In diplomacy and in business, long term leases are often the closest thing to outright sale. In Israel, for example, much of the land is owned by the National Government, with individual homeowners “leasing” the land from this national body. So, before I bought my house, the lease on the land came due and I “renewed” the lease on the land. I only own my house and not the land it sits on.

One such long term, 25-year lease was negotiated as part of the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

In 1946, Jordan obtained their independence from Great Britain. Only 2 years later, their British trained Jordanian Legion would engage with the nascent Jewish State’s army, which would coalesce to become the IDF.  One area whose sovereignty was questioned as a result of that war and the redrawing of maps is in the north, near the Sea of Galilee, was Naharayaim – an island created as a result of Rutenberg’s power plant (read about him here).  This island in the middle of the Jordan was used as farmland by Israeli kibbutzim Ashdot Yaakov Meuhad and Asdot Yaakov Ihud.

Another tract of land in the south, in the Arava, was settled as a result of the 1967 Six Day War on the eastern bank of the Arava Stream.  Initially, in 1968, a military outpost was erected there and in 1975 Moshav Tzofar was established a few kilometers from the outpost. The land of the army base and the new land of the moshav have been used for farming ever since.

The Peace Island Near Naharaim wher seven girls that were murdered on the 13th of March 1997 by a Jordanian soldier named Achmed Dakemsa
Entrance to Naharayim showing Israeli flag and Jordanian flag

In 1994, in an effort to bring peace and stability to the region, King Hussein of Jordan and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin decided to bring the era of war to an end (no peace treaty had ever been signed between the two countries before). As part of the peace treaty, Israel agreed to transfer these two parcels of land – Naharayim and some of the fields of Tzofar – to Jordanian hegemony. In order to continue the development of the land and its use as agricultural tracts, however, the land would be leased by the Israeli communities who had been farming the land for decades.  The term of the lease would be 25 years, after which time it would come up for review and possible renewal.

The treaty and areas served as a symbol of improvement in the relations between the two countries, and it was assumed by at least some that the relationship would continue for the foreseeable future. However, in 1997, an attack in Naharayim on school girls from Beit Shemesh, Israel, which resulted in the death of 7 of the girls, exposed cracks in the relationship. Although the late King Hussein of Jordan visited each and every one of the victims’ homes to express his sorrow and grief, clearly attitudes within the mainly Palestinian populace of Jordan were still antagonistic towards Israel.

In October 2018, Jordan announced its intention to end the lease over lands in Naharayim and Tzofar, giving the requisite one-year notice and surprising many, especially those who had faithfully farmed the land for decades. This last fall, quietly, full Jordanian rule was extended over these territories and the Israeli farmers pulled out, expressing the downgrading diplomatic ties between the two countries. Jordan, the country with which Israel has the longest border, still considers the Jewish state as an enemy. There have been so many steps forward in cooperation between Israel and Jordan on many fronts; hopefully this ending of the lease is only one tiny step back.  Time will tell – peace or piece?

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