Ne­tanyahu’s costly ob­ses­sion

Un­ques­tion­ing White House sup­port may be driv­ing the Is­raeli PM’s ex­pan­sion­ary am­bi­tion of a West Bank land grab

Arab News - - Spotlight - Daoud Kut­tab Am­man

Will the sum­mer of 2020 see Is­rael make good on its threats to an­nex more parts of the West Bank and the Jor­dan Val­ley? If the US-Is­raeli co­or­di­na­tion on Pres­i­dent Trump’s Mid­dle East peace plan since Jan­uary is any in­di­ca­tion, the an­swer could very well be “yes.”

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign in Septem­ber 2019 that Is­rael will an­nex the Jor­dan Val­ley and im­pose its sovereignt­y over West Bank set­tle­ments to en­sure se­cu­rity in the long run.

Around half a mil­lion Is­raeli set­tlers live in the West Bank, in­clud­ing East Jerusalem, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli sources. UN data show there are 31 Jewis­honly set­tle­ments built in the Jor­dan Val­ley, most of which are agri­cul­ture-based, with around 8,000 an­nex­a­tion, less than three weeks af­ter the oc­cu­pa­tion. On June 27, 1967, the Is­raeli Knes­set, its na­tional leg­is­la­ture, de­cided that the “law, ju­ris­dic­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion of the State of Is­rael gov­ern­ment shall ex­tend to any area of ‘Eretz Is­rael’ it so or­ders.”

There­fore, Is­raeli law ex­tended to cover all parts of East Jerusalem, giv­ing civil­ians a le­gal sta­tus dif­fer­ent from those in the rest of the Occupied Ter­ri­to­ries. Ac­cord­ing to Khalil Tafakji, di­rec­tor of the Arab Stud­ies So­ci­ety in Jerusalem, the an­nex­a­tion and its jus­ti­fi­ca­tion took root in the first weeks of the oc­cu­pa­tion af­ter the 1967 war. “Once they an­nexed East Jerusalem, they eyed other parts to in­cor­po­rate with Is­rael,” he said. Is­rael drew up many plans under its var­i­ous lead­ers, in­clud­ing the Yi­gal Al­lon Jor­dan Val­ley plan, Ariel Sharon’s sep­a­ra­tion plan and Avig­dor Lieber­man’s plan of peo­ple ex­change, said Tafakji.

“All these plans have been aimed at un­pop­u­lated lands, in true com­mit­ment to Zion­ist prin­ci­ples of want­ing land with­out peo­ple. Ul­ti­mately, these plans, like the cur­rent one by Ne­tanyahu, are meant to deny the Pales­tini­ans state­hood,” he told Arab News. Is­rael’s ini­tial an­nex­a­tion at­tempts were in­cor­po­rated into what is known as the Al­lon Plan. Yi­gal Al­lon, who was an army gen­eral turned min­is­ter shortly af­ter the 1967 war, sug­gested an­nex­ing most of the Jor­dan Val­ley, from the river to the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge; East Jerusalem; and the Etzion bloc, a clus­ter of Jewish set­tle­ments lo­cated di­rectly south of Jerusalem.

In Al­lon’s plan, the re­main­ing parts of the West Bank, con­tain­ing most of the Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion, were to be­come Pales­tinian au­ton­o­mous ter­ri­tory or would re­turn to Jor­dan, in­clud­ing a cor­ri­dor to Jor­dan through Jericho. Jor­dan’s King Hus­sein re­jected the plan. Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion plans for the Jor­dan Val­ley and the north­ern Dead Sea area, ac­cord­ing to Tafakji, “en­com­pass over 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank.”

In 1993, under the Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples signed be­tween the Pales­tinian Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the state of Is­rael at the White House, the West Bank was di­vided into three ar­eas: Area A under Pales­tinian con­trol; Area B under Pales­tinian con­trol and Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­trol, form­ing about 22 per­cent of the West Bank; and Area C under full Is­raeli con­trol, con­sist­ing of over 60 per­cent of the West Bank’s

5,655 sq km area.

Is­rael’s ex­pan­sion­ism could mean im­pos­ing its con­trol over the en­tire eastern part of the West Bank and cut­ting off all ge­o­graph­i­cal con­ti­gu­ity with the rest of the ter­ri­tory, says Tafakji.

“The an­nex­a­tion is aimed at ex­ploit­ing large agri­cul­tural ar­eas and al­low­ing Is­rael to in­vest in them, build­ing more set­tle­ments and le­gal­iz­ing set­tler out­posts, and not for se­cu­rity rea­sons as it claims, be­cause it al­ready has a peace agree­ment with Jor­dan,” he said. In the wake of the Oslo agree­ments, the Pales­tini­ans wrested back ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol of Jericho from the Is­rael se­cu­rity over what is listed as Area A in the city as well as in the nearby wa­ter­rich Jor­dan Val­ley town of Ouja, which has a sweet water spring. For Pales­tini­ans, the Jor­dan Val­ley, which is lo­cated in the east of the West Bank on the bor­der with Jor­dan, is a vi­tal and in­te­gral part of their fu­ture state due to its strate­gic lo­ca­tion and fer­tile lands. “Not only is Jericho the bridge city to Jor­dan and to the rest of the world, Jericho and its pop­u­la­tion have be­come a thorn in Is­rael’s side as it tries to take the land with­out its peo­ple,” Am­mar told Arab News. The Pales­tinian Cen­tral Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics lists the pop­u­la­tion of Jericho gov­er­norate at 52,000 Pales­tini­ans. Though the July 1 dead­line for an­nex­a­tion is now said to be nei­ther “sa­cred” nor ur­gent, Is­rael’s in­tent has drawn global con­cern. Ac­cord­ing to a post by the BBC, the Is­raeli plans “could re­sult in some 4.5 per­cent of Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank liv­ing in en­claves within the an­nexed ter­ri­tory.”

The Is­raeli hu­man rights group B’Tse­lem said that Is­rael has de­clared about 20 per­cent of the area as nat­u­ral re­serves, taken over large ar­eas in the north of the Jor­dan Val­ley to build the sep­a­ra­tion wall, and used 56 per­cent of its area for mil­i­tary pur­poses.

A Pales­tinian gov­ern­ment set­tle­ment watch­dog said that the an­nex­a­tion will leave 19 com­mu­ni­ties in the Jor­dan Val­ley, home to 3,700 Pales­tini­ans, at risk of forced dis­place­ment or be­ing dis­en­fran­chised.

Ne­tanyahu, how­ever, has said that Is­raeli sovereignt­y will not be ap­plied to Pales­tini­ans in the Jor­dan Val­ley, and re­ports say the same ex­clu­sion will be ex­tended to Pales­tini­ans in other an­nexed parts of the West Bank. Given Is­rael’s past record, there is lit­tle as­sur­ance to be found in this state­ment.

AFP

Is­rael claims the an­nex­a­tion of ar­eas of the West Bank and Jor­dan Val­ley will strengthen se­cu­rity, but analysts say it is more about ex­ploit­ing key agri­cul­tural sites.

A pro­tester wear­ing a mask of Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu joins demon­stra­tions in Tel Aviv.

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