We have narrow minded people in Jordan as you have narrow minded people in Israel also; a lot of extremists against Arabs and against Islam. We don’t believe in this. We have to go ahead and leave them alone.”
He added: “The king is always for peace all over the world even between Palestinians and Israelis and between Israel and Jordan. Everybody is for peace, who understands life, who understands those around him. We all exist in this ground; we have to believe in peace, you cannot say I will demolish this country or that country.”
Abu Hamour said later that he believes the Israeli side is trying to maintain the peace treaty with Jordan. “The problem is with the Politicians” he declared “we are not talking about politics, but the problem with the politicians is that sometimes they mix up everything and it reflects on other activities. So we hope that peace will improve. There are a number of problems that need to be stopped.”
Until the problems end completely, political tension seems to continue. Nevertheless, in terms of the organizers from “EcoPeace” operating in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, the conference was crowned with success at the bottom line, mainly because Abu Hamour declared that the Jordanian Government invites representatives from the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to meet in Jordan and to discuss a plan to rehabilitate the Jordan River and sign a Memorandum of Understanding. The statement won the support of the Israeli politicians, and the European and American representatives. The Palestinians side was also in favour of restoring the river and wants to take part in its rehabilitation. World Bank representative Iyad Ramal said that he positively perceives the issue of the Rivers Rehabilitation, indicating the potential of transferring funds in the near future for the task from various international sources.
“Water is a major issue in the peace agreement and is in good shape” added Abu Hamour and mentioned several examples including the agreement to exchange water between the parties last year. “This project is for peace, and if it works, peace will improve. As for this conference organized for the Rehabilitation of the Jordan River, this an example that the Jordanians and all the parties participating in this conference would like to have more cooperation especially when it comes to the Jordan River that has been destroyed for the past decades from different aspects either; water quantities, water quality, the ecological system and more. This project is an example of cooperation within the framework of peace between Israel and Jordan. We are looking forward to have even the Palestinians for the border between Jordan and Israel.”
CEO of EcoPeace: it did not occur to us to cancel the conference.
Executive Director of “EcoPeace Middle East” Gidon Bromberg told Ynet that this venture works in a hard and tense period because we are here not to gather but to solve concrete problems, particularly the rehabilitation of the Southern Jordan River. Despite the obstacles, this conference also presents a chance for a breakthrough in light of a call to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to expand cooperation with Jordan on the topic of the Rivers restoration.
Leading international bodies have expressed interest in helping finance the rehabilitation of the Southern Jordan Basin. They assembled to discuss the actual plan to solve a fundamental problem because the issue is of interest of all parties.”
According to Bromberg “despite the pressure and security incidents, it did not occur to us not to organize the conference. Such a scenario would have been a violation to everyone’s interest, the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Palestinians. While we are not at an absolute war, like the latest escalation in Gaza, we will not cancel the organization shared events. What matters and is different here, is that the pressure not to cancel the event did not come from the Israelis, who called on the Jordanians not to cancel joint events, but from the Jordanians themselves, the organizations representatives who worked to continue the existence of dialogue and meetings.
This post is translated by Samar M. Salma, EcoPeace Middle East Media Officer at the Amman Office.
Photography by Samar M. Salma
Click on the link for the original post in Hebrew