Arab response to Jordan Valley move shows region’s shifting sands

Saudi Arabia called the move a “very dangerous escalation,” the Arab league termed it a dangerous development that will torpedo any foundations for a peace process.

Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, September 10 2019 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, September 10 2019
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
It took a few hours longer than expected, but the Arab countries roundly – if rather perfunctorily – condemned on Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announced intent to annex the Jordan Valley if he wins next week’s election.
Saudi Arabia called the announcement a “very dangerous escalation.” The Arab League termed it a dangerous development that will torpedo any foundations for a peace process, and Jordan deemed it a “serious escalation.”
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two Persian Gulf countries inching closer to Israel because of shared fears of Iran, also issued condemnations.
Yet, as The New York Times reported, the promise did not “set off outrage across the Arab world” as might have been the case had this happened a few years back.
Eran Lerman, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a former deputy head of the National Security Council, said the reason for the relatively muted response is that “the Palestinian issue is way down the list of priorities for most of the Arab world.”
Lerman said that leaving aside the question of “how willing or unwilling Arab leaders may be at this delicate moment to step on the toes of [US President Donald] Trump just a week before he may or may not meet with [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani, the Arab leaders have a very different set of priories across the region.”
The party most concerned with the plight of the Palestinians – and that is because it has a vested interest in being able to live a normal life – is Israel, Lerman asserted, adding that “it is time for the Palestinians to come to terms with that idea.”
The rest of the Arab world, he said, “have other fish to fry.”
“Basically, the Arab world is looking elsewhere – they are looking at Iran, they are looking at their own domestic issues, at the dramas unfolding internally in Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Yemen, and they are looking at an American administration that they don’t want to alienate, because they are dealing with someone who is quite vindictive and unpredictable,” he said. “So if you put this all together, what interest do they have in mounting their high moral horse at this point in time on an issue that is essentially still theoretical?”
Lerman added that the issue does not resonate to the degree it used to among Arab public opinion either.
“The whole Arab street is a legend,” he said. “It has been a legend for years. What the Arab street cares about is employment, getting out of the misery of their daily lives, reducing the level of corruption and dysfunction in their governments.”
And while, in the past, Arab governments have tried to divert attention from domestic issues by focusing on Israel, now – according to Lerman – the governments are not interested in using this issue to divert attention, “because they have other reasons not to alienate the Americans.”
As a result, he said, the street does not get “agitated” over the issue to the same degree it did in the past, because people see that “it no longer interests their own governments.”
Lerman said there are a number of different ways of looking at Netanyahu’s proposal, one of which might very well be that – working on the assumption that the statement was coordinated closely with the Trump administration – it gives a hint of where the Trump peace blueprint is heading.
“When you think about it, what does it mean that Netanyahu plans to annex the Jordan Valley?” he asked. “What does that mean for the rest of Judea and Samaria? It could actually be an indication that the Trump administration is leaving open some options there for the future.”
Dore Gold, the head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, said that the muted response has to do with “understanding very well... the Iranian threat to the eastern portion of the Arab world.”
He said that there is a degree of understanding about the context of the move, and how it has “strategic military significance” in checking malign Iranian intentions in the region.
Gold noted that one of the significant aspects of Netanyahu’s announcement was that he presented a map where he defined the region that he feels is necessary for Israel’s security, and that the map he used is very close to the one that Yigal Allon proposed soon after the 1967 war.
Gold said that Yitzhak Rabin also adhered to the approach in the Allon Plan that Israel needs to retain the Jordan Valley, saying in his final address to the Knesset before his assassination in 1995 that in any future agreement, “the Jordan Valley in the widest sense of that term would be the security border of the State of Israel.”
When Rabin spoke of the Allon Plan area that Israel needs to retain, Gold said, “Israeli planners were largely preoccupied with the future threat of an Iraq expeditionary force that could cross Jordan in 35 hours.”
With the elimination of Saddam Hussein, he said, the threat to Israel in the East did not disappear, since Iran “is very actively trying to project its military power westward toward the Mediterranean.” And the danger of that threat, he said, is very much shared both by Israel and the Arab world.