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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's comments last
week to foreign journalists that whatever the final outcome of a peace
solution (assuming there is ever one), Israel would insist on retaining
control of the border between a Palestinian state and Jordan signaled a
return to a way of thinking about the future borders of the country
thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.
argued that it would be essential for Israel to control this border as
a means of ensuring that no weapons or rockets were transported from
Jordan (or from places further afield such as Iran or Syria) into the
new Palestinian state where they could be used against Israel - much in
the same way as rockets have been fired from both South Lebanon and the
Gaza Strip following the withdrawal from these areas.
The idea of retaining control over the border with Jordan is a
throwback to the period immediately following the Six Day War. The
unofficial government response to the new situation was to create a
strategy which would allow for much of the conquered West Bank to be
handed back to Jordan as part of an autonomous Palestinian region,
while at the same time ensuring that the border between the West Bank
and Jordan remain under direct Israeli military control. The
Palestinian autonomous region was to be linked to Jordan through a
territorial corridor which would run from Ramallah, via Jericho and
over the Allenby Bridge. The entire autonomous region (most of the West
Bank) would be closed to Jewish settlement so as to ensure that when
the day came for such an agreement to be implemented, there would be no
problem of Jewish residents within the Palestinian autonomy.
THE ALLON Plan, after its author, former Palmah commander,
foreign minister and deputy prime minister Yigal Allon, could best be
described as a pragmatic security plan. Recognizing the demographic
implications of long-term control of the region, Allon did not want
Israel to retain such control over the interior mountainous areas of
the West Bank, densely occupied even then by Palestinians. At the same
time, he wanted to ensure that the autonomous region remain isolated
from direct contact with its Arab neighbors to the east.
With the exception of Jericho, to be located in the
territorial corridor, the entire Jordan Valley was sparsely populated
owing to the difficult arid climate. Allon proposed that the Jordan
Valley be populated by Jewish settlements - agricultural kibbutzim and
moshavim. This was part of a general policy which had been favored by
all Israeli governments prior to 1967, namely that the establishment of
civilian settlements were an integral part of the country's defensive
It was this thinking that led, in the early days of the state,
to the setting up of the Nahal program, in which soldiers would combine
military service with time spent establishing new agricultural
settlements in remote border locations, with the intention that
following the completion of their army service they would remain as
full-time residents of these new communities.
In a famous article published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs
1976, Allon laid out his plan under the title of "Israel: The Case for
Defensible Borders." Allon's plan remained the unofficial
security-settlement plan for the West Bank for 10 years, until the
Labor governments were displaced by the Likud government of Menachem
Begin. It was Begin, and his settlement planners, such as Matityahu
Drobless and Ariel Sharon, who gave the green light for the Gush Emunim
movement (founded some years previously and developing a settlement
plan which contested Allon's limited concept) and sought to establish
settlements throughout the region, including - and especially - in
areas which had been declared free of settlements by Allon.
This change of plan eventually gave rise to the settlement network of some 300,000 people which exists in the West Bank today.
But even during the 1980s and 1990s, most Israeli security
experts agreed that the Jordan Valley would have to remain the
defensive border well into the future. This only began to change after
the mid-1990s, as negotiators in the post-Oslo Accords period realized
that there could be no political or territorial solution with the
Palestinians if Israel insisted on retaining control of such a huge
area, effectively isolating a Palestinian state from its eastern
Moreover, given the already densely populated region, the
projections of even more rapid demographic growth in the future and the
potential return of a large number of Palestinian refugees to the new
state, the Jordan Valley offered the one area where new settlement and
residential projects could take place.
WITH THE firing of rockets from Iraq into the heart of Israel
during the first Gulf War, and more recently from south Lebanon and
Gaza, security experts began to question the defensive significance of
borders in general, and of the Jordan Valley in particular. These
changes in technology, the removal of the eastern threat following the
peace agreement with Jordan (in which the introduction of any foreign
troops into the territory of Jordan would be seen by Israel as a
legitimate cassus belli
) and, more recently, the neutralization
of any immediate military threat from Iraq, meant that for the first
time in almost 40 years the Jordan Valley did not figure so prominently
in Israel's security demands.
It is therefore surprising that Netanyahu has reinserted the
defensible border concept into public discourse. If most generals agree
that this is no longer a prerequisite for reaching a peace agreement,
it can only be interpreted as yet another hard-line statement which
turns the clock back to a period and a policy which are no longer
relevant. If there is to be any return to the negotiating table (which
at present seems highly unlikely), the Palestinians will not accept any
territorial arrangements which prevent them from gaining territorial
contiguity from the border in the west (the Green Line or thereabouts)
to Jordan in the east.
Did Netanyahu make his statement based on real security
expertise, or was it just another attempt to hammer the nails even more
strongly into the coffin of peace?
The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the
International Journal of Geopolitics.