Israeli, Jordanian leaders meet amid push to improve ties

An Israeli official says Israel’s new prime minister met secretly with the Jordanian king last week

AMMAN, Jordan -- Israel's new prime minister met secretly with the Jordanian king last week, an Israeli official confirmed Thursday, as the two countries announced new agreements on water and trade.

The agreements, concluded during a meeting between their foreign ministers, signaled improved relations with Israel's new government following years of strained ties under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under the deal, Jordan will purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water from Israel and increase its exports to the occupied West Bank from $160 million a year to around $700 million, the two countries announced in official statements.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid — the guiding force behind the new government formed last month — met at the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday.

The deals came in the wake of a secret meeting last week between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Bennett took office last month, ending Netanyahu's 12-year rule.

The Israeli news site Walla, which broke the story, described the meeting as positive and said the two leaders agreed to open a “new page” in relations. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, confirmed the meeting had taken place.

Jordan said technical teams will iron out the details of the trade deal in the coming days, and that talks on implementing the export ceiling will be held among Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials.

Safadi called for renewed efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Israel to halt “illegal” measures that undermine such efforts.

He stressed the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem that is under Jordanian custodianship. He also said it would be a “war crime” to evict Palestinian families from their homes in east Jerusalem. Both issues fueled tensions that helped ignite an 11-day war in Gaza between Israel and the territory's militant Hamas rulers in May.

Lapid called Jordan an “important neighbor and partner,” and said Israel would work to strengthen ties and expand economic cooperation. He had highlighted the importance of mending fences with Jordan when he took office last month.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, a Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalist group, said the deal marks a “dramatic increase” in water exports from Israel, which he said had not exported more than 10 million cubic meters per year until now.

He said Jordan still faces a water deficit of 500 million cubic meters a year and would have to import considerably more to ensure a continuous supply for all its needs. Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and its water shortages are expected to worsen with climate change.

Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have been strained in recent years over tensions at Al-Aqsa, Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in war-won lands and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process.

Both Jordan and the Palestinians were adamantly opposed to the Trump administration's Mideast plan, which would have allowed Israel to annex up to a third of the occupied West Bank. Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want as part of their future state.

Abdullah is set to visit the White House later this month. The Biden administration has called on all sides to take steps that could help lay the groundwork for a resumption of possible peace talks. Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

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Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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