Jordan recalls ambassador in Israel for consultations

Ghassan Majali, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Jordan recalls ambassador in Israel for consultations and arrest an Israeli citizen while two Jordanians are arrested under administrative detention in Israel.

A diplomatic crisis seems to be unfolding between Israel and Jordan, but officials and experts on both sides are quick to calm the speculations. We get statements like “It is only a disagreement,” “Jordan-Israel relations have gone up and down in the past,” “We have known worse times and we will get through this as well.”

The focus of attention are the two Jordanian citizens, Hiba Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri, who were arrested in Israel on Aug. 20 and Sept. 12 respectively. They are being held in Israel under administrative detention without a trial due to suspicions of collaboration with terror organizations. The evidence that convinced the Israeli court to confirm the administrative detention is classified, making it hard for the public to know whether this is justified or not. The prisoners have the same legal rights as Israeli prisoners, including visits by Jordanian officials and access to lawyers.

Hiba Labadi was suspected of having met with Hezbollah contacts in Beirut. Her lawyer confirms that she did indeed visit Beirut to see relatives but that she had no contact with Hezbollah. She entered Israel to go to a cousin’s wedding in Jenin, but Israel claims that her main purpose was to recruit people in Israel. She has been on a hunger strike for the past month and her health has deteriorated. She was recently moved to a hospital in Haifa.

Abdul Rahman Miri is suspected of belonging to Hamas, and has suffered in the past from cancer.

Administrative detention is a measure of holding people detained without a trial, not for a crime committed in the past but for a crime they might commit if released. It is meant as a preventive tool, not as a punitive measure, and is used by many countries for terror suspects and illegal immigrants. Jordan is protesting this measure, and their lawyers demand that they either get to stand trial or are sent back to Jordan.

The name of the Israeli citizen held in Jordan has not been released. He is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and was wanted by the Israeli police for criminal charges. He was in the Jordan River and got too close to the eastern shore. Whether he did that on purpose to escape Israeli law enforcement or whether he accidentally went too close to the shore is not known. Some Jordanian officials have expressed a wish for prisoner exchange, while others say that his case is not linked to the Jordanian prisoners in Israel.

All this is happening days after the 25th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994, which was not marked by official celebrations in either country. Maybe a sign of the strained relations. One year ago Jordan announced that the leasing of the two areas Tsofar and Naharayim would not be extended, and they are due to move to full Jordanian sovereignty in November 2019.

These two areas near the border were symbols of the good relations between Israel and Jordan. They were historically used and owned by Jews under the British Mandate, and stayed under Israeli sovereignty from 1948 until 1994 even though they were technically on the Jordanian side of the border. In the 1994 peace treaty they were recognized as Jordanian land temporarily leased and used by private Israelis for a period of 25 years. According to the peace agreement, this lease would be automatically extended for new 25-years periods unless one of the sides declares the suspension of the lease one year in advance. This is what king Abdullah did in October 2018.

Experts are saying that peace between governments is one thing, peace between people another. In order to appease the people, king Abdullah must sometimes use harsh words and criticize Israel, but the talks between officials behind closed doors can be very different. The security cooperation and the water agreements are working well and Israel still allows European goods that is imported to Jordan to go through Haifa. Israel and Jordan are strategic partners in their struggle against radical Islam and both sides stand to lose a lot by allowing the relation to deteriorate.

The peace will be maintained, it only remains to be seen whether a solution can be found in regards to the arrested citizens. From an Israeli perspective, Israel cannot afford to be seen as a country that gives in to hunger strikes, as that would spark massive problems in Israeli prisons. On the other hand, neither can Israel afford to lose such an important strategic ally who also maintains peace along Israel’s longest border.