Border gate opens new era for Israel and Jordan: Another move towards peace in the Middle East as Israel's Yitzhak Rabin drives into Jordan to be greeted by King Hussein

A NEW era of economic relations was inaugurated yesterday between Jordan and Israel by the opening of a new border crossing near the Israeli port of Eilat and its Jordanian twin, Aqaba.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, drove across the new land opening north of Eilat in a modest minibus. It was the first time the head of an Israeli government had publicly set foot on Jordanian territory. He was then whisked off to join King Hussein on his royal yacht which steamed out of Aqaba to cross the narrow bay into Israeli territorial waters.

The meeting was the first since they appeared publicly together in Washington last month. However it has been an open secret for years that Mr Rabin and King Hussein have been meeting clandestinely since 1974, when Mr Rabin was also prime minister. Yesterday Mr Rabin confirmed for the first time that they had had such contacts.

The inauguration of the new border crossing at the mouth of the Arava river has raised hopes of increased tourism to the area, with tour operators keen to follow in Mr Rabin's footsteps and King Hussein's wake.

For 46 years, this narrow finger at the top of the Red Sea has been equably shared by two states supposedly at war. Water-skiers on the Jordanian side could gawp at the sunbathers on the Israeli side - but not touch. Naval cutters patrolled the line dividing their territorial waters.

In maritime terms, the importance of each port to its respective economy was quite different. Eilat handles less than 15 per cent of Israeli trade. Haifa is Israel's main port. Aqaba, in contrast, is Jordan's only port and, until UN sanctions were imposed, served as entrepot for goods going to Iraq.

It is in tourism that there are greatest hopes of a peace dividend from the non-belligerency pact signed between Jordan and Israel on 25 July. One of the enduring myths of certain special units of the Israeli paratroopers is that they won their maroon berets by slipping across the border into Jordan and infiltrating the rose-red city of Petra. Israelis are still in theory not permitted to visit Jordan. The new border crossing is for third- state nationals only, that is, non- Jordanians and non-Israelis.

Hotelkeepers in Eilat are rubbing their hands at the prospect of Saudis coming over to the gaming tables which, by a quirk of Israel's puritanical history, are all on floating platforms and yachts moored offshore. Both Jordan and Israel have expectations that tourists will increasingly combine a visit to Petra and the Roman remains at Jerash in Jordan with tours of the Holy Land.

Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan are already collectively promoting the eastern Mediterranean as a holiday destination. However, tourism is an industry especially sensitive to political violence. The Egyptian tourist industry has been devastated by a handful of attacks on Nile cruisers. And in 1988, at the height of the Palestinian uprising, the Israeli tourist board had to withdraw a series of adverts infelicitously headlined: 'Jerusalem, a stone's throw from Tel Aviv'.

Other schemes for broader economic co-operation, including increased trade, remain more the dreams of those two visionaries - Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres - than real possibilities in the near future. The Jordanian economy is dwarfed by the Israeli one, and both are highly protected by tariff barriers.

The opening of the border crossing, which follows the inauguration of direct telephone links on Sunday, is the latest step by Jordan and Israel towards establishing the kind of relations normal between states. Israel has already eased restrictions on one of the most contentious issues: the sharing of water resources. The Jordanian Water Minister announced that Israel had decided to release 4 million cubic metres (140m cubic feet) of water to Jordan from the Yarmouk tributary 'in a gesture of good faith'.

The next action which would underline Jordan's privileged status as Israel's new friend would be a visit by King Hussein to the holy shrines in Jerusalem of al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. He has piloted his Tristar over Israel, and steered his yacht into Israeli waters. The next step should be on land. Such a visit would be extremely controversial with the Palestinians. They see the King's arrogation of custodianship of the religious sites as an attempt to thwart their aspirations to make East Jerusalem the political capital of their hoped-for state.

(Photograph omitted)

(Graphic omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...