Netanyahu's Threat to Annex the Jordan Valley
By John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
Hinting that he would be willing to annex a sizeable chunk of the occupied territory of Palestine, Netanyahu has become desperate in his campaign for reelection for Prime Minister of Israel, but not sure of that as of today. He even canceled his participation at the UN General Assembly.
His decision to annex the Jordan Valley seems to have the tacit approval of President Trump. Adverse impact on the Palestinians of such annexation would be to cut them off from commerce and critical sources of water, as well as to further undermine their aspirations for statehood.
Netanyahu’s Threat would displace many Palestinians
In a ploy to gain more conservative votes in his reelection to Prime Minister, Netanyahu has threatened to annex the Jordan Valley, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This is part of the Prime Minister’s longtime campaign promise to absorb more and more of the West Bank into Israel’s sovereign realm. One of the truly sad pieces of this story is that Netanyahu announced this land-grab with the tacit approval of President Trump. Naturally, Arab leaders in the region condemned this announcement, including leaders of nearby Jordan and Saudi Arabia. A segment of the Israeli press underscored the desperation of Netanyahu’s last minute appeal to his right-wing supporters.
Palestinian communities potentially affected by such a land-grab would be adversely impacted. One community, Qtishat, according to the Washington Post, would be left “under the control of the Palestinian Authority as a kind of enclave surrounded by Israel.” One Palestinian farmer interviewed for the Post piece wasn’t sure if his land would remain intact or be annexed into Israel. Others interviewed expressed fear that they would be “locked up” in their towns, having to cross through checkpoints to go anywhere. This would especially impede commerce and access to water, much less the usually simple act of visiting nearby family and friends .
Such a view invoked for many, the earlier days of intifada, or the uprisings or rebellions against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza beginning in 1987. Israeli crackdowns to quell the uprisings were bloody and brutal and movement of Palestinians was almost impossible.
Would Annexation of a large part of the West Bank Sink the Two-State Solution forever?
Netanyahu defended his post-election pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, saying, according to vox.com, “If I am elected I commit to annex the Jordan Valley. It is our eastern border, our defense wall…Give me the Mandate.” In other words, the Prime Minister is framing the annexation as a security matter, to protect the core part of the country. This would result, however, in seizing land, about a third of the area of the West Bank, which is essential to a real peace process between Israel and Palestine that would culminate in a two-state solution. Furthermore, such an annexation, also according to vox.com, represents “a truly radical pronouncement, a blaring statement that this Israeli government has no interest in a serious negotiated peace with the Palestinians.”
Of course, Netanyahu could lose the election or be given only partial victory, with a parliamentary coalition that might not approve his proposed annexation. Vox.com noted that even as a campaign promise, the idea of annexation will stick in Israeli minds as a real, future possibility. Netanyahu avows that he would not be “annexing even one Palestinian,” through the ploy of exempting Jericho and Palestinian villages from the circle he’s mapped out around the area of annexation. These communities would simply have a smaller circle drawn around them but, on the map, they would lie within the larger circle depicting Israel’s newly captured territory.
Such a land-grab would fulfill Israel’s long sought after demand for territorial security, purportedly protecting it from a potential, future invasion. Meanwhile, there have been no immediate threats of such an invasion nor do any appear on the near horizon. This is why the presumed threat of attack is just a pretext for the Prime Minister’s reelection and a calculated threat to Palestinians so as to not get their hopes up for a two-state solution.
As to the U.S. Congress, there is little appetite for a vote against Israel, though at this point some of the Democratic presidential candidates, according to the Arab Center of Washington D.C., have noted their willingness to cut aid to Israel to express opposition to certain of its policies.
How would the Annexation affect an Arab-Israeli Peace Accord?
A one-sided grab for even more Palestinian land by Israel would shrink the pie so much that a two-state solution would die on the map. Netanyahu’s proposal would take about a third of the West Bank, making for a practically postage-stamp-size state of Palestine. This, in turn, according to the UK Telegraph, “would force Israel down one of two dangerous one-state paths.” One option would be making Palestinians citizens and giving them the vote, leading to an Arab population time bomb, namely an Arab majority with a Jewish minority. A second option, also according to the Telegraph, is “indefinite Israeli rule over Palestinians without granting them citizenship. There’s a word for keeping an ethnically defined part of your population in permanent second-class citizenship: apartheid.”
As to the U.S. Trump administration’s so-called “peace plan,” it would seem to require unilateral surrender on the part of the Palestinians. This is simply a matter of his style and history of interacting with almost everyone—women, business and government colleagues, sub-contractors, among others. The same pattern would seem to apply to the case of the Palestinians. According to Shadi Hamid, writing under the banner of Al-Jazeera News, Trump’s approach is “premised on calling for unilateral surrender. It is premised on destroying the will of a people, and on hoping that despair might one day turn into acquiescence. This is the only way to interpret Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s insistence on prioritizing economic incentives over political progress, but this misunderstands most of what we know about human motivation.”
The Trump Administration idea of a Middle East Peace Process
Many Middle East specialists have considered the peace process a “myth,” based on several U.S. administrations’ repeated failures to bring such a process to a successful conclusion. Now under the present regime, according to a Columbia University professor, Rashid Khalidi, if the “peace process was a myth, Donald Trump ended it.”
Trump thought the peace process would be easy—just assign son-in-law Jared Kushner, an orthodox Jew, to tackle the problem. One constraint is that the father-in-law himself doesn’t seem to recognize that Israel is exercising a military occupation of what should become a Palestinian state. Further, Trump doesn’t believe in the seriousness of an independent state of Palestine, equal in every sense to Israel. Otherwise, why would he have directed the U.S. Embassy of Israel to be moved from Tel Aviv to the holy city Jerusalem, which is equally dear to Muslim and Christian Arabs; or that he somehow found it in himself to gift part of Syria’s Golan Heights to Israel, for which in return Netanyahu named a parcel of land on Golan after Trump?
One caveat on the sense that no sustainable plan for peace in the Middle East exists in today’s White House is that the Palestinians themselves seem to have a credibility gap in their leadership. The Guardian’s Eli Lake notes, “Another reason peace is not around the corner is that there is no Palestinian leader at the moment with the democratic credibility to negotiate it even if he were so inclined.” The present leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, has negotiated extensively with the Israeli’s but has never gotten a win. The PA will need to express that it knows how to govern and eliminate corruption if it is to negotiate from a position of strength.
Again according to the Guardian’s Lake, “It’s quite possible, of course, that Palestinians could vote for new leaders who choose war over peace. But that’s not a good reason to oppose Palestinian elections. Think of it this way: Half of the Palestinian leadership rejects peace. The other half is corrupt and powerless. The best way to improve this state of affairs is to give Palestinians the chance–on a regular basis–to elect new leaders who not only want peace but are capable of delivering it.
So, between the Palestinians and Israeli leaders, both need a lot of work if there is to be a truly fulsome peace. And the main supporter of Israel, the U.S., needs to develop a much more open, fair and balanced approach. The U.S. has given Israel more than it wanted or even expected. Now it’s time to put some effort into nurturing the Palestinian side of the equation. This includes support from other Arab nations as well as the U.S. and other world powers.
Just “off the wire” is a piece that shows that the world is not completely asleep on the issue of Israel’s creeping incorporation of the occupied West Bank into greater Israel for the purpose of “ensuring its security.” Sourced from Media Line, the piece reads:
“Russia has slammed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign promise to annex territories in the West Bank if he is re-elected in the September 17 national election. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the proposed plan, saying such a move “could lead to a sharp escalation of tension in the region and undermine hopes for the establishment of a long-awaited peace between Israel and the Arab neighbors.”
The denunciation came hours before Netanyahu’s scheduled departure to Sochi, where on Thursday he will meet with President Vladimir Putin.”
Any expression of “conscience” regarding the Israel-Palestine issue, such as that reflected in Russia’s response to Netanyahu’s promise to annex the Jordan Valley, is welcome—from whatever corner of the world it comes.
–“In the Jordan Valley, Palestinians fear further displacement after Netanyahu’s annexation pledge,” Washington Post, James McAuley, 9/11/19;
–“Israel’s prime minister wants to seize the Jordan Valley — a move that would bury the two-state solution for good,” Zack Beauchamp, Vox.com, 9/10/19;
–“Israeli PM ‘would annex swath of West Bank‘,”” UK Telegraph, Raf Sanchez, 9/11/19;
–“The Israeli-Palestinian Dispute Is Only Partly About Land–The White House can’t end the conflict by expecting one side to surrender unconditionally,” Al-Jazeera news, Shadi Hamid, 5/25/19;
–“The Middle East ‘peace process’ was a myth. Donald Trump ended it,” The Guardian,
Rashid Khalidi, 2/18/17;
“Trump’s Mideast Peace Deal Doesn’t Depend on His Departing Envoy–The missing elements are the willingness and ability of the Palestinians to negotiate.” Eli Lake, Bloomberg Opinion, 9/6/19;
“Russia Slams Netanyahu Annexation Vow ahead of PM’s Sochi Visit,” Media Line, 9/12/19;
“Is Congress Prepared to Respond to Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans?” Marcus Montgomery, Arab Center Washington, D.C., 9/12/19.
John Mason, an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture and its diverse populations, is the author of recently-published LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle
East, 2017, New Academia Publishing.