(JNS / JISS)
The Jordan Valley is of great security value to Israel. Most military experts agree that it constitutes Israel’s only defensible eastern border. The Jordan Valley is also Israel’s most important border because of its proximity to Israel’s heartland, the Jerusalem-Haifa-Ashdod triangle, where 70 percent of Israel’s population lives and where 80 percent of its economic infrastructure is situated. It is thus no surprise that many Israelis support the extension of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley.
The U.S. “Peace to Prosperity” plan (what U.S. President Donald Trump colloquially called “the deal of the century”) allows Israel to incorporate the Jordan Valley into its sovereign territory. The administration expected Israel to accept the peace plan after the formation of its national unity government and start implementing it.
It is quite inconceivable that Israel should say “no, thank you” to an American peace plan, particularly the best plan ever tabled by Washington from Israel’s perspective. It is simply imprudent to say no to a narcissistic president who may still be reelected in November. It is unwise to discard U.S. backing for strengthening Israel’s national security.
It should be noted that the incorporation of the Jordan Valley into Israel is not a far-right fantasy, but the implementation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s preferred borders, as outlined in his last speech to the Knesset in 1995. His strategic outline for Israeli sovereignty also included areas around a united Jerusalem, which is the linchpin for securing the main road to the Jordan Valley.
The American peace plan also offers a historic opportunity to shatter the prevalent, stale paradigm for bringing peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old paradigm that mandates Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with minor changes) has failed to yield any positive results. This paradigm has fed unrealistic Palestinian aspirations and encouraged intransigent positions. Adhering to this old and ineffective approach only has caused more pain. The new U.S. plan, on the other hand, takes into consideration Israel’s security needs and delineates a more realistic approach to peacemaking.
The current geopolitical equation also creates an opening for applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians hardly interest moderate Arab states. Egypt is busy with more serious strategic challenges, such as the dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile and Turkey’s intervention in the Libyan civil war. (Turkey is seeking to turn Libya into a base for its navy to project power across the Mediterranean, and a base for Islamist activities in the region, which could destabilize Egypt). Moreover, Egypt is preoccupied with an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai. (Israeli assistance is needed for Sinai and the countering of Turkish regional ambitions.)
Similarly, Arab states need Israel to parry Iranian expansion across the Middle East, particularly at a time when the United States seems to be withdrawing from the region. In particular, the Gulf states are cognizant of the advantages of maintaining good relations with Israel. However, the current favorable geopolitical circumstances may ebb away if Iran’s hegemonic plans advance, and Arab states subsequently decide to bandwagon with Tehran. What Israel can afford to do now, with U.S. support, is not something that can be delayed indefinitely.
The claim that Israel’s actual control of the Jordan Valley nullifies the need for sovereignty is patently wrong. Unilateral Palestinian actions to build roads and settlements in “Area C” of Judea and Samaria ever since the Oslo II agreement of 1995 have eroded Israeli control, including in the Jordan Valley. Israeli sovereignty should halt such Palestinian encroachment. It will also blow away some of the misguided, even dangerous suggestions for “alternative security arrangements” in the Jordan Valley that were proposed by American negotiators in the past.
Stationing foreign troops in the valley or relying on early-warning stations and only a limited Israeli military presence were and remain bad ideas. Foreign military forces have proven ineffective and unreliable. In recent years, UNIFIL failed to locate even one Hezbollah missile in southern Lebanon, while UNDOF forces on the Golan Heights evaporated under jihadist pressure at the beginning of the civil war in Syria. The United States even wants to withdraw its military observers in Sinai, whose task is to monitor the demilitarization clauses of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
Maintaining only a limited Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley under Palestinian sovereignty would create an equally disadvantageous situation. Israeli forces would be subject to harassment and terrorist attacks from hostile elements. This would eventually lead to its removal, as historical precedents from elsewhere demonstrate. Therefore, only a permanent IDF deployment in Israeli sovereign territory in the Jordan Valley will guarantee the security of Israel’s eastern border.
Permanent IDF deployment in Israeli sovereign territory in the Jordan Valley also will guarantee the effective demilitarization of a Palestinian state, which is envisioned by the U.S. peace plan. In fact, by accepting the U.S. plan Israel commits itself to negotiate the contours of such a state. But again, Israel’s sovereignty in the Jordan Valley is a vital ingredient in ensuring Palestinian demilitarization—which is the only way Israel could contemplate the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Israel should seize this moment to apply its law (sovereignty) to the Jordan Valley and to the environs of Jerusalem to guarantee Israeli security for generations.
Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.