MIDDLE EAST by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Israel, Jordan: islands of stability in the Middle East
, November 8, 2014
Every day, press, radio and television news carry reports of violence in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Egypt, Libya and other countries of the Middle East, creating the impression that the Middle East is a seething hotbed of violence and terrorism.
While this is true of some countries, it is emphatically untrue of Israel and Jordan, two radically different countries which share a long common border and a commitment to sustained economic development and the peaceful resolution of differences between communities and nations.
The ancient city of Petra, Jordan
Israel is a Jewish democracy, while Jordan is an Arab monarchy. The two countries had a long period of enmity before relations were normalised in 1994.
Since then, despite tensions at times, the two countries have co-operated with each other, without necessarily agreeing on a range of issues where differences remain.
Israel is undoubtedly the most prosperous country in the Middle East. Its population of 8 million has an annual GDP of about $40,000 per head of population, much of it in new high-technology industries in cities along the Mediterranean coast.
It has a sophisticated economy, with highly developed defence, education, IT and agricultural industries.
Some critics have argued that Israel’s highly successful economy is based on foreign investment, principally from Jewish-run businesses in the United States and Western Europe.
Such an analysis is shallow, because it ignores the extraordinary dynamism of Israelis in developing their country, despite its few natural resources. Further, Israel has had to devote an inordinate effort to protecting itself from hostile neighbours, and for decades has faced economic sanctions from most countries in the Islamic world.
Despite this, Israel joined the OECD in 2010, and has developed very strong trading relations with the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Canada, Jordan, Egypt and India.
It has one of the most highly developed software industries in the world, and has long been a leader in the development of solar-energy technology, particularly for heating water for domestic use. Most homes in Israel have solar-water heating.
Over recent years, an ambitious exploration program has found significant quantities of natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea, just off the coast near Haifa. Israel is now a gas exporter, supplying energy to Jordan.
These have been used for both domestic and industrial purposes, including generating electricity. Israel lies in a predominantly desert area, and, for over 50 years after its founding, it depended entirely on water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.
This water had to be shared with Jordan, and, despite rigorous conservation, was insufficient for Israel’s growing population.
About 15 years ago, Israel decided to address its chronic water shortage by constructing desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast. Since then, three large plants have been erected, the most recent of which, the Hadera Facility, provides about 15 per cent of Israel’s water needs. The three plants together provide nearly 40 per cent of Israel’s fresh water, which is used for agriculture, industry and domestic use.
Like Israel, Jordan is a country with few natural resources and a population of about 8 million. Its ruler, King Abdullah II, leads the Hashemite dynasty, which consists of direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed.
Traditionally, the Hashemites were responsible for the Muslim holy places in Arabia, until they were deposed by the Saud tribal group. Their legitimacy is based on their relationship with the prophet.
Historically, the Jordanian royal family has been strongly pro-British, going back to the British mandate in the region after World War I. Both King Abdullah and his father, King Hussein, were British-educated.
After the establishment of Israel, large numbers of Palestinian refugees moved to Jordan. The Palestine Liberation Organisation attempted to overthrow the Jordanian royal family in 1970, but after a bitter civil war the PLO was expelled from Jordan. However, about half of Jordan’s population is Palestinian.
With few natural resources, severe water restrictions and land-locked, Jordan has embarked on a major development drive involving a major program of electrification throughout the land; industrial developments such as mining and processing potash and phosphates and manufacturing cement; and the introduction of advanced education facilities.
Christians are free to practise their faith in Jordan, unlike some other Muslim countries in the Middle East, and Jordanians are tolerant of non-Muslims. Christian schools and hospitals make a significant contribution to the country.
However, the nation’s development has been retarded by the millions of refugees who have fled from neighbouring Iraq and Syria, due to the civil wars raging within them.
It is surely time that Australians heard about the significant social and economic developments in Israel and Jordan, and the way in which they are forging peace and prosperity in this turbulent part of the world.