(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The Jordan Valley Regional Council has a 10-year plan to triple its population to help ensure that its date farms and hilltop communities won’t be handed over to the Palestinians as part of a final-status agreement for a two-state solution.
During the nine-month negotiating period that ended on April 29, Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Jordan Valley after 10 years under certain conditions as part of a peace deal, regional council head David Elhayani told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Over the last nine months, US officials and military experts visited the area and agreed it was strategically vital to Israel, he said.
However, the US believed a withdrawal of settlements was possible with a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state, he continued. He said it had asked Israel to withdraw in a situation where a newly created Palestinian state maintained peace and democracy for 10 years. The US, however, agreed to an Israeli demand to have the option of keeping a military presence in the Jordan Valley after such a withdrawal, he said.
The Palestinians rejected the US proposal, stating that it was their right to determine if an IDF presence was needed, the regional council head said.
The Palestinian rejection was cold comfort to Elhayani, who decided to embark on a massive campaign to physically build up his largely agrarian community and to publicize it among the Israeli public.
He hired a public relations firm, Peer Levin, opened an Internet campaign, created a song and a logo, and appointed people in each of his 21 settlements to come up with a plan to absorb new families.
On Thursday, at the Jordan Valley Conference, the treasurer of his council, Orit Artsiely, told the audience that the valley’s population of 4,509 in 2013 would grow to 15,000 within 10 years.
Already, she said, the council was in the midst of a two-year building plan for 825 new homes that had already been approved.
Likud Beytenu MK Ofir Akunis, who spoke at the conference, also referred to the staged withdrawal plan for the Jordan Valley that had been raised during the negotiations. He said he had always opposed it, and urged the audience to pay careful attention to the cabinet’s wording when it voted last month to “suspend” negotiations with the Palestinians in protest of the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas.
It didn’t stop the talks, it “suspended” them, he said, which means they will continue.
Akunis said he always believed Hamas would take over the Jordan Valley if Israel were to withdraw from it.
Referring to the unity deal, he said that a few weeks ago, there had been proof that this was what would happen.
“Withdrawal from the Jordan Valley is national suicide,” he said.
The battle for the Jordan Valley is not over, he warned. “We are in a time out.”
To the audience members, Akunis said, “You have to be alert, 24 hours around the clock” to prevent any withdrawal from the Jordan Valley.
Elhayani said he had already taken those words to heart and was acting on them.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) announced on Thursday a pledge of NIS 50 million to place streets along the valley’s main thoroughfare, Route 90.
“Between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean] Sea there will be one nation with sovereignty, and that is the State of Israel,” Ariel said.
“The Jordan Valley is not isolated. Everything that is west of the Jordan [River] will be in Israel’s hands. There is not a situation in which someone will uproot its settlements, or do anything else that would mean destruction,” Ariel said.
“The Jordan Valley will continue to be developed,” he continued, promising that his office would support that endeavor.
“The Construction and Housing Ministry will do everything it can to prioritize the Jordan Valley as an essential part of the State of Israel and as a [security] shield along its border with Jordan,” he said.