The Parliament of Jordan has approved a draft law to ban imports of Israeli gas just days after they started under a multibillion-dollar deal struck in 2016 that is opposed by much of the population.
The motion was unanimously passed on Sunday by Jordan’s 130 legislators and will be referred to the cabinet to be made law, although legal hurdles may prevent it from coming into force.
The government previously said it was a deal between companies rather than a political matter.
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The $10bn supply deal was originally struck between Jordan’s state-owned utility and a US-Israeli consortium led by Texas-based Noble Energy to provide gas to the country’s power plants for electricity generation.
It was not referred to Parliament for approval.
Although United States ally Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, the deal – which supplies Jordan for 15 years – has faced much popular opposition, with legislators arguing it makes the kingdom dependent on its neighbour for energy.
Many Jordanians are also descendants of Palestinians who moved to the country after the creation of Israel in 1948, and view Israel as an erstwhile enemy that expelled their ancestors from their homes.
A source in the Israeli energy industry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The gas agreement between Jordanian National Electric Power Company and American-based Noble Energy is being implemented from early January 2020, and no change is expected in that regard.”
‘Gas of the enemy’
On Friday, hundreds of Jordanians holding national flags and chanting slogans demonstrated in downtown Amman, calling on the government to cancel the agreement.
The Jordanian government said after the deal was signed in 2016 that securing stable energy prices for the next decade could achieve annual savings of at least $500m and help reduce a chronic budget deficit.
But the import of Israeli gas has become a major focus in Jordan and sparked protests and calls for both the deal and the peace treaty to be scrapped.
“The gas of the enemy is an occupation. Down with the gas deal,” placards carried by protesters said.
“We are here protesting against the gas deal which has been signed in 2016 without the knowledge of the parliament, and we want to send a message to the prime minister that it is enough with the humiliation and shame,” protester Nadia al-Awad said.
“How can we purchase our own [Palestinian] gas from them [Israelis] and pay with our own money? We send this message to them and we say enough with the humiliation, enough shame, enough selling our homelands.”
Public opinion across Jordan has remained against the normalisation of ties with Israel, and on the government level, these relations have become under increasing strain since the gas deal was struck since Donald Trump replaced Barack Obama as US president.
Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries that have a peace treaty with Israel. Last year, both Jordan and Israel marked the 25th anniversary of their landmark peace agreement with cool relations.
Jordan’s King Abdullah fears Israel’s rejection of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank could lead to renewed violence and see a new generation of Palestinians relocating to Jordan.
Jordan arrests leaders of teachers’ union in opposition crackdown |NationalTribune.com
Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the opposition-run teachers union on Saturday, raided its offices and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent. Prosecutors charged Nasser Nawasreh, the acting head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, with incitement over a speech to…
Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the opposition-run teachers union on Saturday, raided its offices and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent.
Prosecutors charged Nasser Nawasreh, the acting head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, with incitement over a speech to supporters last Wednesday that criticised Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s government. State media said other charges related to allegations of financial and administrative wrongdoing.
Riot police reinforcements were deployed on Saturday near the seat of government in the capital, Amman, and other areas where teacher activists were planning protests. Security forces raided the union’s headquarters in the city of Karak.
الموضوع ليس موضوع #نقابة_المعلمين بقدر ما هو يدل على سعي الحكومة على تكميم الافوه وسحق كل من يقف أمامها “ومن كان له اذن فليسمع، ومن كان له عين فليراه”#مع_كل_حر #مع_المعلم
— Mohammed Odeh (@Mohamme66692607) July 25, 2020
Translation: The issue is not about the teachers’ syndicate, but about the government’s attempt to silence outspoken voices and crush everyone who stands before it
The teachers’ union responded by calling for a demonstration on Wednesday, during which Nawasra urged authorities to respect their promises.
According to the official Petra news agency, Amman’s Prosecutor-General Hassan Abdallat summoned 13 members of the union’s council for questioning on “criminal and corruption charges”.
Petra did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged “crimes” but quoted Abdallat as saying they included “financial violations”.
The prosecutor also issued a gag order on investigations into the case, the agency said.
توقيف أعضاء النقابة رفض تكفيلهم هو وصمة على على جبين الحكومه المعلم في كل العالم يكرم وتحفظ حقوقه الا عنا بتبهدل لانه طالب في حقه #مع_المعلم
— mutaz alrbehat (@meezo_86) July 25, 2020
Translation: The arrest of union members is a stain on the government
Political opposition is often marginalised in Jordan, but protests have grown in recent years over eroding living standards, corruption and the slow pace of political reforms.
Security forces intervene as demonstrators demand a 50 percent salary increase for teachers in Amman [File: Anadolu]
‘Government smear campaign’
Saturday’s crackdown on the union would “only further aggravate political tensions by the government at a time people are choked under hard economic conditions”, said Murad Adailah, head of the Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition party.
The 100,000-strong union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country’s history. In recent weeks, its leadership has accused the government of failing to honour a deal signed last October that ended the strike.
The agreement included a 50 percent pay rise this year, which the government now says is unaffordable because of the economic blow from the coronavirus crisis.
انا #مع_نقابة_المعلمين ما عجبهم انه النقابة صار الها شعبية وبتخاف على مصلحة البلد لانهم بخافو ينكشفوا. #نقابة_المعلمين تمثل كافة المجتمع الاردني لذلك بدهم يسكتوا صوت الشعب.
— fadi alsmadi (@fadialsmadi) July 25, 2020
Translation: I am with the teachers’ union…the government did not like the fact the union had lots of popularity and was afraid its shortcomings would be exposed. The union represents the Jordanian society, which is why the government wants to silence the voice of the people.
Some officials have also accused union leaders of harbouring the opposition’s political agenda. The union said this accusation is part of a government smear campaign.
Opposition politicians say the government has been using draconian emergency laws enacted last March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights. Activists have been arrested in recent weeks over comments on social media.
Jordan is highly dependent on foreign aid and has struggled to curb its public debt, which stands at more than $40bn, while unemployment in the first quarter of 2020 hit 19.3 percent.
Jordan warns Israel of ‘massive conflict’ over annexation
Jordan’s king warned Israel of a “massive conflict” if it proceeds with plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as European Union foreign ministers agreed to step up diplomatic efforts to try to head off such a move. Israel has promised to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, which could spell…
Jordan’s king warned Israel of a “massive conflict” if it proceeds with plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as European Union foreign ministers agreed to step up diplomatic efforts to try to head off such a move.
Israel has promised to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, which could spell the end of the long-stalled peace process by making it virtually impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.
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Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has moved a step closer by reaching an agreement to form a government after more than a year of political deadlock.
Jordan’s King Abdulla II, in an interview published by Der Spiegel on Friday, issued a stark warning over Israel’s plans.
“Leaders who advocate a one-state solution do not understand what that would mean,” he said.
“What would happen if the Palestinian National Authority collapsed? There would be more chaos and extremism in the region. If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” he said.
Jordan is a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Abdullah declined to say whether annexation would threaten that agreement.
“I don’t want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options. We agree with many countries in Europe and the international community that the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East,” he said.
Khaled Elgindy, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Israel’s annexation plans could pose a threat to the Jordanian monarchy.
“When the king himself comes out and essentially puts his relationship with Israel and the treaty with Israel on the line, its very serious,” he told Al Jazeera from Arlington in the United States.
“For the monarchy in Jordan, an end to the two state solution – which this plan and annexation is really aimed at achieving – an end of any prospect of a Palestinian state poses not just a strategic threat, but quite possibly even an existential threat to the monarchy in Jordan.”
Jordan has been lobbying the EU to take “practical steps” to make sure annexation does not happen.
In a statement, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi “stressed the need for the international community and the European Union in particular to take practical steps that reflect the rejection of any Israeli decision to annex”.
At a video conference, EU foreign ministers reaffirmed their support for a two-state solution and opposition to any annexation. The ministers, whose countries are deeply divided in their approach to Israel, agreed to ramp up diplomatic efforts in the coming days with Israel, the Palestinians, the US and Arab countries.
“We reaffirm our position in support of a negotiated, two-state solution. For this to be possible, unilateral action from either side should be avoided and, for sure, international law should be upheld,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after chairing the meeting.
“We must work to discourage any possible initiative toward annexation,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels. “International law has to be upheld. Here, and there, and everywhere.”
He made no mention of the use of sanctions, saying only that the EU will use “all our diplomatic capacities in order to prevent any kind of unilateral action”.
The ministers had planned to welcome the formation of a new Israeli government and offer the bloc’s cooperation, but Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner, Benny Gantz, have postponed the swearing-in of their controversial new Cabinet as the Israeli leader tries to quell infighting within his Likud party.
The ceremony, originally scheduled for Thursday, is now planned for Sunday to give Netanyahu more time to hand out coveted Cabinet appointments to members of his party.
Their coalition agreement says the Israeli government can, from July 1, begin considering implementing the West Bank annexations detailed in US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan.
Unveiled in January, the controversial plan gives a green light for Israel to annex about a third of the occupied West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with heavily conditioned statehood in scattered territorial enclaves surrounded by Israel.
The EU has already rejected Trump’s plan.
The bloc has long been committed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps. Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want all three to form their future state.
“In our opinion, an annexation is not compatible with international law,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday. “From our point of view, changes to borders must, if at all, be the result of negotiations and happen in agreement between both sides.”
Jordan authorises use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19
Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised physicians to use hydroxychloroquine along with an antiviral medicine as a treatment for COVID-19 in patients in an advanced stage of the disease. A recent French study has shown hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment that has been in use around the world for decades, may be beneficial if taken…
Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised physicians to use hydroxychloroquine along with an antiviral medicine as a treatment for COVID-19 in patients in an advanced stage of the disease.
A recent French study has shown hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment that has been in use around the world for decades, may be beneficial if taken with an antibiotic for fighting a coronavirus infection.
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Dr Hayel Obeidat, the head of Jordan’s FDA, told Al Jazeera his organisation authorised the use of hydroxychloroquine on Sunday and established a legal basis for it citing international studies in the United States and Europe
He told Al Jazeera, “hydroxychloroquine should only be used as part of a treatment protocol with other antiviral components with doctors’ supervision. It is not a prevention mechanism.”
Obeidat added that the treatment should be for “compassionate use” for patients who are in stage 2 of the disease or suffer serious complications.
Obeidat said he banned the sale of hydroxychloroquine in pharmacies to prevent people from hoarding the medication and depriving patients who really need it.
Health Minister Dr Saad Jaber announced 13 more cases in a televised news conference on Sunday night, raising the total number to 112. About 5,000 people are still in government quarantine in hotels in the capital Amman and the Dead Sea area.
The government declared a state of emergency on Thursday and announced a general curfew on Saturday to fight the coronavirus’ spread.
As for treating current COVID-19 infections in Jordan with hydroxychloroquine, Obeidat said, at this point, all confirmed cases are not serious enough to require it.
He said Jordanian pharmaceutical manufacturers had large quantities of the drug and donated all of their stock to the government in the effort to fight the infection.
Dr Asem Mansour, the head of Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Center, a prominent hospital in Jordan, said the French study that declared hydroxychloroquine was a possible coronavirus treatment was not accurate scientifically in terms of its size and measurement parameters.
“However,” he said, “the use of hydroxychloroquine should be administered only as a medicine of last resort.”
Jordan, a country of about 10 million people, is not capable of handling an exponential growth of the virus among its population, which is expected in the weeks to come, he said.
“The next three weeks are critical because the quarantined people might show infections and because of massive lines at bakeries and food stores right before the curfew took effect on Saturday, which might raise the number of infections,” said Mansour.
“Our hope is that people would obey government directives to prevent widespread infection and spare the country a dire situation.”
He added Jordan has a limited number of intensive care units and hospital beds to handle a widespread outbreak.
Lack of testing
A professor of medicine at a national university, with first-hand knowledge of coronavirus cases in the country, agreed with Mansour, stressing Jordan has not reached its peak number of cases yet.
“Based on the behaviour of the population, which has not been very helpful in the past few weeks, and the lack of widespread testing by the government, I expect an exponential growth of infections,” he told Al Jazeera on a condition of anonymity, because he was not allowed to speak to the media.
While Jordan currently has no coronavirus deaths, he said, it would likely see some, especially among older patients.
Casting a hopeful note, Dr Mansour, head of King Hussien Cancer Center, said he “hopes Jordan can overcome that because the majority of its population are young and might not need extensive hospitalisation should they get infected”.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports
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