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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Jordan and Israel's difficult peace

By Jon Leyne
BBC News correspondent in Amman

Palestinian refugees on a hill overlooking Baqa'a camp in Jordan
The majority of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin

Ten years after they made peace, Jordan and Israel are still uneasy neighbours.

The two countries pledged "normalisation" when they signed their peace deal on October 26, 1994, but relations between the two neighbours are anything but normal.

It was always going to be a difficult balancing act for the Jordanian government.

It is one of the most pro-Western and pro-American governments in the Middle East.

But more than half the population is of Palestinian origin.

So it was no surprise when the Jordanians withdrew their ambassador from Israel at the start of the current round of violence.

The Jordanian government accused the Israelis of "excessive force" in tackling the intifada.

Israel retains an ambassador in Amman, but he lives a lonely life in his well-guarded residence.

Even a group of Israeli journalists, invited to Jordan recently to mark the anniversary, were warned not to stand out, not to spend too much time on the streets, and definitely not to speak Hebrew in public.

Overwhelming opposition

According to one set of figures, 74% of Jordanians supported the peace treaty in 1994. In a poll conducted in 1999 and 2000, 80% opposed it and considered Israel the enemy.

Opinion polls tend to be unreliable in the Arab world.

Jordanian analysts suspect the support was never that strong.

Opposition to Israel amongst most Jordanians is now overwhelming.

Jordan map

The main opposition leader, Abdel-Latif Arabiyat, has called for the peace treaty to be renounced.

"We don't believe the Jews respect any pact," he said.

Marwan Muasher, Jordan's foreign minister until a cabinet reshuffle at the weekend, told the visiting Israeli journalists that he had turned down an Israeli suggestion to hold a joint ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the treaty.

"We aren't in the mood for ceremonies because of what's happening to the Palestinians," he said.

Yet the peace treaty does have its benefits.

There are daily flights between Israel and Jordan, enabling travel from Israel to the wider Arab world.

Direct trade between the two countries is limited.

But the United States offers duty-free access to goods produced jointly between Israelis and Jordanians in Jordan.

Future fears

For Israeli Arabs, not to mention Palestinians from the West Bank, peace with Jordan also enables them freer access to the outside world.

Jordan fears, once again, that it will suffer because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Muasher said he believed Israel's construction of a barrier in and around the West Bank would cause a new exodus of Palestinian refugees to Jordan.

"We'll be punished," he said.

Protest against the West Bank barrier in Amman, Jordan
The Palestinian conflict arouses strong feelings in Jordan

"Thousands of miserable Palestinians will escape to Jordan to look for work."

Already, by some counts, the recent violence has sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Jordan.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have flooded in across Jordan's eastern border.

All that on top of a population officially estimated at only 5.5 million.

The days when Israel was threatened by conventional armies on its borders are long gone.

But the challenge in the Middle East has been moving on to the next stage.

Nobody has worked out a way to develop truly normal relations between Israel and its neighbours, and in the current climate, nothing is about to change.


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