The Jordan Valley’s fate

"Staging what will most likely be nothing more than a symbolic hawkish ministerial vote to annex the Jordan Valley does more harm than good."

Jordan Valley. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Jordan Valley.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Thanks to the backing of Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi ministers, a bill proposing to annex the Jordan Valley was passed Sunday in the Ministerial Legislative Committee. Ministers from Hatnua and Yesh Atid responded with anger to the legislation.
They vowed to appeal the vote, which would place the matter directly in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Beginning with the 1967 Allon Plan, Israeli control over the Jordan Valley has been a centerpiece of the security establishment’s conception of the Jewish state’s essential defense needs. In October 1995, almost two years after signing the Oslo Accords, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that “the security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
The “broadest meaning of that term” probably was a decidedly inclusive definition of what is meant by the Jordan Valley, a definition that might even include the mountain ridges that overlook the valley to the west.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has adopted Allon’s and Rabin’s decades-old defense perspective. In November, he said that security arrangements with the Palestinians “will no doubt include many things, but first among them will be that the State of Israel’s security border remains along the Jordan [River].”
This perspective on the Jordan Valley’s centrality to Israel’s security is shared by a majority of Israelis as well.
Sixty-three percent of Israelis said they opposed an Israeli pullout from the valley in a survey commissioned by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The poll, conducted by pollster Midgam and published in October, also found that 74% were opposed to having international forces in the Jordan Valley instead of IDF troops.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the former commander of US troops in Afghanistan, was tasked by US Secretary of State John Kerry with formulating a solution in the Jordan Valley that could conceivably answer Israel’s security needs without compromising Palestinian sovereignty too much.
Allen has reportedly accepted the idea that Israeli, not American forces, must remain on the ground along the Jordan Valley, at least in the short-term after the signing of a peace agreement. The challenge remains to convince the Palestinians.
Under the circumstances, it hardly seems an opportune time for our ministers to advance legislation that gives the impression that Israel, not the Palestinians, is the intransigent party in the negotiations.
The matter of deciding the future of the Jordan Valley should not be left to a backbench lawmaker, with all due respect to MK Miri Regev who sponsored the legislation.
Rather, the cabinet led by the prime minister should decide whether maintaining Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley is essential for Israel’s security needs or whether these needs can be met by IDF forces alone.
If, under a two-state solution, Israel should decide to retain Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley, there would be ramifications. This area makes up at least 6% of the West Bank, if not more. Making it an integral part of a Jewish state would mean that the US and the Palestinians would expect an equivalent land swap inside the Green Line.
The ministers who voted in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley were motivated by valid security concerns, particularly the dangers presented by the smuggling of advanced weapons into the West Bank from Jordan. That is precisely what happened when Israel pulled out of Gaza and relinquished control over the Philadelphi Route. Arms from Iran, Libya and elsewhere made their way into Hamas-controlled Gaza and created a major security threat.
Admittedly, if Israel were to relinquish a civilian presence on the Jordan Valley, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a solely military presence there in the long term. Terrorist organizations would launch attacks targeting IDF forces. Pressure would build inside Israel in the form of grassroots organizations similar to “Four Mothers,” which was so instrumental in pressuring Israel to pull out of the security zone in Lebanon, to remove Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley. And international pressure would build as well.
Ultimately, however, the future of the Jordan Valley must be determined by the cabinet and by the prime minister. Staging what will most likely be nothing more than a symbolic hawkish ministerial vote to annex the Jordan Valley does more harm than good.