Tag Archives: peace

Jordan and Israel: Awkward Bedfellows

By Samantha Sisskind

AMMAN, JORDAN – Two groups met at the banks of one of the world’s most meandering and politically significant rivers in the world. Standing in a rickety wooden hut framed by thick brush on the east bank of the Jordan River was a group of American students, and directly across on the west bank of the river was an equally sized group of American tourists, waiting upon steps leading to a mammoth stone Israeli military outpost. Not twenty feet separated the two groups, yet each pretended that the other wasn’t there.  The tension between the two groups, viewing the same site from opposite perspectives, was palpable. They wondered, “do we acknowledge each other, or do we just continue to ignore each other, take a picture of the river and go?” Finally, a student on the Jordanian side of the river sighed loudly, threw his hands to his sides, and yelled across the river, “Well, this is awkward!” effectively slicing the taut atmosphere and leaving those on all sides of the river in stitches.

This light-hearted story’s implications echo in political reality.  The relationship between Jordan and Israel, described as a warm peace following the peace treaty in 1994, has since cooled, and now more closely resembles geopolitical awkwardness.  Jordan and Israel are two countries adjacent to one another, yet both are at a loss for how to act toward each other.

After the Second Intifada, relations between Jordan and Israel declined as the violence discouraged Jordan from engaging in cross border cultural and economic ventures, and worsened even more so as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza.  This past spring, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that the relationship between Israel and Jordan is at its worst in years, claiming that Jordan was better off economically before the treaty in 1994.  In addition, Israeli opposition to Jordan’s recent nuclear energy aspirations after uranium was discovered in Jordanian soil has also worn on the ties between the two countries.  The King cites a lack of trust between the two nations and accuses Israel of being less than straightforward in their efforts for peace in the Middle East.

Israel maintains similar frustrations with Jordan regarding items of the cooperative treaty of 1994 that weren’t kept. Earlier this year, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein lamented that Jordan had not followed through with their commitment to foster cultural exchange and interfaith dialogue as stipulated in the 1994 treaty. In addition, the Jordanian government irritated Israel when it reneged on an earlier promise not to open up talks with Hamas, though Jordan says it only initiated the talks to boost coordination between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas for the sake of the peace process.

The negative turn in relations between Jordan and Israel has been complicated further by the halted negotiations over the issue of settlements. Failure to reach a resolution yet again after two months of talks has left Jordan frustrated with the lack of progress and Israel irritated by Jordan’s intervention.  Moreover, Jordan recently seized the opportunity to win European affections after foreign ministers from France and Spain were “snubbed” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Recent events in the peace process have cemented this uncertainty.  For Jordan, Israel’s decisions regarding the Palestinian question affect its population and its infrastructure, which accommodates displaced Palestinians; any negative change in the current state of affairs poses a threat to the security of Jordan’s borders and its internal stability.  For Israel, it is important to recognize that Jordan is the one nation on its borders with which Israel can have a cooperative relationship at the present time.  Israel needs Jordan’s cooperation to advance its own security interests as well. In the end, both Jordan and Israel have much more to lose than to gain by not aiming to restore good cooperative relations with one another.

Unquestionably, the population of Jordan is growing restless with Israel. Jordan’s relationship with Israel is a prominent issue in today’s Jordanian national elections with most candidates espousing platforms critical of Israel. Some express the widespread fear that Israel will expel more Palestinians from the West Bank who will resettle in Jordan and make it a de facto Palestinian state–70 percent of its population is already Palestinian. According to one candidate, “It would mean Jordan’s demise and the obliteration of our national identity,” Though the majority of the population is Palestinian or of Palestinian descent, the nationalist Jordanian identity is strong, and Jordanians support a separate state of Palestine. Though the pro-West King and parliament of Jordan will not sever the peace agreement any time soon, the souring relationship ensures there will be no a swift agreement or cooperation from other Arab states with Israel in the near future, which stunts the peace process.

Back at the river, IDF soldiers and royal security forces abruptly ended the fraternizing between the students and tourists on opposite sides, illustrating the non-confrontational posture both states have taken toward one another on a diplomatic level. Direct interaction and cooperation have been replaced with toleration and separation until either party determines once and for all how it will treat the other.  While the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel set a standard for cross-border cooperation, the integrity of the treaty is compromised by a lack of trust that permeates the relationship. The crucial nature of the Jordanian-Israeli relationship for the security of both states and the stability of the region is worth reiterating. If the two states do not make a point of repairing their relationship, they will hinder the progress of Middle East indefinitely.

Well, this is awkward.

What Would Abraham Do?

By Daniel Kieval

A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew walk into a room.  No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke. But its meaning depends on what city you’re in.

If you are in New York, it could be a visit to the New York Public Library’s new “Three Faiths” exhibition. The exhibition contains a treasure trove of books, paintings, and other documents from across the world and more than a thousand years of history. It is a wondrous display of what the library calls “the three Abrahamic religions.” These are legacies of Abraham, the first monotheist and one dubbed by God “a father of many nations.”

If, on the other hand, you are in Washington, it’s the latest round of Middle East peace negotiations. This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States to meet with American and Palestinian negotiators as officials from all three sides attempt to restart peace talks. The nascent talks stalled in late September when Netanyahu refused to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and Palestinian leaders refused to continue negotiations without such a freeze.

A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew walk into a room.  In New York they are discovering an intertwined past, united by a single ancestor and his revolutionary commitment to a unified God. In Washington they are trying to alter the course of a shared future; why not invoke Abraham’s presence here as well?

The patriarch, in fact, has some relevant experience on his résumé. Traveling through the Negev with his nephew Lot, Abraham (still carrying his original name, Abram) discovers that his growing household has already exceeded the land’s capacity. “Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them staying together…And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle.” (Genesis 13:5-7) Rather than compete over a piece of territory, Abraham proposes an arrangement that will preserve his and Lot’s economic rights and also their relationship: they split up the land. “Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.'” (Genesis 13:8-9) This is not a hostile separation, nor is it motivated by greed; it is motivated, rather, by a desire for peace. The reason given by Abraham is “anashim achim anachnu,” which translates roughly to “we are people who are brothers.”

Compare Abraham’s declaration to the following: “Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people.” These words, strikingly similar to the patriarch’s, were spoken by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the Palestinian people as he signed the historic 1993 Oslo Accords. Rabin was infused with Abraham’s vision of cooperation and common humanity in a way that, so far, has seemed absent from current negotiations.

Like Abraham and Lot, Israelis and Palestinians face a choice between quarreling over resources or dividing them. Even as he emphasized peace and brotherhood with Lot, Abraham realized that this unity could only be achieved through separation. It may be that sometimes coexistence is best achieved not by sharing a single space but by forming separate communities.

This is not a lesser ideal. A true celebration of tolerance and diversity is not one that nullifies our areas of divergence. It is one that uses our commonalities as a foundation from which to explore our fascinating differences and even our disagreements.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew walk into a room.  Perhaps the negotiators in Washington should take a field trip to the Three Faiths exhibition for some ancestral inspiration. Let us hope that they recall the lessons of their shared tradition: that even Abraham shared his promised land; that separation can be a foundation for friendship and peace; and that strife and competition should not make us forget that “we are people who are brothers.”