Jordan Valley Palestinians await ‘annexation’ with fear, confusion

Netanyahu: Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley will remain in an “enclave” after Israel extends its sovereignty to the territory, adding that they won’t be granted Israeli citizenship.

A view shows the Palestinian village of Fasayil with Israeli farms in the background. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
A view shows the Palestinian village of Fasayil with Israeli farms in the background.
Rizek Shabanat bursts into laughter when asked about Israel’s intention to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.
The 67-year-old merchant from the town of Al-Auja, north of Jericho, says he does not understand what all the fuss is about. “We are anyway living under Israeli rule,” Shabanat told The Jerusalem Post as he lit a cigarette. “We are surrounded by settlements, and the main road leading to our town is under Israeli control. Israel has been controlling everything for many years.”
Shabanat and other residents of Al-Auja, home to some 8,000 Palestinians, said they don’t believe that the “annexation” plan would bring about significant changes on the ground. They said they also don’t believe that Israel would force them to become Israeli citizens.
Large parts of Al-Auja are located in “Area C,” which remains under total Israeli control. Less than 20% of the area is located in “Area A,” which is exclusively controlled by the Palestinian Authority, according to an official with the town’s municipality.
Al-Auja Municipality. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)Al-Auja Municipality. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)
“The annexation plan is very dangerous,” the official warned. “It will deprive thousands of families of their livelihood because most residents are farmers. If they lose their lands, it would be a disaster. No one believes that Israel is going to give citizenship to thousands of Palestinians.”
“I don’t believe Israel wants to give us citizenship because it already has two million Arab citizens,” said Omar Abu Zeid, a grocery owner from Al-Auja. “Israel wants the land of the Jordan Valley, and not the Palestinians living there. Honestly, we have lost faith in everyone, including our leaders. Many people here are convinced that the Palestinian leadership is part of the problem. No one believes that the Palestinian Authority has cut its relations with Israel. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us in the coming weeks.”
In an interview with Israel Hayom last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley will remain in an “enclave” after Israel extends its sovereignty to the territory, adding that they won’t be granted Israeli citizenship.
“They will remain a Palestinian enclave,” Netanyahu explained. “You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them. They will remain Palestinian subjects, if you will.”
According to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, nearly 65,000 Palestinians and some 11,000 settlers live in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, which constitutes almost 30% of the West Bank.
Erkan Abu Zayed, another resident of Al-Auja, said that as far most Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley are concerned, the issue of Israeli citizenship is not the real problem. “My sister lives in Beersheba and has Israeli citizenship,” Abu Zayed said. “That hasn’t changed much of her life. Our main concern is what will happen to our lands after the annexation. We live a few kilometers away from Jericho. Will I need a permit from Israel each time I want to go to Jericho?”
Rizek Shabanat (right) and Erkan Abu Zayed. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)Rizek Shabanat (right) and Erkan Abu Zayed. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)
A few residents, however, told the Post that it would be “great” if Israel granted citizenship to Palestinians in the areas designated for “annexation.”
Abu Jamal, who works at a nearby gas station, said he sees no problem why Palestinians should not be granted Israeli citizenship or turned into permanent residents of Israel.
“It would be great if Israel turns us into Israeli citizens,” Abu Jamal, 48, said. “If they don’t want to give us citizenship, they should at least turn us into Israeli residents, like the Palestinians living in east Jerusalem. Our lives will improve if we become Israeli citizens or residents. The Palestinian Authority is anyway not doing much to help the people here. The Palestinian leaders are corrupt and they only care about themselves and their family members.”
Ibrahim Ma’ali, owner of a plant nursery in Al-Auja, said most residents were “confused” about the Israeli plan.
Ibrahim Ma'ali. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)Ibrahim Ma'ali. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)
“No one knows what’s really going on,” he remarked. “I’ve been running this business since 1981 and I’m not sure what’s going to happen if and when the annexation plan is implemented. But I can tell you for sure that there’s a 90% chance that the situation will become worse for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The village of Fasayil, 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) northwest of Jericho, is located in “Area C” – where Israel has complete control. Mayor Ibrahim Abayat, who describes himself as a senior official with the ruling Fatah faction, echoed the official Palestinian stance regarding the “annexation” plan.
The 2,000 residents of Fasayil “are subject to the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas,” Abayat said.
Fasayil, he added, “receives full services from the Palestinian Authority.”
Asked how the “annexation” plan would affect his village, the mayor replied: “I can’t say anything about it because so far we don’t see or feel any annexation. When we see changes on the ground, we will comment. So far, nothing has happened.”
Abayat also said he doesn’t believe that Palestinians in the Jordan Valley would accept Israeli citizenship, if and when the plan is implemented.
Abdel Latif Abayat, a resident of Fasayil who works in a nearby settlement, told the Post that “there’s a lot of uncertainty” among Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley regarding Israel’s intentions.
“We are already under Israeli control,” he said. “Israel has issued 60 demolition orders for houses in Fasayil. We feel we are part of Israel, although we’re not Israeli citizens. People are worried because they don’t know what will happen to the village after the annexation. Will we become part of Israel, but remain Palestinian citizens? What about our lands?”
Abayat’s consternation is shared by Yusef al-Alem, who makes a living by offering tourists a ride on one of his two camels near the Almog Junction at the southern entrance to Jericho.
Yusef al-Alem (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)Yusef al-Alem (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)
“The situation is already bad because tourists stopped coming after the coronavirus crisis,” Alem said. “I’m from Jericho, and I don’t know if I would be allowed to come here after the annexation plan is implemented. Many residents of Jericho are worried that they will lose their lands that are located around the periphery of the city. People are asking many questions, but they’re not receiving answers. We will have to wait until July 1 to see what Netanyahu is planning for this area.”