Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Why the Jordan Valley is so important to the Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to annex a quarter of the occupied West Bank

An Israeli soldier stands guard during a tour made by Israeli parliament members in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim January 2, 2014. Reuters
An Israeli soldier stands guard during a tour made by Israeli parliament members in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim January 2, 2014. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday went a step closer to annexing the occupied West Bank, saying he would place the Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty if he won the country's repeat election on September 17.

Mr Netanyahu, standing in front of a blue-shaded territory plastered on a whiteboard map, called it a "one-time opportunity" to redesign Israel's borders and further the right wing's plan for a "Greater Israel", with support from Washington.

That blue area makes up about a quarter of the occupied West Bank, a territory Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Israel controls about 90 per cent of it already but the world rejects its claims to the territory, calling it an illegal occupation under international law.

Israel regards the area as vital to its security as it sits along the border with Jordan, preventing attacks from the east and ensuring that any Palestinian territories remain demilitarised.

It makes up the eastern edge of the West Bank and runs about 300 kilometres from the Sea of Galilee in the north along the Jordan River down to the Dead Sea on the border.

But it is also a treasure chest for the Israeli economy. As the lowest place on Earth, it has a unique climate that can produce fruit and vegetables all year.

JORDAN-VALLEY
JORDAN-VALLEY

Access to the Dead Sea and its mineral-rich water would strengthen tourism and offer other commercial benefits.

But all of this comes at the expense of Palestinian hopes for statehood. The occupied West Bank would be the key part of any sovereign Palestinian state.

Jericho, the valley's main population centre, would be encircled by Israeli territory, and the rest of the occupied West Bank would be surrounded by Israel to the east and west.

With Mr Netanyahu pledging further annexation, the Palestinians would be left only with small, disconnected enclaves, making it difficult if not impossible to move from place to place or establish a viable state.

In his presentation, Mr Netanyahu suggested establishing road links for Palestinians to neighbouring Jordan, which neither want.

"Killing all chances for peace for electoral purposes is irresponsible, dangerous," Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, wrote on Twitter.

For this reason the UN and EU, and Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world, have come out strongly against the Israeli leader.

But no reaction from the White House could signal that Mr Netanyahu's scheme fits in with US President Donald Trump's peace plan, giving him the cover he needs to push ahead.

Those who follow the conflict closely, however, have seen this from "Bibi" Netanyahu before. He has made promises before elections, then failed to follow through on them.

So we will not know until after September 17 whether he will take a step that has already been widely derided.

Updated: September 12, 2019 01:31 PM

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