Cablegate: Jordanian-Israeli Desert Research "Bridging The

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Jordanian-Israeli Desert Research "Bridging the
Rift" Project Opens Chasm of Criticism

1. (U) This is a joint Embassy Amman/Embassy Tel Aviv

2. (SBU) SUMMARY. With great fanfare, Israeli and
Jordanian officials as well as private Israeli and U.S.
financial backers laid the cornerstone of the "Bridging the
Rift" (BTR) cooperative research facility in barren Wadi
Araba on March 9. With scores of Arab, Israeli and
international media recording the event, Jewish-American
businessman Mati Kochavi, the founder and CEO of BTR, spoke
of his dream to create a hub for technology, research, and
education for all people in the Middle East. Separate
events -- highly publicized in Israel -- were also held
with Prime Minister Sharon and King Abdullah. Stanford and
Cornell Universities are affiliated with BTR and will
eventually offer PhDs through the project. Israeli
Minister of the Treasury Netanyahu and Minister of
Education Livnat lauded the initiative. Their Jordanian
counterparts, Minister of Planning Awadallah and Minister
of Education Toukan, while strongly supportive in their
public remarks, made pointed reference to the need for
mutual acceptance, justice, Palestinian rights and
freedoms, and "bridging rifts, not building walls."

3. (SBU) While the events received positive treatment in
the Israeli press, there was decidedly negative reaction on
the Jordanian side, including a call by 20 members of
parliament, mostly Islamists, March 14 for the impeachment
of three ministers who participated in the inauguration
ceremony. Jordan's Arabic press, trade unions, and
professional associations criticized the government for
entering into such a collaborative arrangement with Israel,
given the current political climate and public sympathy for
the plight of the Palestinians. The King's publicized
reception of the private members of the group in Amman
appeared to mute the opposition temporarily. An admirable
goal, BTR probably will not be up and running for several
years, but this week's launch should help to raise
awareness of the project and, more importantly, funds from
private benefactors. Although the center could serve to
stress the mutual benefits of the Jordan-Israel
relationship, the maneuver by some in Parliament adds to
recent strains, including the cancellation of Israeli
Foreign Minister Shalom's visit to Jordan. END SUMMARY.

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4. (SBU) On an extraterritorial parcel of real estate,
comprising equal amounts of land given to the Bridging the
Rift (BTR) project by Jordan and Israel and negotiated
between the two countries' officials over the past several
years, BTR officials intend to build a world-class
scientific research institution, focusing on life sciences
and desert environments. A Madison Avenue-style laying of
the campus cornerstone took place on March 9 in the company
of senior government officials from Jordan and Israel, as
well as the BTR's American and Israeli founders and
financial backers. The star-studded audience also included
former Congressman Jack Kemp, General (ret.) Tommy Franks,
Cornell President Jeffrey Lehman, Stanford Vice Provost
Arthur Bienenstock and numerous prestigious academics,
including Stanford's Paul Ehrlich. .Israeli Minister of
the Treasury, Benjamin Netanyahu, was joined by Education
Minister Limor Livnat to underscore Jerusalem's commitment
to the project. Prime Minister Sharon had earlier that day
hosted a breakfast for the BTR organizers and supporters in
his Jerusalem residence. On the Jordanian side, Minister
of Planning and International Cooperation Bassem Awadallah
led the delegation that included Minister of Education
Khaled Toukan, Minister of Higher Education Issam
Zaabalawi, and representatives from the military,
intelligence, business community, and academia. King
Abdullah held a palace reception in Amman for the group
that evening, although by mutual agreement the two Israeli
ministers did not attend.

5. (SBU) "Working together to solve compelling scientific
questions will require students to build bridges of trust
and interdependence," according to the BTR press release.
BTR envisions overcoming political and ideological
differences through collaborative scientific research.
BTR's visionaries hope that students and scientists working
with the center will themselves become bridges between Arab
and Israeli societies.

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6. (SBU) These themes of coexistence were echoed by all of
the featured speakers at the ceremony. From BTR founder
Mati Kochavi to Bibi Netanyahu and Bassem Awadallah, each
emphasized the need for healing divides, doing more for
peace, and opening minds. Invoking the King Hussein/Rabin
peace treaty signing in Wadi Araba 10 years ago,
individuals spoke of King Abdullah's and Sharon's
commitment to peace and to mechanisms, such as the BTR,
that help to achieve it. Netanyahu joked about the BTR
project finally offering some "good news from the Middle
East." Awadallah put the BTR in the context of harnessing
young talent, creating jobs, and developing Jordan
economically. He said that Jordan has "much to learn from
Israel," but used the podium to caution that Palestinian
rights and freedoms must be respected. Calling for
"bridging rifts, not building walls," Awadallah took a jab
at Israel's physical security cordon snaking across parts
of the West Bank. Toukan echoed those sentiments, talking
of better understanding and mutual respect based on


7. (SBU) The Jordanian Islamic Action Front (IAF), the
political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a written
statement March 10 calling on the GOJ to halt construction
of the research center. The IAF claimed that the center
undermined Palestinian resistance against Israeli
occupation forces and denigrated Jordanian sentiment
opposed to any form of normalization with Israel. "We were
shocked to learn that the cornerstone of a joint
technological center between Jordan and the Zionist entity
was laid yesterday and that it came at a time when the
enemy [Israel] is intensifying its massacres against our
Palestinian brethren," said the statement. The IAF further
alleged that the gap between Arabs and Muslims and the
"racist Zionist entity will not be bridged because it
defies reality, history and dogma."

8. (SBU) Jordan's Higher Executive Committee for the
Nation's Protection and Resistance to Normalization,
comprising members from the country's opposition parties,
trade unions, and professional associations, issued a
statement on March 7, warning the government against
"dangers posed by such a project."

9. (SBU) Jordanian Foreign Minister Muasher, responding
from Washington to criticism about the BTR, used the press
stakeout outside the State Department following his meeting
with the Secretary March 9 to underscore that "the
Jordanian/Israeli scientific project is not political." He
added that "it is important to make progress on other
fronts," far from politics, such as supporting such
academic initiatives. The BTR "is not only Jordanian and
Israeli, but also enjoys the participation of major U.S.
universities," Muasher said, defending the project against
attacks from Jordanian critics.

10. (SBU) In two separate stories, Al-Arab Al-Yawm
reported that the IAF and the Jordanian Communist Party
criticized Jordan for establishing the BTR center. The
same sentiment was reflected in editorial commentaries in
Al-Arab Al-Yawm by Chief Editor Taher Al-Adwan and moderate
writer Jamil Al-Nimri, who argued that Jordan's diplomacy
should aim to pressure Israel into stopping the massacres
of Palestinians, the construction of the wall, and
expelling Palestinians in the Occupied Territories from
their land. Instead, this joint project rewards Israel for
these acts. East Bank nationalist writer Nahed Hattar
asked on March 11 if Jordan considered what the status of
the center would be if Israel went ahead with a massive
expulsion of Palestinians towards Jordan, or if it
escalated its tension with Syria and Lebanon to the point
of open conflict. The King's public association with the
project appeared at first to mute the criticism. However,
16 IAF members joined by four independents called March 14
for a vote of no confidence for the three ministers who
attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony. One MP called
the inauguration ceremony "degrading" and accused the
government of hiding plans for the center from the public.
Other MP's defended the center, noting that it fell within
the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. Planning Minister
Awadallah said that many nations compete to have
"prestigious universities" such as Stanford and Cornell
support such a center.


11. (SBU) Jordan and Israel have jointly conceived and
designed BTR from the outset, over the past four years.
Defining the concept, vision, and research plan has been
the task of the BTR committees in each country as well as
an American one. Overcoming legal, security, and political
obstacles, the BTR committees have brought the project to
where it is today.

12. (SBU) The BTR center hopes to become a science and
technology village, ultimately attracting the best young
minds in the Middle East, although it is acknowledged that
the first beneficiaries will be students from Jordan and
Israel. Working on advanced research in the life sciences
with special focus on desert environments, BTR is seeking
to leverage its relationships with Stanford and Cornell
Universities to offer PhDs through these institutions. BTR
will take advantage of Stanford's and Cornell's significant
investment in technology, science, intellectual property,
data, and laboratories to boost its own capacity. The BTR
center foresees three targets of opportunity: educating
PhD students; providing research opportunities for post-
docs; and developing business opportunities arising from
the research.

13. (SBU) In the long term, BTR could begin to play a
broader role in other topics of common concern throughout
the region. It aspires to becoming a center of conflict
resolution, bringing together leaders to consider creative
solutions inspired by the spirit of BTR.

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14. (SBU) It is no wonder that BTR, which if realized will
represent a visible sign of Jordan's peace treaty with
Israel, is a lightening rod for opponents of peace. The
high-octane publicity strategy its proponents have chosen
may assist in international fundraising, but it creates an
easy target for anti-normalization elements. Similar
collaborative initiatives, such as USAID's Middle East
Regional Cooperation program or the Jordanian QIZ system
with required Israeli content, also suffer from negative
reactions and wildly distorted interpretations whenever
they hit the radar screen of public opinion.


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