Jordan Valley Annexation

 - by Yahav Zohar -

On 10 September 2019 (a week before the 2nd 2019 Israeli elections) Israeli prime minister Netanyahu announced his plan to annex the Jordan Valley, standing in front of a map incorrectly noting the location of some Israeli settlements and omitting several Palestinian villages.

The next day, there was condemnation from Palestinians, the Arab league, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, the UK and the UN, the latter stating that "any Israeli move to impose its administration over the Palestinian territory would be illegal under international law." But that is what the UN and the rest of the world have said about Israeli rule here for the last 50 years and done nothing about it.

Inside Israel, the move got less attention than Netanyahu had hoped. Most Israelis didn't seem to care or have a strong opinion. Netanyahu's political opponents initially criticized the announcement for its timing and improvised nature, citing the inaccurate map and calling it a political stunt. However, A few weeks later, on January 21st Netanyahu's main opponent, Benny Gantz, announced that if elected he too would work to annex the Jordan valley.

The valley is a narrow strip of semi-desert area  between the densely populated hills of Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah and the so-called Jordan river, a slow running and polluted creek which marks the border of the West Bank (of said river) and the Kingdom of Jordan. The planned annexation would include some 22% of the area of the West Bank and less than 3 percent of its population, as only some 50 thousand Palestinians and 12 thousand Israeli settlers live here. The primary importance of the valley is in that it is the only border of the West Bank that is not already a border with Israel. If Israel annexes the Jordan valley, the remaining 78% of the West Bank and the 2.5 million Palestinians within will be surrounded by Israeli territory. Many consider that this, as Netanyahu himself more hinted, would be the Final nail in the coffin of the Palestinian State idea.

In fact, much of the suffering the Palestinian residents of the valley have experienced in the last 2 generations is due to this strategic consideration. Since Israel conquered the West Bank it has been asking itself, what can we do with land that we want and people that we don't want? The best case scenario for Israel would be for Palestinians to just pack up and leave, to somehow disappear, but since this does not seem to be forthcoming, the second best alternative has been to pack them as densely as possible into existing towns, which since the 90's have been designated the so called "Palestinian Autonomy"  and build settlements and army bases in the spaces between, in what is known as area C.

The Jordan Valley is a big part of area C and one of my least favourite places to take tours. Most of the year, it is terribly hot, the landscape is dry and windswept, and the stories are terrible. Since Israel has conquered this area in 1967, it has done everything to make the Palestinian residents' life here unbearable, to get them to leave. Some 90% of the land has been declared military training areas, special security zones or nature reserves; all ways to block the shepherds from grazing their herds. The natural Oases which dotted this arid area have largely dried up due to Israeli water extraction and with them, the ancient farming communities have withered.

The remaining Palestinian villages are mostly impoverished, and despite the Israelis government efforts and incentives, the Israeli agricultural settlements here are sparsely populated. Israelis, it seems, just don't want to live here, far from Tel Aviv and surrounded by military and often unbearable heat.

So, what would happen if the Jordan valley were annexed? Would Palestinians here be granted Israeli residency, would the checkpoints between here and the rest of Israel be removed to allow said Palestinians to seek employment or resettle elsewhere in the country? That would seem to be an improvement, but no one really seems to know. One Israeli journalist, Yuval Abraham, who did travel to the valley and speak with residents found that Palestinians tended to support annexation, as they believe it would improve their living conditions, and that many Israeli settlers oppose it for much the same reason, that it would cause their Palestinian labourers to demand higher wages and workers' rights. (See this link for more details.)

As far as being the last nail in the coffin of the 2 state solution, it seems that nail has been driven in so many times before, with the systematic expansion of settlements, the building of the separation wall, the annexation of East Jerusalem and most recently the American "Deal of the Century" or "Peace to Prosperity" plan that this one hardly matters except to call further attention to how irrelevant that idea has now become.

Mr. Abbas, who publicly opposed the annexation heads up a Palestinian "autonomy" surrounded and controlled by Israeli military government and heavily dependent on foreign aid. Perhaps the annexation of the Jordan Valley will not only improve the lives of the few Palestinians remaining there, but help end international insistence on a two state "solution" and aid the struggle for legal equality for all the people of this country in one democratic state.
- Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >


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