When Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, Israel transferred small parcels of farm land to Jordan. An annex to the agreement provided Israel a 25-year lease to allow Israelis to continue to farm on the land near Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the southern Arava desert. The agreement was automatically renewable, unless either side gave a year’s notice to terminate the deal. King Abdullah decided to give notice on October 21, 2018.
Naharayim is a man-made island between the Yarmuk and Jordan Rivers that became known as the “Island of Peace” because Israelis could visit the area, which now was part of Jordan, without a passport. It is also the site of an electric power plant built by the Palestine Electric Company in 1930.
In March 1997, the peace was shattered when a Jordanian soldier killed seven schoolgirls on an outing to Naharayim. In an unprecedent demonstration of sympathy for Israeli victims of terror, King Hussein visited the homes of the victims to express his condolences. Additional security measures were subsequently adopted.
“We are practicing our full sovereignty on our land,” Abdullah said. “Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.”
Experts speculated the king acted because of domestic pressure prompted in part by the country’s economic crisis and longstanding public opposition to the peace agreement. One analyst, Ehud Yaari, argued Abdullah was trying to appease hardliners and prevent a potential coup.
The farmers who cultivated land said the decision was a “death sentence” for them. Israeli officials, however, had a muted reaction to the decision and insisted ties between the two countries remained strong. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would negotiate with Jordan to retain access to the area, but a Jordanian analyst said it was unlikely the king would reverse his decision.
Raoul Wootliff And Adam Rasgon, “Dismantling ‘Isle of Peace,’ Jordan chooses hardliners over Israel ties,” Times of Israel, (October 21, 2018).