Amid talk of a new diplomatic plan, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to
the Jordan Valley on Tuesday and made abundantly clear that in any future
agreement, Israel must retain a security presence along the Jordan
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Noticeably, however, he said nothing about the future of the
settlements in the region, even as he called the area Israel’s “eastern gate”
and the country’s “insurance policy.”
“The Jordan Valley is the eastern
gate into the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told some 120 soldiers – most of them
women he was addressing to mark International Women’s Day – at a base near the
settlement of Masua.
“Those defending the Jordan Valley are defending
Israel,” he said. “If we were not here, we would not be able to defend
Earlier, at a mountaintop outlook at an IDF outpost with a
commanding view of Jordan Valley, Netanyahu said, “Our security border is here,
on the Jordan River, and our line of defense is here. If this line were to be
broken, this would mean that it would be possible to bring in terrorists,
missiles and rockets, and infiltrate them into Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa,
Beersheba and throughout the country.
“Our line of defense starts here,
and it has no alternative,” he declared. “There is no alternative to the IDF’s
line of defense.”
If the Jordan Valley was Israel’s “insurance policy”
before the recent upheaval in the region, Netanyahu said, this is “doubly true”
today with the major unrest in the Middle East.
Sources close to
Netanyahu said it was not coincidental that he did not mention the settlements
during his visit, since he was trying to drum up support in the international
community for keeping the IDF along the Jordan River. Mentioning anything about
Israeli sovereignty or retention of the settlements would simply complicate and
muffle his message, they said.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, meanwhile,
rejected the idea of Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, saying during a tour
of Nablus that there would not be a Palestinian state without the Jordan
“The Jordan Valley is an integral part of the Palestinian land
occupied in 1967, just like east Jerusalem,” Fayyad was quoted by Israel Radio
Netanyahu’s demand that Israel retain a security presence
along the Jordan River is nothing new, and a position he has held since long
before the dramatic events in the region.
Government officials said
Tuesday that Netanyahu had said a number of times in the past that the Israeli
presence in the Jordan Valley could be reassessed over time and could be altered
according to Palestinian security performance. This position, the officials
stressed, has not changed.
In addition, the officials pointed out that
the Palestinians agreed with former prime minister Ehud Olmert on a US-led NATO
force on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. While Netanyahu
insists that there be an IDF force there, he has not ruled out the possibility
that this would be part of a larger framework.
“This does not have to be
an insurmountable obstacle,” one official said.
In a related development,
representatives of the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and UN – are expected to
meet Wednesday with Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho to discuss the current
diplomatic impasse and suggestions for breaking out of it. The representatives
met last week in Brussels with Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Foreign Ministry officials said a meeting at the foreign ministry
level of the Quartet – originally scheduled for next week on the sidelines of a
G20 meeting in Paris – had been postponed for two to three weeks. The officials
denied that this was in order to give Netanyahu more time to formulate and
present a new diplomatic initiative, saying the postponement had to do with a
need to focus on other dramatic events in the region.
Israel is concerned
the Quartet might adopt a position at its next meeting tilting toward the
Palestinian demand for a state inside the 1967 lines, something it has refrained
from doing – primarily due to objections from the US – until now.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, during a press conference in London with
visiting PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said Britain, France and Germany wanted to
see clear parameters for the new negotiations, including a state within the 1967
lines with equivalent land swaps, a “just, fair and agreed solution for
refugees,” and “the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and
a Palestinian state.”
Hague also welcomed a recent call for Palestinian
elections, and condemned Hamas for rejecting the idea.
“Hamas should not
be allowed to stifle the democratic expression of Palestinian opinion,” he
Abbas said he was ready to have legislative and presidential
elections and “leave the ballot boxes to speak for themselves.”
wins “would take the helm,” he said, adding that “we cannot reach a political
solution without Palestinian reconciliation.”
Jonny Paul contributed to
this report from London.