GP Insights # 141, 14 September 2019
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins the forthcoming general election. The announcement made on 10 September follows a tough election campaign which would test Netanyahu’s possible return or a corruption trial in case he loses.
What is the background?
The announcement comes in the background of an already militarized Israeli stance relating to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.
The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea constitutes almost 30 per cent of the West Bank. In this zone, around 65,000 Palestinians and about 11,000 Israeli settlers live. Referred to as Area C, most of it is under Israeli military control. Israel has long vouched that it intends to maintain military control under any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
For Netanyahu, the announcement has been made during a critical phase of his sagging political career. An inconclusive vote ended his majority in April 2017, and now, Israel is heading to the polls on September 17 for the second time. Netanyahu had earlier failed to assemble a manage the coalition after a closely fought snap election.
What does it mean?
Annexing the settlements would end hopes of establishing a Palestinian state. It would also compel Netanyahu to approach the question of more than two million Palestinian residents in the annexed place.
Second, geographically, Jordan valley that Netanyahu wants to annex is a part of West Bank, already under Israel’s control except for Jericho that has the maximum number of Palestinians. Jordan Valley stretches from north of the Dead Sea and west of West Bank’s borders with Jordan. This would mean Jericho would be cut off from the rest of the Jordan valley after the annexation and the encirclement of the Palestinian villages would become significant. Besides, the land is fertile farmland and a source of livelihood of about 350 residents.
Third, most political observers have dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as a campaign stunt ahead of the general election. Netanyahu has made similar promises in the past, and there are scepticisms. The announcement is in line with his campaign strategy to woo the right-wing supports and stroke a hard-line nationalist sentiment among his supporters. Most parties and his coalition partners have not declared their stance. Most right-wing and religiously conservative parties support his party Likud, but the coalition will depend on the support by another secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Fourth, announcement predates the publication of a long-awaited United States peace plan and consultations with President Donald Trump. Even though the US has maintained no change in its policy, it would be interesting to see the Vision for Peace to be released after the election. In 2017, Trump decided to move the US embassy from Tel
Aviv to Jerusalem and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy. The Palestinian leadership has since declared that the US cannot be an honest peace broker in negotiations with Israel. Besides, a week before the election, the US special envoy to the Middle East has resigned who has been handling the peace rulebook.