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Why Israel really wants the Jordan valley

The article from Peace Now’s Director General, Yariv Oppenheimer includes an inset from Al Jazeera on the MKs who want to annex the Jordan Valley.

PM Netanyahu touring the Jordan Valley with the IDF, March 7th 2011, for publication on International Women’s Day, March 8th. Photo by Moshe Milner, GPO

The Truth Behind the Jordan Valley

Analysis by Peace Now’s Director General, Yariv Oppenheimer

Americans for Peace Now
January 02, 2014

How many Israelis actually live in the Jordan Valley today? Hundreds of thousands? Tens of thousands? Actually, not so many. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 6,042 Israelis live in the Jordan Valley (CBS 2012). That is about the same as filling half of a grandstand at Teddy Stadium. In the last 20 years there has been minimal growth in the number of settlers in the Jordan Valley. The average growth is about 60 people a year. Settlements, of such minor scale, have no military significance for the future of Israel. All of the talk about the string of settlements in the Jordan Valley protecting Israel’s eastern border is nothing more than right-wing political propaganda, disconnected from reality, whose purpose is to undermine the prospects of reaching a two-state solution.

The Jordan Valley is nearly devoid of Israeli residents, rather there is a large Palestinian population. There are ten times more Palestinians, 65,000 in the Jordan valley. Over the years, by declaring state land, firing zones and nature reserves, Israel has managed to take over 77.5% of the land. Israeli farmers living in the area enjoy large tracts of land as well as, cheap and plentiful Palestinian labor. The Jordan Valley has become an agricultural real estate asset that bears fruit for a handful of settlers, who exploit the land and water resources, which are essential resources for the local Palestinians.

Despite the economic benefits, most of the Jordan Valley settlers are not proponents of the national-religious ideology and would agree to evacuate as part of a peace agreement. Some of the settlements have already been abandoned by the founding generation and were replaced by “reinforcement” groups from religious Zionism who are changing the character of settlements in the Jordan Valley; replacing supporters of the labor movement with followers of Gush Emunim.

Militarily, the Jordan Valley was once considered a strategic military asset for Israel. That concept was developed around the end of the Six-Day War, known as the ‘Alon Plan’. This plan was created in a context in which, Israel faced a serious existential threat from the east in the form of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and tanks who could have made their way towards the center of Israel. Forty-five years later the map of threats has changed. The threat of an invasion by armored forces from the east no longer exists, technological advances have diminished the enemy’s ability to surprise and, if necessary, the IDF can reach any place in the Jordan Valley within half an hour. The area is already empty of Israeli settlers, and is already empty of infantry and armored regiments. Most of the soldiers stationed in the Jordan Valley are engaged in routine security missions along the border fence, mainly protecting the settlers and inspecting the Palestinian laborers at the checkpoints. If a political decision is made to separate into two states, the same level of security can be maintained by strict security arrangements on the border, electronic observation and the presence of international forces at the border crossings. Surely this would not require annexing the whole Jordan Valley and leaving the settlements in place.

It is not the security of Israel that interests Miri Regev, Gideon Sa’ar and their friends, it is the security of all the settlements that they are after. The right-wing knows very well that there will be no peace agreement without evacuating the Jordan Valley. The right-wing’s use of the Jordan valley as a political card, is a cunning, even demagogic attempt to undermine an agreement.

Map of Jordan valley by OCHA/B’Tselem

Israeli MPs push partial West Bank annexation

Proposal from right-wing lawmakers would annex the Jordan Valley, which Palestinians say is crucial to any future state.

Al Jazeera, 29th December 2013

The Jordan Valley makes up about 30 percent of the occupied West Bank and has the area’s most arable lands [EPA]
A group of Israeli cabinet ministers has endorsed a legislative proposal to annex a part of the occupied West Bank that would serve as the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, putting pressure on floundering US-brokered peace negotiations.

The move to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up almost 30 percent of the occupied West Bank, was approved by members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in the cabinet’s legislative committee on Sunday.

The move came just days before another visit to the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is pushing for a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading Israel’s side in the negotiations, immediately challenged the motion.

She said she would use her powers to block the legislation from being voted on in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Earlier this month, Kerry said in Washington that the need to resolve the dispute over the Jordan Valley was “a critical threading of a needle that has to happen in order to achieve an agreement”.

He said he was coordinating with Jordan on the issue, as well.

Israel took control of the Jordan Valley region following the 1967 war. Known as the “Palestinian breadbasket”, the Jordan Valley contains most of the West Bank’s fertile, agricultural lands.

Israel says maintaining control over the Jordan Valley is crucial to its security interests.

A Palestinian source said a security proposal presented by Kerry earlier this month as part of the peace talks outlined leaving an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for at least 10 years, Reuters news agency reported.

Palestinians rejected the Israeli demand, and the Arab League said the proposal “achieved Israeli security expansionist demands, and guaranteed [Israel’s] continued control of [the Jordan Valley] on the security pretext”.

Israel’s proposal to incorporate the Jordan Valley within its borders is the first Israeli step in decades to annex any territory it captured in 1967.

Shortly after that war, in a move that remains unrecognised internationally, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and added some adjoining Palestinian land from the occupied West Bank to the city, which it regards as its “eternal, undivided” capital.

In 1981, Israel also applied its laws to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that lies to the north.

They too know that the Jordan Valley is almost empty and its military value in the present reality is not significant. They too know that the number of settlers in the area is small and most will agree to evacuate in exchange for an agreement. So why confuse the public with facts and figures when you can hide behind clichés about security and settlements? The Jordan Valley, which really was a security need in the past, is slowly turning into the political security zone for the settlers of Yitzhar and Itamar, who are using it to guarantee their places on the hilltops of Judea and Samaria.

This article was first published in Haaretz (Hebrew) January 1, 2014

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