Israel has occupied the West Bank for 52 years. Benjamin Netanyahu has been Israeli Prime Minister for ten years. But just now, the "unique opportunity" came to annex large parts of the West Bank permanently, promises the head of government. Should he be confirmed in the parliamentary elections next Tuesday in office, he will annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank - starting with the Jordan Valley.
"Today, I announce my intention to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the North Dead Sea after the formation of a new government," Netanyahu said Tuesday. That happens in "maximum agreement" with US President Donald Trump.
Hardly anyone in Israel is under any illusions that this is a prime minister election campaign that does not only have to worry about his re-election, but also faces charges of multiple corruption cases. However, hardly anyone doubts that, sooner or later, Israel will annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, no matter how the election ends on Tuesday.
REUTERS / Ammar Awad / File Photo
Road in the Jordan Valley: The majority of Israeli parties support the annexation
Only the Israeli Left Alliance and the Arab parties fundamentally reject the annexation plans. On September 17, however, they will only win around one-fifth of the 120 mandates in the Knesset on 17 September. All other parties are also seeking the annexation of the Jordan Valley.
Benny Gantz, as leader of the opposition alliance Blue-White Netanyahu's main opponent, even accused the prime minister of stealing the idea. "Blue-and-white has made it clear that the Jordan Valley is forever part of Israel," said Gantz. "We are pleased that Netanyahu has adopted Blue-White's plan to recognize the Jordan Valley."
Naftali Bennett, former Minister of Education under Netanyahu and leader of the New Right Party, called on the PM to pass the annexation of the Jordan Valley before the election in the Knesset to prove he was serious.
Strategically, Netanyahu's move is smart
On his TV appearance on Tuesday Netanyahu showed on a map, which areas it is initially. The area is approximately 2400 square kilometers and thus covers about one third of the West Bank. The area is relatively sparsely populated. According to estimates by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, about 11,000 Israelis live there - mostly in agricultural settlements - and about 65,000 Palestinians.
Netanyahu claims that Israel will "not annex a single Palestinian." He points out that Jericho, the largest Arab city in the Jordan Valley, and five other villages are to remain under Palestinian control. These would in future be tiny enclaves in the middle of Israeli territory. Israel would control all access roads to these towns and villages, these Palestinian enclaves would not be sovereign. The freedom of movement of the Palestinian majority population would be severely restricted.
Here's the map of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, where Netanyahu vowed to settle if he wins next week's election (blue: will stay annexed to Israel) pic.twitter.com/ xMcsPeDLpt- Raphael Ahren (@RaphaelAhren) September 10, 2019
Strategically, Netanyahu's announcement is a smart move. An annexation of this area, in which mainly secular Jews live, would be far less ideologically charged than the annexation of the large settlement blocs in the West Bank, where the national-religious forces are strong. Over party boundaries, control of the Jordan Valley is seen as essential to Israeli security.
Even Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who sought a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians in the 1990s, had always made it clear that Israel's "defensive frontier" ran along the Jordan River. At that time it was discussed that Israel could station soldiers in the Jordan Valley with the consent of a Palestinian state still to be established. Netanyahu now rather acts unilaterally and presents the Palestinians before fait accompli.
Although in 1994 Israel made peace with Jordan, which has been in existence for 25 years. At the same time, politics and the security apparatus in Jerusalem are worried about the stability of the eastern neighbor state. The fear is great that King Abdullah II would eventually be overthrown by Islamists and replaced by an Islamist, Israeli hostile regime. For this reason, it is essential that Israel controls the border area.
A blueprint for dealing with the rest of the West Bank
There is a broad consensus among international lawyers that the occupation, as well as the annexation of the West Bank or parts thereof, is contrary to international law. Israel argues that the country was conquered in 1967 as part of a defensive war imposed on the country. Even before, the Jewish state was repeatedly attacked by the West Bank, so you have the right to control the area. Only a minority of international lawyers share this assessment.
REUTERS / Mohamad Torokman
Palestinian farmer in the Jordan Valley: The freedom of movement ends at the village border
In any case, an annexation of the Jordan Valley would make a two-state solution even less likely than it already is. The area that would theoretically have room for a Palestinian state would be 30 percent smaller than it already was. Israel would completely surround the Palestinian territory in the future.
Rather, an annexation of the Jordan Valley would provide the blueprint for Israel's dealings with the rest of the West Bank: Israel unilaterally takes the areas it considers important. The rest, the pacification of the Palestinian cities, Palestinian authorities should take care of. In this way, Israel can de facto exercise control over the entire West Bank, while at the same time refraining from granting the Palestinians full civic rights, such as the right to vote in Israel. The status of the Palestinians in the West Bank as second-class citizens in the future enlarged Israel would then be permanently established.