Last month, a Jordanian non-governmental organisation published an advertisement for candidates to join an environmental training project in the Jordan Valley. This neglected to mention the project was in co-operation with Israel, on the Israeli side of the border but it was identical to many previous ads. It prompted a storm of protest after an Islamic newspaper revealed the Israel connection.For those who hope for peace in the Middle East, this is the best one can expect - a frigid detente that itself will remain under pressure from extremists, forever.
“They circled my name and phone number in the ad as if to target me,” says the Jordanian organiser, who prefers to remain anonymous. “I do not feel physically threatened and luckily there has been no leverage on me but many others avoid going into the same field of peace co-operation because of such tactics.”
Jordan is the only Arab state where NGO’s openly initiate such co-operation in several fields, including the environment, journalism, healthcare, youth work and even political research.
Israel’s peace with Egypt is cold and few Egyptians collaborate openly with Israelis. In Jordan, protests against such ties – from the country’s anti-normalisation movement, consisting mainly of Islamists with some pan-Arabists – are as old as the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel but they are getting louder.
Official tolerance for this movement fluctuates with the state of relations between the government and the Islamists, and with the Israeli-Jordanian relations. The latter have been bleak in recent months.
“It is worse than at any time since the signing of the peace treaty,” says Jordanian analyst and writer Oraib Rantawi. “I’m hearing things from the inner circle of the ruling elite [code for the people close to King Abdullah II] I have not heard before. They are talking about Israel as the enemy.”
...The NGOs involved in joint Israeli projects feel the increased ambivalence towards the treaty. “The government is keeping a closer watch on what I do and can do less to rein in the anti-normalisers,” says the Jordanian organiser.
Badi al-Rafaih is a leader of the anti-normalisation movement and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He says: “Years ago I was arrested and even beaten up for what I do. But now nobody wants to defend Israel or have anything to do with it.”
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