David Elhayani: 'Jordanians want Israeli sovereignty over Jordan Valley'

"Sovereignty over the Jordan Valley is merely a matter of time, and almost all indications point in that direction."

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and YESHA head David ElHayani (photo credit: MIRI TZAHI/COURTESY OF THE YESHA COUNCIL)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and YESHA head David ElHayani
David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, and for the last two months, head of the Yesha Council as well, is convinced that the discourse about Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley is not merely pre-election talk. “It is coming closer," he says and identifies unprecedented processes that are underway. One of them is the initial meetings of the steering committee for the application of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, a committee that was established by the Prime Minister, and whose members include representatives of his office, the Defense Ministry, the Civil Administration and others.
“The committee has already convened and that indicates that this is serious,” Elhayani says, and adds, “From my discussions with our people in the United States, I understand that longterm preparations have been undertaken to gain American recognition of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. The visit of John Bolton (then National Security Advisor of the Trump Administration) to the Jordan Valley seven months ago was the first indicator for me."
The domestic political arena, too, inspires in Elhayani unprecedented hopes. “In the course of negotiations to establish a government, Yisrael Beytenu declared that one of its demands is that the coalition agreement include a paragraph calling for sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. I have heard of a proposal given by a senior member of the Blue and White party with the agreement of Benny Gantz and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon to Naftali Bennett and Rabbi Rafi Peretz. In this proposal, one of the paragraphs of the coalition agreement would be sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. All these tell me that it will happen."
 “The people and the politicians have internalized that this step is essential and its significance is that the area will no longer be enveloped in political uncertainty and it will be possible to engage in long-term planning after 52 years of settlement during which we were forced to do it all ourselves, with no organized guidance from the government. The time has come to consider this area part of the State of Israel. It is a geographical strip of land that is longer than the strip between Hadera and Ashdod and has enormous development potential.”
Regarding the mundane reality that is likely to change in the Jordan Valley on the day after application of sovereignty, he continues: “Over the years, they never developed infrastructure in the Jordan Valley. I imagine that the costs of developing Route 90, creating infrastructures of water and electricity are estimated in the billions of shekels. As long as there is a lack of political clarity, they must consider whether it is worthwhile to invest these sums. When there is sovereignty, no one weighs these considerations.
We have been living for decades with this inferior quality of electrical infrastructure. For ten years, I have been hearing about the positioning of a portable electrical substation of the Israeli Electric Company, not even a permanent one, but they have not yet done so. I met with senior officials of the Electric Company and I asked them: Did you think that the Jordan Valley would not develop over the course of forty years? That the agriculture would not develop, that there would be no packaging plants, that there would be no refrigeration facilities? The quality of the electricity supply is inferior.
Regarding the matter of transportation and road infrastructure, the situation is similar. Beyond the resurfacing of Route 90, nothing has been done. Only after eleven years have passed, they are finally making improvements at the Yifat Junction. We had a meeting with the Transportation Minister at which the representative of the National Authority for Road Safety said that the head of the Council is correct and it is one of the roads with the largest number of car accidents and it must be given priority. I have not received a response beyond the fact that there are plans for the future. I am anticipating a directive that already tomorrow, the matter will rise to the head of the list of priorities and beginning tomorrow, they will prepare a program for improving the road that will begin being implemented within two years."
Elhayani is convinced that the population of the Jordan Valley, which to date has not increased beyond 6,000 residents, will rise dramatically on the day after application of sovereignty. “At the moment that we lift the fog, I assume that there will be governmental direction and the communities will flourish. Perhaps there will be additional communities, perhaps a city will develop here. Anything is possible. People want to build their homes here. During the last fifteen years, there has been a collective coming to the senses regarding the Palestinian issue, and the public has lost faith in the chance for a peace agreement, and, indeed, people are arriving and there has been an annual growth of 6%. However there are children who are returning and want to settle here, but they cannot because there is no room. Our communities are in a mode of accelerated absorption and it will expand and increase when there will be a much broader political basis and a sense of certainty that they are not throwing their money out the window.”
Parallel to the intensification of the discourse surrounding sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, opponents of the step have raised the claim that Jordan, the neighbor to the east, is likely to oppose it, and the Hashemite royal house is liable to express its opposition in a variety of ways to the extent of abrogating the peace treaty. Elhayani hears these claims and dismisses them, asserting that the political discourse is being conducted under the heading of hypocrisy.
“In the days when I was still chairman of the Jordan Valley Settlements Committee, after the Oslo Accords, and already then, from informal conversations with the Jordanians, I know that the Jordanians did not want any geographical connection with what was then earmarked for the Palestinian entity – then there was no talk of the Palestinian entity and Jordan. This has a political rationale. Seventy percent of the population there is Palestinian and a geographical connection would constitute a serious threat to the royal house. Therefore it is hypocrisy. The king is required to express public opposition. He knows what would happen to him were he to express consent to Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.”
Elhayani is convinced that Israel will not be harmed by this step. When they applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, they also said that the nations of the world would boycott. So they said. Nothing happened. At the INC convention, Trump related in his speech what he underwent after his decision to transfer the American embassy to Jerusalem. Presidents and heads of state, even countries that he did not know exist,  called him and cautioned him how dangerous it is and how it would cause unrest in the streets and there would be a third intifada. But the next day, nothing happened.”
The political discourse surrounding sovereignty in the Jordan Valley has produced several contemptuous reactions such as: “What difference will it make? They applied sovereignty to the Golan Heights and that did not prevent prime ministers, including Netanyahu, from viewing it as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations.” Elhayani hears these detractors and is convinced that there is a significant difference between the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley. “First of all, the Arab Spring changed the security discourse throughout the region. In addition, the Heights are perceived by the international community as occupied Syrian territory. The Jordan Valley is still a territory that cannot be labeled “occupied” because the Arabs refused to accept the Partition Plan. There never was a state here and the territory was not conquered from anyone. If one considers the Partition Plan sacred, then Nahariya and Acre are also occupied territory, not to mention Jerusalem," Elhayani recalls.
Published in Sovereignty Supplement and sponsored by Women in Green