AMMAN: Jordanians urged the government to shut the country’s Israeli Embassy and scrap its unpopular peace treaty with the Jewish state Friday, after a Jordanian judge was shot dead by an Israeli soldier at a border crossing.
Jordan is one of only two Arab states to have formally ended hostilities with Israel, but this has never won significant domestic favor, given Israel’s continued occupation of the neighboring West Bank, and fears of a spillover of violence if Israel does not soon make peace with Palestinians there.
In Jordan, where many people are of Palestinian origin and have close ties to their West Bank kin on the other side of the Jordan River, the shooting incident triggered the biggest public outpouring of anger against Israel to be witnessed in the past few years.
The Israeli soldier shot dead Raed Zeiter, 38, a respected Jordanian judge, at close range Monday after a heated argument broke out while he was traveling to the West Bank via the Allenby bridge border crossing.
Hundreds of demonstrators chanting “no Zionist embassy on Arab land” gathered Friday near a mosque in the Jordanian capital’s Rabia district, close to the Israeli Embassy.
Security forces were deployed in large numbers around the area to prevent protesters reaching the heavily guarded embassy. Some scuffles occurred but there was no serious violence.
Jordan’s parliament also demanded that the government expel the Israeli ambassador, and hundreds of Jordanian judges and lawyers staged a rare protest inside the chamber of the palace of justice, the highest state court building, trampling on dozens of Israeli flags rolled on the floor.
“The killing of Zeiter is tantamount to killing every Jordanian, and we will not accept less than to scrap the peace treaty and [expel] the ambassador,” Sheikh Hamam Said, head of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood and largest political party, said at the demonstration.
The timing of the shooting incident came as the United States sought Jordanian support for the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Israeli government expressed regret Tuesday at the killing of Zeiter and promised Jordan a joint investigation into his death, but fell short of apologizing for the incident.
Hours earlier, the Israeli military had issued a statement denouncing Zeiter as a “terrorist,” saying he was killed after attacking security personnel with a metal bar, trying to seize a gun and attempting to strangle a soldier.
Late Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians publicly recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry said that recognition had already been made in U.N. resolutions and by the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and that it was a mistake for Israel to continue to insist on it as the two sides work towards a two-state peace agreement.
“‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in [U.N.] Resolution 181, where there are more than 40-30 mentions of ‘Jewish state,’” Kerry testified at a Congressional hearing.
“In addition, Chairman Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state. And there are any other number of mentions,” he added.
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said in a session of testimony on the State Department budget.
Israeli public radio broadcast Kerry’s comments Friday, followed by what it said was a recording of Arafat commenting on a 1988 decision by the Palestinian National Council, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s parliament in exile at the time.
“The PNC had accepted two states, a Palestine state and Jewish state,” Arafat says in English.
There was no official Israeli response to Kerry’s comments, but the radio quoted an unidentified political source as saying it was “easier for the Americans to pressure Israel to give up on the demand for recognition of a Jewish state than to deal with the Palestinians.”
Israel and the Palestinians have been locked in talks that Kerry fought hard to kick-start in July after a three-year hiatus, but the negotiations have faltered over several key issues.
After a meeting chaired by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday, the PLO Executive Committee blasted “attempts to extract recognition of the Jewishness of the state of Israel in order to erase Palestinian history and rights in one sentence.”