Israel insists on keeping troops in Jordan valley
The Al-Karameh bridge (Palestinian Arabs), King Hussein bridge (Jordanian), Allenby bridge (Israeli), rebuilt by the Japanese in the 1990s. It is the only legal crossing point from the West Bank to Jordan.
By Geoffrey Aronson, Al Monitor
December 12, 2013
Many have long wished for a US plan to challenge Israel’s power and end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. They should watch what they wish for, because it just may come true. The findings of the US security team headed by Gen. John Allen, who has recently presented US ideas on how to address and solve Israel’s security concerns east of the 1967 line — the so-called Eastern Front — give the most recent example of the promise and the peril of US intervention.
There is still no public or authoritative detailing of the ideas Allen, and now Secretary of State John Kerry himself, have briefed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. They reportedly include continuing US support for Palestinian security forces but no international monitoring or enforcement “boots on the ground,” an “invisible” but controlling Israeli presence at Palestine’s border crossings to Jordan, Israel’s long-term control of both the Jordan Valley and the Jordanian-Palestinian frontier including early warning stations and a continuing Israeli role in Palestine’s electromagnetic spectrum and sovereign airspace. We can only infer by the responses of Palestinians and Israelis — and here the news is entirely predictable, and not good.
The US effort can usefully be evaluated in terms of the substance of the ideas themselves and their place on the diplomatic playing field. Allen, it appears, has committed the United States to a security framework that leaves Israeli forces stationed in sovereign Palestinian territory for years if not decades beyond the secure and recognized borders Kerry hopes to establish. Or has he? The State Department insists that Allen’s effort was “never meant” to be a “proposal,” much less a conclusive US plan.
So what’s the problem? Everyone has ideas. The real question, the one that the Barack Obama administration has yet to answer, is to what extent Washington is committed to realizing the implementation of Allen’s far-from-perfect findings.
Allen’s non-proposal can now be added to the role of US officials as “facilitators” in the parallel process of discussions — negotiations is far too generous a word — underway since August. Kerry has also mentioned potential “bridging proposals” and even a “framework agreement” now that the nine-month period for discussions due to end in April has officially lost its deadline. President Obama himself has suggested that Gaza be excluded from an anticipated agreement, at least at first, and that the West Bank serve as a model to convince Gaza and Hamas of the folly of rejection. Obama here is channeling former President George W. Bush, who said much the same thing years ago. Since then, both parts of Palestine have been engaged in a race to the bottom.
Contrast this lack of clarity and simplicity to the single-minded and well-defined pursuit of an agreement that characterizes negotiations with Iran. Strategic clarity is the diplomatic watchword with Tehran. Strategic confusion threatens to define Washington’s approach to Palestine.
Palestinians, who, despite bitter experience, have long depended upon Washington to rebalance the diplomatic scales in their favor, are irate with the recent US ideas. Israel is also less than impressed.
Yasser Abd-Rabbuh, secretary of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has spoken of a “crisis with the United States” precipitated by the Allen ideas. He told Palestinian state radio, “The crisis is caused by the US secretary of state, who wants to please Israel by meeting all its demands for expansion in Al-Aghwar [the Jordan Valley] under the pretext of security. In addition, Israel’s expansion greed is highlighted through its settlement activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“Who said that we want an agreement framework that defines the principles of the solution outside the framework of international legitimacy and international laws and resolutions? All this will cause the efforts of the US secretary of state to hit a dead end and a complete failure. … The talk about interim solutions is in complete contradiction with the promises that the US secretary of state had made at the beginning of the political process.”
It is Israel, however, not the Palestinians, whom Kerry intends to be the real audience for Allen’s effort. Here, too, the Iran analogy is instructive. On both fronts, Kerry has announced the laudable aim of increasing Israel’s security (along with everyone else’s) through an agreement. In this context, and notwithstanding official declarations, Allen’s work on the Eastern Front becomes not merely a set of interesting ideas but a proposal, even the basis for a conclusive security plan. Ideas, you can take or leave at your pleasure. A US plan is something else indeed. Israel, confident that its security needs have been recognized by Washington and the PLO, will — the thinking goes — then be prepared to take the next big step, evacuate its settlers from all but small bits of the West Bank and for the first time, take pen to paper and draw secure and recognized borders.
If only it were true.
US expectations along these lines are bound to be disappointed by the current government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and very probably by its successor as well. Here, too, the Iran analogy offers an important insight. As with Iran, Netanyahu is less interested in a diplomatic solution on Palestine that by its very nature requires concessions and a willingness to acknowledge the benefits of mutual security. As with Iran, Netanyahu wants to impose a framework for Israel’s absolute security — a destabilizing policy that precludes the kind of diplomatic achievement Kerry seeks.
General John Allen, formerly commander of the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan
Israel, according to published reports, has informed Allen of the need to “leave Israeli military forces along the length of the Jordan River for an extended period, as well as the need for an Israeli presence at the border crossing at the Jordan River, continued Israeli control of the air space over the West Bank, the stationing of Israeli early warning stations at several strategic points in the West Bank and an extensive series of other security demands.”
These demands reflect less a technical assessment of Israel’s security requirements than a representation of Israel’s lack of interest in what is typically understood as a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Americans are good-naturedly attempting to play on the field Bibi has established — addressing how to solve his problems in a manner that will not fatally compromise Palestinian prospects.
This attitude reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how Netanyahu frames the issue — he is not about negotiating as such, but rather demands a Palestinian (and Iranian, for that matter) surrender, which even should it occur, would not be enough.
For Netanyahu, Allen’s well-meant suggestions miss the mark entirely. In fact, by suggesting the possibility of a US plan, they all but guarantee a hostile Israeli response.
Another Israeli government, one even under Netanyahu’s leadership, might pocket the real advantages the Allen plan offers and proceed to negotiate the borders of Palestine. This outcome is probably the best that Kerry can hope for under the current conditions. It’s possible but also unlikely, as long as Washington is content to permit Israel to draw the picture of Palestine’s future.
US, EU pressure Palestinians to accept security plan
By Daoud Kuttab, Al Monitor/Palestine Pulse
December 12, 2013
It might be a coincidence or hype from the Palestinian leadership. But a look at the narrative being weaved by the Palestinian leadership and one has no alternative but to think that the Americans and Europeans have joined the Israelis in trying to extract concessions from the Palestinians.
The latest source of this is the US security plan that includes a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 years. Al-Ayyam daily, which is close to the Palestinian leadership, has said that the plan calls for Israeli soldiers to remain in the Jordan Valley for 10 years. Multiple media reports talked about a visible Israeli security presence in select locations along the Jordan River, with an invisible Israeli presence on the bridge connecting the east and west bank near the city of Jericho.
The latter sounds like the exact same situation that existed prior to the eruption of the intifada in October 2000. Shortly after clashes between Israeli and Palestinian police in different locations, the “invisible” Israelis kicked out the “visible” Palestinian police. The road map had called for Israel to allow the situation to be returned to the pre-October 2000 period, but Israel has refused until this very day the US-designed security plan that would have Palestinian police back on the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge.
Palestinian officials have stated that the United States is “allowing” Israel not to make the third stage of prisoner release due to take place in the next month because of the Palestinian refusal to accept Gen. John Allen’s plan. The Palestinians argue the plan is not American, but a carbon copy of what Israeli security officials want. They say that the Americans have become mailmen for Israel delivering a plan that has the name of the United States on it but is nothing more than a cut-and-paste plan that Israel is comfortable with.
The European Union has been brought into the discussion as a result of its calls on the Palestinian government to stop paying salaries to people who are not working. The European action, which is part of the implementation of an audit request, is seen as targeting civil servants in Gaza who were asked to stay home rather than work for the Hamas-supported government. Palestinians believe that this call is not an innocent request, but that the Europeans are acting on behalf of the United States and ultimately Israel. Despite the Palestinian government’s spin, there does not seem to be any political connection to the timing. Audit reports usually are worked on months before they are produced.
Israel is also squeezing the Palestinians. In the early morning of Dec. 11, more than 100 Israeli soldiers entered Aida refugee camp, which lies near an Israeli checkpoint. According to a Palestine News Agency report, the Israelis entered the refugee camp at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, searching house after house. The Israeli infiltration was carried out without any apparent permission or coordination with the Palestinian security, and included giving every household a leaflet warning against throwing stones or Molotov cocktails against Jewish settlers. No settler road runs anywhere near Aida refugee camp.
These developments combined leave the impression that the United States is trying to pressure the Palestinian government to accept “its” security plan for the Jordan River. Sources within the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) told Al-Monitor that the Americans have expressed their intent for a public ceremony to celebrate the agreement to the plan.
The sources added that Abbas is said to be very unhappy with the way the United States has turned against the Palestinians. The aides told Al-Monitor that Abbas would sign any plan immediately that would include replacing Israeli troops with multinational soldiers wherever Israeli soldiers are currently placed throughout the occupied territories. Previously, Abbas rejected any sort of interim plan. The Palestinian leadership feels that it is paying the price of a US attempt to repair its ties with Israel after the rift over Iran.
It is said that timing is a powerful diplomatic tool. If the above actions by the United States and Europe are in fact connected to the peace talks, it will represent the first time in these particular talks that they have taken a position that leans toward one side, while claiming to be an honest broker.
By William Booth and Anne Gearan, Washington Post
December 13, 2013
JERUSALEM — The Obama administration is struggling to convince Israel and the Palestinian Authority to accept a security arrangement that could leave Israeli troops stationed inside a future Palestinian state, on that state’s border with Jordan.
Neither side is on board with what people familiar with the proposals describe as a limited Israeli defensive presence along the Jordan River for a period of five to 15 years.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry returned to the region Thursday night — his second visit in a week — to try and convince them. Kerry is hoping for some public sign of progress as his first year as the chief U.S. diplomat draws to a close, and an unofficial April deadline for a peace agreement looms.
For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, limiting the number of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, and how long they can be there, would not guarantee safety.
For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has promised his people they would not see a single Israeli soldier on Palestinian land in a future state, any army presence would be too much.
Joint presentations to Netanyahu and Abbas last week by Kerry and retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the Obama administration’s special envoy, do not appear to have been well-received. Neither leader spoke in support of the proposals. Spokesmen and critics on both sides trashed the ideas in news media interviews, though they did not reject the proposals outright.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied that Kerry’s speedy return to the region means that the talks are bogging down.
A generation of Israeli generals has considered the Jordan Valley a crucial eastern flank against a land invasion of the Jewish state from the east. But where they once worried about columns of Iraqi tanks, they are now more concerned about asymmetrical warfare from terror groups seeking to infiltrate the West Bank and use it as a platform to attack.
Since 1967, the valley has been under the control of the Israeli military, which operates checkpoints and bases. The area bristles with covert listening stations, radar sweeps and thermal- and night-vision cameras. On the mountain tops that rise steeply from the valley floor, Israel maintains a series of early-warning stations. Troops are on constant patrol along the river and the passes.
In a meeting last month with members of his Fatah political party, Abbas claimed that Israel wants to stay in the sparsely populated valley for another 40 years to maintain its profitable date palm groves, fish ponds and greenhouse farming.
“They say they need the Jordan Valley to protect themselves against the Iranian threat or whoever comes from the eastern border,” Abbas was quoted in local news reports as saying. “Rather, it is a matter of investment .. . . The claim that they want to protect their eastern border from Iran and others is all lies.”
Israel explains its security concerns by pointing to the Gaza Strip, on its southern border. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The militant Islamic organization Hamas came to power two years later. Now, rockets and shoulder-fired missiles are routinely smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, Israeli officials say. They note that no such weapons have been found in the tightly-controlled West Bank.
“The Israeli government is concerned that the Palestinian side will not be interested or not be able to carry out its part of the deal,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general in the Israel army and former head of Israel’s National Security Council. “What happens if this deal is signed tomorrow, Israel withdraws and a day later Hamas takes over the West Bank?
“This is the Israeli concern, and this creates a lot of suspicions and agitation on the Israeli side,” he said.
Kerry and his team have tried to help Israel overcome its fear with offers of U.S.-provided intelligence and technology — but Israel already has sophisticated drones, surveillance technology and some of the best “smart fences” in the world.
At one point, U.S. diplomats discussed placing international troops in the Jordan Valley. But Israeli hawks pointed to failures by U.N. forces in demilitarized zones along the Lebanon and Syrian borders.
Another proposal calls for a combination of Palestinian and Israeli security forces at border crossings and a strip of territory along the Jordan River.
“The question now is, for how long will the Israelis be there?” Eiland said. “Will it mean a permanent Israeli presence or for a limited period of time? Does that mean two years, five years, 15 years or 50 years?”
Anne Gearan reported from Washington. Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
By Ma’an news/AFP
December 13, 2013
RAMALLAH — President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected US proposals for Israel to keep troops in a future Palestinian state along its border with Jordan, a Palestinian source said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday evening with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, “President Abbas has rejected the ideas presented by the secretary of state”, the source said.
Abbas also gave Kerry a letter on “Palestinian red lines,” the source added, singling out “the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
Abbas “rejected the ideas on security because there is not a third party.”
This refers to a plan by former US national security adviser James Jones under which a third party would deploy along the Palestinian-Jordanian border.
The Palestinian source said that “all disputed issues must be settled.”
Israeli and Arab media reports say the plan envisaged by Washington would see Israel maintain a military presence on the border after a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
An international force would be acceptable to the Palestinians, but Israel opposes such a solution.
Abbas’ comments were made public as Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in his latest attempt at promoting an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
In early December, Israel’s deputy defence minister ruled out any compromise on security in the Jordan Valley.
“From the Israeli point of view, there will not be any Palestinian presence at the crossing points,” said Danny Danon, who is a radical member of Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party.
“An Israeli civilian and military presence in the Jordan Valley is essential.”
Over 94 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea area is prohibited for Palestinian use, with the land either declared a closed military zone or reserved for illegal Israeli settlements.
The Jordan Valley forms over 30 percent of the occupied West Bank.