Securing the Jordan Valley

Ex-Israeli generals have proposed plans within a two-state framework to ensure Israeli security without limiting Palestinian sovereignty.

Vehicles drive along a road in the Jordan Valley  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Vehicles drive along a road in the Jordan Valley
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
After US Secretary Mike Pompeo announced the US policy shift on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to immediately pass a decision to annex the Jordan Valley after a unity government is formed. The prime minister made a similar statement leading up to the second round of elections in September, and it is the latest indication of growing support for annexation within the Israeli government. However, although Israel does have legitimate security concerns via the Jordan Valley, those needs can be met by implementing certain security arrangements through a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, and annexation may not be a wise alternative.
Of course, when considering the strategic importance of the Jordan Valley, one can understand why Israel would hesitate to give it up. The valley has a 300 km. border between Israel and Jordan and its terrain goes as low as 400 m. below sea level and as high as 900 m. above sea level, making it a useful asset for defense. Historically, Israel has depended on the valley as a defensive buffer against potential invasions from Arab armies coming from the east, such as Jordan and Iraq. Today, with the rise of non-state military actors roaming throughout the region, Israel may be concerned that the Palestinians would not be able to secure the valley and prevent infiltrations like the IDF can.
Nevertheless, despite these legitimate security concerns, annexation of the Jordan Valley may only lead to more security consequences than benefits in the long run.
The first consequence of annexing the Jordan Valley is that it may risk terminating Israel’s security cooperation with the Palestinian security forces. It is hard to envision an economically viable Palestinian state without the Jordan Valley, which makes up approximately 30% of the West Bank and possesses much of the arable land. Thus, if Israel fully annexes the Jordan Valley, it would put tremendous public and economic pressure on the Palestinian Authority to cease its security cooperation with Israel, or perhaps even cause it to collapse.
Annexation of the Jordan Valley may also make it difficult for Israel to continue its security cooperation with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the east. Since signing a peace treaty in 1994, Israel has greatly benefited from cooperating with the Jordanians. This is because Israel is able to receive intelligence information from Amman on what goes in and out of the Jordan Valley from their side of the border. While the Hashemite Kingdom may try to preserve communication with Israel even in the event of annexation, they also need to consider the sensitivities of their public, and it is hard to imagine that Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation will be as thorough as it needs to be if it is done behind the scenes.
INDEED, ONLY by committing to a two-state solution, which would include the Jordan Valley under a future sovereign Palestinian state, can Israel hope to preserve – or perhaps even enhance – its essential security ties with the Palestinian security forces and Jordan. That is why many security experts and former Israeli generals have proposed certain arrangements within a two-state framework that would ensure Israeli security without necessarily having to limit Palestinian sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
For example, in 2016, the Center for a New American Security and Commanders for Israel’s Security (an organization of 290 retired Israeli military officials) published a report referred to as “A Security System for a Two-State Solution.” The report includes a variety of ways on how to meet Israel’s security needs under a two-state agreement, including the transition of power and security arrangements in regards to the Jordan Valley.
For instance, rather than leave immediately, Israel would commit to a gradual withdrawal from the Jordan Valley over a 10-15 year period. During the process, the IDF and US personnel would train the Palestinian security forces so they will become competent enough to guard their side of the valley. In fact, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in 2017, US Gen. (ret.) John Allen confirmed that Palestinian and IDF generals mutually agreed for a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for 10-15 years during the US mediated negotiations from 2013-2014.
The report also includes a border security framework that would allow the Palestinians to patrol their side of the Jordan Valley without any visible Israeli presence. The framework includes creating an aerostat-borne monitoring system above the crossing point, which would be able detect a threat from miles away, and border control stations that would be shared by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian forces, providing them access to video footage, biometric data and other relevant information. This way, Israel would be able to monitor who and what is going in and out of the Jordan Valley without having to restrict Palestinian sovereignty.
The Jordan Valley has long been one of the most contentious parts of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but it does not necessarily need to be perceived through a zero-sum mentality. Israeli officials need to understand that they do not necessarily need to limit Palestinian sovereignty over the valley in order to ensure their security. The Palestinians do not need to demand that Israel hand over the valley overnight. Creative ideas proposed by security experts have shown that there may be solutions where both sides’ needs can be met.
The writer is a contributing writer for the Israel Policy Exchange and is currently pursuing his MSW at Boston College.