Middle East

Jordan ends border enclaves land lease for Israeli farmers

An Israeli soldier closes a border gate on the Israeli side of the border at the Jordan Valley site of Naharayim, also known as Baqura in Jordan, east of the Jordan river on November 10, 2019 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The border gates were closed on Sunday afternoon

The King of Jordan has announced the end of a lease agreement that gave Israelis access to two border enclaves.

Under a 1994 peace treaty, Israeli farmers could cultivate land in the Jordanian areas of Naharayim and Tzofar - known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years, but could have been extended.

However King Abdullah announced last year that he planned to end the lease - in what was seen as a sign of worsening ties between Jordan and Israel.

At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that he still hoped to negotiate an extension to the arrangement.

On Sunday, as the lease expired, gates on the border were closed, and AFP reported that Israelis were prevented from entering.

One farmer, Eli Arazi, told Reuters his community had been growing crops there for 70 years, and described the end of the lease as "a punch in the face".

How did the deal come about?

The two enclaves are on the Israeli-Jordanian border, and have been privately owned by Israeli groups for several decades.

Israel and Jordan were officially at war from 1948 to 1994, until the peace treaty was signed.

The treaty was significant, as Jordan is only one of two Arab countries that has signed a peace deal with Israel.

The agreement recognised that Jordan had sovereignty over the two areas - but Israel was permitted to lease the areas for 25 years.

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.

Why won't Jordan renew the lease?

On Sunday, as he opened a parliamentary session, King Abdullah said that the lease had expired, and announced "the imposition of our full sovereignty over every inch of those lands".

The decision not to renew the lease is widely seen as a reflection of the strained relationship between Jordan and Israel in recent years, with issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians causing tensions.

Many Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and opinion polls suggest the peace deal is unpopular with the public.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Previously, the sites were also visited by Israeli tourists

Last year, 87 Jordanian MPs signed a petition urging an end to the lease.

In recent months, there have also been tensions over Israel's detention of two Jordanians, without trial, for several months.

Jordan recalled its ambassador, and the two were eventually released on Wednesday.

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