Despite the noise about the settlements being the main stumbling block towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the latest sticking point in the abortive “peace” talks with the Palestinians is the Jordan Valley. Despite all the cajoling, wheedling, threats and menaces, Binyamin Netanyahu has held firm and has rejected giving up the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians, or even to a neutral third party who would control security for Israel.
Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed various, slightly ludicrous, ideas which he thinks Israel would find reasonable enough that they would give up a vital security asset. Despite the fact that the Palestinians reject any Israeli presence at all in the Jordan Valley, Kerry suggested that Israel retain its security presence for 10 years, in which time Palestinian personnel would be trained to take over.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly shot down a proposal by US Secretary of State John Kerry to maintain Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for ten years following the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, a Palestinian official told Al-Ayyam.
During this time, according to the paper, PA security forces would be trained to assume control over the Jordan Valley.
Quoting an unnamed Palestinian official, the paper said that Kerry’s ideas also include “invisible” Israeli presence at the border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan. In addition, the Americans would install early warning systems on hilltops in the West Bank, the official told the paper.
The Palestinians, however, rejected the offered American security “ideas,” saying the arrangements proposed were totally unacceptable.
The official described the meeting between Kerry and Abbas last week as being “worse than bad,” and added that the American stance on the subject is a step back from proposals made in the past.
He added that the Palestinians “will never accept Israeli presence in the valley.”
Thank G-d that the Palestinians were the ones to reject this nightmarish scenario. I can just imagine what would happen when the 10 years were up. Just think of Gaza after Israel’s withdrawal in 2005.
Kerry is not one to give up (not for nothing did Moshe Yaalon call him “obsessive” and “messianic” about the peace process), and produced yet another delusional plan. This one calls for the deployment of American troops along Israel’s Jordanian border:
Kerry has come up with the notion of “remote Israeli monitoring” of the border posts by means of electronic gadgets.
The Secretary of State has therefore stripped the US framework for a peace accord of three vital elements for safeguarding Israeli security in a Palestinian state, before submitting it formally to the Israelis and Palestinians in the second half of January.
American and Israeli security experts agree that the revised Kerry security proposals would in practice enlist US soldiers out for the first time to defend Israel’s eastern border, a task for which the IDF is perfectly capable, only to gratify the Palestinian demand to remove any Israeli military presence from its potential territory.
The US would also find itself responsible for monitoring Israel’s border crossings to the new Palestinian state as well Palestinian-Jordanian border stations.
The Secretary appears to be in tune too with the Palestinian demand for the “safe passage” to connect the Gaza Strip to the West Bank to be realized in the form of an express train. This rail link would require Israel to sacrifice a slice of the Negev in the south and turn it over to Palestinian sovereignty, with no stops on the way for Israel security officers to inspect the traffic and freight being ferried between the two Palestinian entities.
In the face of this onslaught on Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, it is easy to forget that there is another important partner in the region: Jordan. Anyone not involved in regional politics might be surprised to learn that what the Jordanians want is closer to Israel’s position than to the Palestinians or the US. In fact, a confidante of Netanyahu states that Jordan wishes Israel to keep a presence along the border:
A Likud parliamentarian considered a close ally and confidante of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel’s insistence on maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley as part of any final status agreement with the Palestinians is supported by Jordan.
MK Ofir Akunis told a town hall gathering in Tel Aviv on Saturday that Israeli officials have received feedback from their Jordanian counterparts who are alarmed at the prospect of an Israeli withdrawal from the boundary that separates the West Bank from the Hashemite kingdom.
“The Jordanians are opposed to an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley out of fear that if a Palestinian state arises and is taken over by extremist elements like Hamas and Al-Qaida, this would endanger the king’s rule, not just Tel Aviv,” Akunis said.
Netanyahu met last week with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman for what was described as a “surprise” visit.
At that meeting King Abdullah issued the usual proforma declarations about Israel having to make every effort to reach an agreement for a Two State Solution with the Palestinians, but if you know your history you will understand the Jordanians’ dread of a Palestinian terror state on their border, and therefore their preference for Israel to keep control. The Jordanians are also understandably very concerned about the Palestinians ceding their “right of return” to Israel which would entail their remaining in Jordan – all 2 million of them.
A number of former Jordanian officials have expressed concern that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians could harm vital Jordanian interests. Jordan, for instance, has been reportedly concerned over security arrangements in the West Bank after an Israeli withdrawal, fearing it might be harmed by an upsurge in terrorism were the IDF to completely vacate the area; Israel demands that the IDF remain deployed along the West Bank-Jordan border even after a peace treaty is reached, the PA rejects the demand, and the US has been trying to find a compromise.
The London-based daily Al-Hayat further reported on Thursday that conservative Jordan politicians understand a framework agreement being drafted by the US as abrogating the Palestinian “right of return,” therefore necessitating the granting of permanent citizenship to some 2 million Palestinians currently residing in Jordan.
The converse of this dilemma is that Israel wishes to keep the Jordan Valley in case the Jordanian king falls:
have not read anyone talk about it, but Israel’s demand to maintain the Jordan Valley as a wall against security breaches from the east only makes sense if you assume there will be new threats in the future. At the moment, Israel and Jordan have a strong security-based relationship for unspoken reasons: Jordan fears the fall of Fatah; Israel fears the fall of King Hussein.
Israel is well aware of the that Jordan’s king is not all-powerful and has to be prepared for a Muslim Brotherhood-governed Jordan and terrorist infiltration similar to what saboteurs and infiltrators carried out from the Jordanian-controlled West Bank in the years before the 1967 Six Day War.
This all imagines the worst case scenario, though. For the foreseeable future, Jordan’s throne is stable.
Some people are right, there is no Iraqi general that could march his army west through the Jordanian capital and into Israel like there was 40 years ago. At least not right now. The real concern is a sudden revolutionary fervor overtaking the improbably resilient Jordanian monarchy like the winds of change swept out dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
I’m not sure I agree with all of Reback’s scenarios but his main thesis, of Israel’s fear that Abdullah might fall, is real enough.
Another opinion on why the Jordan Valley is vital to Israel is written by Dr. Reuven Berko at Yisrael Hayom:
For Israel, the Jordan Valley is profoundly important from a military aspect due to past efforts by the Palestinians, either in regard to terrorism or weapons smuggling from Jordan (after the Six-Day War, the valley region was nicknamed “The Land of the Chase,” a reference to the army’s anti-terror campaign there), or to our ongoing experiences with them along the Gaza Strip border. From a security perspective, it is undoubtedly preferable for Israel to maintain control of the Jordan Valley rather than redeploy along an alternate border line west of the valley.
Beyond the settlements, it appears security is the core issue that needs to guide Israel in the negotiations. In the reality of an Arab Spring in which hordes of mujahedeen from across the globe are pouring into the conflict zones around us, the importance of controlling our border with Jordan is even more important. A strong and stable Jordan in control of its borders is important for peace and quiet on Israel’s eastern border. Therefore we must take into account the inherent risk involved in relinquishing responsibility for the border and its crossings to the Palestinians. Such a step would expose Jordan, which has a population comprised mostly of Palestinians, to the threat of a future Palestinian revolution.
In a related story, Binyamin Netanyahu says that Israel is not as isolated in the Arab world as it once was, and many Arab countries see Israel as a friend:
On its website, CTV wrote that Netanyahu explained that “many of Israel’s Arab neighbors share a common goal of peace in the region, as well as concern over a nuclear-armed Iran. Other Arab countries see a bigger threat in hard-line Islamist groups, he said.”
Netanyahu said, “So I say to those who criticize a pro-Israel position in Canada, I ask them, come to the Middle East. Go to the Arab world and you’ll discover, you’ll discover a lot of people are reconsidering their positions,” adding that many Arab countries now “see Israel not as an enemy but as a friend.”
“So when Canada says, ‘Israel is our friend,’ they’re not necessarily alienating the Arabs. Quite the contrary, because the Arabs are changing. The Arabs, many of them, sometimes openly and sometimes in corridors and whispers, they say, ‘Israel is our friend.’ So they don’t view others differently as a result of that.”
Netanyahu may be correct on the macro level, but on the micro level, Israel still has to deal with an unofficial Arab boycott. For example Kuwait refused to attend an international renewable energy conference in the UAE because Israel sent a representative. And Abu Dhabi refused entry to an Israeli footballer belonging to a Danish team who travelled to the country for a match. Shamefully, the Danish club went ahead without their Israeli team-mate.
Until the Arabs drop their childish boycott, which advances them nowhere and harms Israel not at all, there will never be a true peace in the Middle East. Similarly, if countries dependent upon Israel – like Jordan – still feel the need to add a caveat about the Palestinians – then true peace will be a long time coming.