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Action or inaction? The fate of Baqoura and Ghumar

Sep 26,2018 - Last updated at Sep 26,2018

Unfortunately for Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, he is destined to take action regarding two explosive files he inherited from previous governments. The first is the new tax law, whose fate is now in the hands of lawmakers as the extraordinary session kicked off on Wednesday. 

The other is more sensitive and its backlash might be more painful because it has to do with the Kingdom's sovereignty and national pride.

Under the 1994 Wadi Araba peace pact with Israel, Jordan has to decide whether or not to renew an agreement that placed thousands of dunums in Baqoura, in the north-western corner of the Kingdom, and Ghumar, south of the Dead Sea, at the disposal of Israeli farmers. In the former, Israeli citizens have "ownership rights" that date back to 1926, when Russian Jewish engineer, Pinhas Rutenberg, who, by the way, was a co-founder of the terrorist Haganah Jewish militia, obtained a concession for production and distribution of electric power.

In fact, the annexes in the peace treaty concerning the two areas do not mention the term "lease", which has been used in official statements on the issue when it was brought up by an MP earlier this year.

The dilemma lies in the Baqoura case. As put by former premier, Abdul Salam Majali, in a recent TV interview, Jordan may have to buy back the land from owners, or just hope that the Israeli side will return it to Jordan free of charge. Since we know that Israel does not give anything for free, critics will be digging to know what Tel Aviv would ask for in return. 

In all cases, the moment of truth is pending and Razzaz and his team will need another energy-consuming PR campaign to pacify public outrage if they decide not to notify the Israelis of Jordan's wish not to renew the deal and thus leave it to be automatically renewed for another 25 years, starting October 2019. 

And in case they do, they will go into painstaking "consultations" with the Israeli side that might involve the option of purchasing the land at a time when the country is struggling with a cash flow problem. 

Nevertheless, the rule that Jordanians should agree on is that the government, especially Razzaz's, is not the enemy. Let us go to the basics: This government, like all governments, is trusted by His Majesty King Abdullah to handle the executive authorities and since it has won the House's vote of confidence, it is, indirectly, a government of people's choice.

The prime minister and concerned members of his team are required to do their utmost to best serve the interests of the country and people, and if they fail, people's representatives have the power to sack them.  

This might be oversimplification, but the fact remains that either when it comes to the tax law, the relationship with Israel or any unpopular decision, Razzaz needs to show decisiveness and exercise his powers without hesitation, and take consequences for his moves. 

This means, regarding Baqoura and Ghumar, that the time of silence and ready-made cliché statements is over and the moment has arrived for the government to make up its mind on this sensitive issue, once and for all.

 

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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