The ceremony was low-key and the event downplayed even at home, but the historic agenda signed Tuesday between Jordan and the nation that has been its sworn enemy for more than four decades sets a pattern for peace to be followed by Israel and its other Arab neighbors, senior Jordanian officials say.
For the first time since the Middle East peace talks began two years ago, Israel and Jordan agreed that even before they sign a peace treaty or establish official diplomatic ties, they can use the bargaining table to implement a wide array of specific agreements--from water sharing and telephone links between the two nations to the return of Israeli-occupied Jordanian land.
The officials stressed that they hope the flexibility written into the agenda will produce a series of concrete “confidence-building measures” that will stimulate Israel’s deadlocked negotiations with its two other neighbors, Syria and Lebanon. Both of those countries have insisted on all-or-nothing solutions that would exchange all land for full peace.
Prime Minister Abdul Salam Majali, who was Jordan’s chief negotiator and the architect of the agenda, confirmed during a press conference in Amman just before the Washington signing that the agenda permits the two nations to implement interim accords in all five of their major conflicts without a treaty or a regional peace settlement.
“Let us say that tomorrow we agree on the right of water,” Majali said. “Do you think I will say, ‘No, please don’t give me back my water until we come to a peace agreement?’ This is ridiculous. We can’t do that.”
Majali took pains to play down the importance of Tuesday’s signing ceremony, telling reporters that it was a logical next step after Monday’s “great breakthrough” between Israel and the Palestinians. And the prime minister insisted that the phased process outlined in Jordan’s agenda does not mean that Amman is departing from the Arabs’ unified approach to a comprehensive, simultaneous settlement among all parties to the talks.
“Peace has to be total. It can’t be in small pieces,” he said. “It is not in the interest of any given country to have a separate peace.”
But later, Majali cited the specific section he helped write into the agenda during negotiations with the Israelis last year that permits “the discussion, agreement and implementation” of all outstanding conflicts during a negotiating process that would “culminate in a peace treaty.”
At the heart of the unprecedented wording of the agenda is a negotiating strategy that Majali deliberately designed to be flexible, according to Jawad Anani, who was second in command on Jordan’s negotiating team when the agenda was first drawn up nearly a year ago. The pact was left unsigned until after the Palestinians took a lead role in the peace process.
“We don’t want to go into the Syrian-Israeli situation,” Anani said, describing the approach that led to the stalemate in talks between Damascus and Jerusalem as: “You have to give me this before I give you that.”
Anani said that Jordan and Israel deliberately created negotiating committees that link the most critical issues on both sides. For example, the return of several hundred square miles of Jordanian land is linked in committee discussions with Israel’s security. And Jordanian rights to water now controlled by Israel are linked to Israel’s desire for increased economic cooperation with Jordan.
Both officials said the agenda’s flexibility was also designed to produce step-by-step breakthroughs that would fuel and fortify the overall negotiating process between Israel and its other neighbors as well as to reinforce Israel’s talks with the Palestinians’ emerging self-ruled entity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho.
“We need some confidence-building measures along the way in order to build the momentum and dynamize or invigorate the process,” Anani said. “Any tangible sign along the way would give people who have been watching these peace negotiations trod their way along for the last two years without reaching any tangible results that the different parties are getting serious--that the process is becoming almost irreversible.”
Among the least contentious issues that Jordan hopes to resolve with Israel during coming rounds of talks are water rights to the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, the return of two relatively small but strategic tracts of land that Israel conquered in 1967 and mutual security arrangements along their common borders.
The most intractable issue is the fate of an estimated 1.2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan. Their rights of return and compensation for their land are not addressed in the Israel-PLO declaration signed Monday.
Jordan officially classifies as refugees all Palestinians who fled lands captured by Israel in 1948. A second wave of refugees who fled to Jordan during the 1967 war are classified as “displaced persons,” and they are covered by the agreement that top PLO political adviser Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed in Washington.
But in Jordan, the 1948 refugees have become so integrated into society that they hold key positions in government and business, and Tuesday’s agenda specifically calls for the two sides to reach “a just solution” either for rights of return or financial compensation.
“They have the right to return, full stop,” Majali said. He did not distinguish between the two groups of refugees but made clear that Jordan will not force any Palestinian to leave its territory even after Palestinian self-rule is established in Israeli-occupied lands.
Majali was also asked whether the Jordanians felt upstaged by the PLO’s historic accord with Israel.
“We were behind and pushing the recognition of the Palestinian entity,” he said, referring to Jordan’s steadfast refusal to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians when the talks began two years ago.
“It’s not a question of being ahead,” he added. “Jordan is essential for anything. . . . We are the joint between all others. . . . I think Jordan has initiated peace.”