The Jordan Valley has always been strategically important for Israel. Most recently, events in Iran and Iraq, and particularly Hamas' rise to power in Palestine, have once again upgraded the significance for Israel's security of its presence in the Valley. This could have far-reaching consequences for Israel's relations with Jordan and the Palestinians.
From 1948 until the American occupation of Iraq in April 2003, Israeli security thinkers were concerned to one degree or another with the threat of an "eastern front" coalition of Arab forces confronting it across the Jordan Valley. Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian forces in various combinations created an eastern front in 1948 and 1967, and threatened to do so in 1973. Israel's occupation of the Valley in 1967 vastly enhanced its capacity to deal with military threats from the east. Beginning around the early 1990s, the saliency of the Jordan Valley/eastern front threat was progressively reduced by Israel's peace treaty with Jordan, international sanctions against Iraq, and Syria's military isolation and weakness. Then, the American occupation of Iraq in 2003 for the first time created conditions for Israel to consider withdrawing the bulk of its military forces from the area, leaving only those charged with anti-terrorism tasks and significantly enhancing the territorial prospects of a Palestinian state.
Now, the events of recent months appear once again to reinforce Israel's strategic need to remain in the Jordan Valley. First, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, linked with a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq--or, alternatively, with a Shi'ite state in the southern two-thirds of a dismembered Iraq--poses a new threat to Jordan and, by geographic and political extension, to Israel. Second, and more significantly, the outcome of the Palestinian elections of January 25 potentially creates conditions for Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, to link up with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom and, again by extension, threaten Israeli security as well. Already the Jordanian Muslim Brothers have hastened to declare null and void the 1988 Jordanian decision to sever its claim to sovereignty in the West Bank, and Islamist students at the University of Jordan have raised the green Hamas flag.
At this point, less than a month after the Hamas victory and prior to the formation of a Hamas-dominated government in Palestine, Hashemite leaders do not seem particularly concerned about the dangers posed by an Islamist Palestine seeking to link up with Islamist elements among Jordan's majority Palestinian population. They argue that as long as the outcome in Palestine is the product of a negotiated peace settlement, it will not threaten them. They do not acknowledge that there can be no such peace with Hamas. The Hashemite regime's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood have been generally manageable.
There was a time, toward the end of King Hussein's reign, when some Hashemites quietly hinted to Israelis that, in order to isolate Jordan's Palestinian population from irredentist influences, they would prefer a Palestinian state in the West Bank that did not have an extended common border with Jordan along the Jordan River. Whether or not we revert to that era, Israel has a right to be concerned: Hashemite Jordan shares with it two vital local and regional strategic security interests that have been negatively affected by the Hamas victory and recent developments to Jordan's east: containing the Palestinians in a non-threatening political entity, and keeping radical state and Islamist threats as far away as possible. Hence, in the Hamas era, any additional unilateral Israeli dismantling of settlements and/or withdrawal on the West Bank is not likely to include the sparsely-populated Jordan Valley. Nor can Israel now afford to consider turning the Allenby Bridge crossing over to bilateral Palestinian-Jordanian control, along the lines of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai. Already Egyptian security officials are evincing concern that Hamas is exploiting its relatively free entry at Rafah into Sinai to collude with Egyptian Islamists.
Yet even as Israel reevaluates yet again the strategic significance of the Jordan Valley, it must not lose sight of the importance of that area, fully one-third of the West Bank, for the future viability of a Palestinian state. In the long term, Israel does not need the Jordan Valley settlements any more than it needs those in the mountain heartland; indeed, after more than 35 years of Israeli settlement in the harsh conditions of the Jordan Valley, there are no more than 7,000 settlers living and farming there, and their farming communities are still not profitable. On the other hand, a Palestinian state cannot be viable unless it includes all or most of the Valley. Israel's original post-Oslo vision of a long-term residual Israeli security presence in the Valley coupled with limited Palestinian sovereignty is still valid.
But as we enter the Hamas era, that vision must be put on hold. Heavier strategic security considerations prevail. Once we know the nature of Hamas rule and the outcome in Iran and Iraq, we may be able to reconsider.- Published 20/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Deepening the conflict
by Ghassan Khatib
The Jordan Valley has recently come to the attention of politicians and analysts as a result of changes in Israeli political statements and practices vis-a-vis that part of the occupied Palestinian territory and its Palestinian inhabitants.
The area is extremely significant from strategic, security and economic perspectives. After the Israeli project of building a wall in and along most of the western side of the West Bank, a project that is appropriating a certain amount of Palestinian territory as well as separating Palestinian areas from each other and further isolating occupied East Jerusalem from its Palestinian hinterland, all eyes were directed to see what Israel was going to do on the eastern border.
The Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods in the Jordan Valley and various statements from politicians have indicated an intention to confiscate most of the Valley. The recent restrictions on movement have had a very negative effect on the daily lives of Palestinians there, and would seem to be aimed at making life between difficult and impossible, in order to force people and allow for easy implementation of Israeli control over this area.
From an economic point of view, the Jordan Valley is a main source of agriculture for Palestinians and is thus important for employment and the economy. The Valley has fertile soil and is relatively abundant with water. The restrictions on the movement of agricultural products have been causing significant losses to the industry and have forced many farmers to abandon their land and work.
Palestinians are now concerned that with the de facto Israeli annexation of parts of the Valley, Israel is completing its unilateral policy of determining the future of the Palestinian territories. This is done in contradiction to international law and in a way that will jeopardize the potential for an independent Palestinian state to emerge. Israel has already separated East Jerusalem and neighboring areas from the rest of the Palestinian territories. Israel has isolated areas on the western side of the West Bank, and it has divided the West Bank into four main parts separated by new large military terminals--especially in the northern West Bank and middle region at Zaatara, Qalandia and the container terminal in the Bethlehem area--in addition to the many smaller checkpoints.
The culmination of these unilateral steps is set to unfold in the eastern part of the West Bank. This will result in the complete fragmentation of the West Bank, which is already totally separated from Gaza. Thus will end any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. The maximum number of Palestinians will be squeezed into the minimum amount of space, and the rest of the land will be kept for already expanding illegal Jewish settlements in occupied territory.
In addition, Israel, which contributed significantly and intentionally to Hamas' electoral success last month, is now using that new political reality as an excuse and a smokescreen to proceed with its unilateral practices. These might consolidate Israeli control, but will at the same time extend and deepen the conflict.- Published 20/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Palestinians picnic at Ein Bidan
by Amira Hass
"So Palestinians can't travel to the Jordan Valley and have a picnic with the kids", I told the military official who replied to my questions regarding the severing of the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. His answers confirmed what the terrain clearly reflects: while the eastern separation wall that Ariel Sharon had planned to construct was in fact never built (perhaps it would be better to say, has not yet been built), it nevertheless exists by means of roadblocks, barriers, military orders to prevent entry of all but a few thousand, and night raids intended to expel Palestinians who are not "Valley residents".
"Palestinians picnic at Ein Bidan," the military official replied in total seriousness. In other words, they don't need the Valley for picnics. It's as if all Israelis were prevented from entering the Negev, but were comforted and compensated by being told that in any case Israelis picnic along the Yarkon River in the center of the country.
It may sound like a luxury to discuss nature outings at a time when Israel is enforcing a list of additional prohibitions that deprive Palestinians of far more basic needs: preventing Palestinian construction and development throughout most of the Valley; forbidding the sale of Palestinian agricultural produce directly to Israeli dealers or at the nearest goods transfer point at the Jordan Valley-Israel border; preventing travel along most of the main Valley road; forbidding neighbors and relatives to meet, landowners to reach their lands, and laborers to look for work; and forbidding people to maintain the traditional life-style they have practiced for hundreds of years by expelling herders and semi-nomads who used to descend from their mountain heartland villages to the warmer eastern slopes.
The explicit prohibition regarding entry to the Valley by all Palestinians except a small minority is relatively new. It has taken shape slowly in the course of the past five years. It has involved not a single order published by the media, but rather a series of cumulative prohibitions, now at this roadblock, later at another and another and yet another. The constraints on Palestinian farmers' freedom to market their produce directly and to nearby Israeli dealers are also new, dating from October-November 2005. Both types of prohibition constitute but the most recent manifestations of the policy practiced by Israel even during the Oslo years--what were ostensibly the peace negotiation years.
Everything can be interpreted as "legitimate security measures": to protect Israelis traveling on the main road, to defend the settlers, facilitate the task of the soldiers, place as many filters as possible in the way of arms smugglers. But the security rationale persuades only those (sadly, most Israelis) who insist on ignoring a series of dispossessing measures invoked by generations of Israeli governments in the Valley and against Palestinians. These include construction of colonies based on depriving Palestinians of their water resources and taking control over their lands; turning some 500 square kilometers of the Valley into military training grounds and live-fire zones, thereby supplying an excellent "humane" excuse for actively removing people from about a third of the land; and unilaterally proclaiming "nature preserves" in 24,000 dunams (6,000 acres). The latter measure evokes a supposed love for nature that is belied when Israel destroys tens of thousands of dunams of scenic views, fertile land and primeval rock gorges in a unilateral effort to establish the state of Israel's final borders--and reduce Palestinian territory to isolated enclaves.
If not live-fire zones or nature preserves, then it is area C (full Israeli control) that prevents the Palestinians from developing and building. They need building permits from the Civil Administration. Yet that institution does not issue building permits in accordance with the natural growth and development requirements of the Palestinians, but rather on the basis of the unnatural growth requirements of the settlers.
"Where can we go?" the new exiles asked the soldiers. The exiles were Bedouin, herders and semi-nomadic farmers. They were evicted by Civil Administration officials, accompanied by soldiers, who handed out demolition orders or themselves demolished tent camps and lean-tos. That was a few years before the current intifada. "Go to area A" the soldiers told them. Lower-ranking soldiers always say openly what their commanders and the politicians conceal with sanitized language. In their innocence, the soldiers revealed the political intention behind the ostensibly security-oriented measures. That's how the soldiers express themselves today when they explain to the "Machsom Watch" women and me why a Palestinian in the Valley is now an illegal resident: because "the Valley is Israel". The difference, then, between the dispossession measures invoked during the Oslo period and the eviction steps taken today is one of quantity and extent rather than substance.- Published 20/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Amira Hass has been the Haaretz correspondent in the occupied territories since 1993.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A disaster for the agriculture industry
an interview with Ismail D'aiq
bitterlemons: Much has been written and said about closures on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in general, especially East Jerusalem. But only recently has the Jordan Valley come up. What is the situation with the travel restrictions there?
D'aiq: The Israeli travel restrictions were implemented a few years ago after the intifada started. What they mainly do is prevent Palestinians living in the villages around the Jordan Valley from either reaching their own farms or from working on others' in the Jordan Valley. The Israeli checkpoints are there to check whether the farmer is a resident of the Jordan Valley or not, and since the population of the Valley is less than 30,000, the majority of farmers in the Valley are from the Tamoun/Tubas areas and not from the Valley. The Israeli restrictions are affecting these people, preventing them from entering the Valley or moving from one area to another.
bitterlemons: How badly have these restrictions affected the agriculture industry?
D'aiq: The Valley is the fruit and vegetable basket for Palestinians in the wintertime and these restrictions have affected all aspects of the industry from cost of production and transportation to employment. Prices of vegetables and fruits have reached a level not seen in 15 years. The restrictions has affected farmers immensely, with those coming to buy, middlemen usually, unable to enter.
The total area of land that Palestinians can plant in the Jordan Valley is around 50,000 dunams. This year, only 30,000 dunams have been planted. Compare this to the Jewish settlements in the Valley, which have access to 200,000 dunams, all of which are cultivated this year.
Within the Valley there is not an employment problem, because there is a lot of work for a small population. It is the farmers in neighboring villages that are affected. But both can find work in the settlements. In fact, settlements can hire Palestinian workers without restriction. They can bring Palestinian workers in from other areas in special buses to cultivate the land of the settlements. It's only forbidden for Palestinians to work Palestinian land.
bitterlemons: So when Israel says these restrictions are a security measure, what is your response?
D'aiq: The Jordan Valley has been very quiet and peaceful throughout the intifada and even the settlers have said they have faced no security problem in the last 2-3 years. I think these restrictions are simply a smokescreen for Israel to confiscate more land and separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank and the rest of the world.
bitterlemons: What are the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees doing about this?
D'aiq: PARC is trying to help the small farmers and poor families gain access to the market and solve certain problems regarding agricultural imports or irrigation systems and other infrastructure problems. This is all PARC can do. This is a political problem and we must pressure the political leaders to push for a solution.
bitterlemons: Are the restrictions affecting PARC?
D'aiq: Before these restrictions, our office in Jericho could serve the needs of the entire region. Now, our employees cannot travel and so we have had to find other solutions, primarily by looking for local employees or volunteers to do the work. Unfortunately, it is hard to find people with the technical expertise to do the work properly.
bitterlemons: If this situation persists, what do you foresee?
D'aiq: This will be a disaster for the agricultural sector. It already is. It is affecting mostly the workers who are coming from elsewhere in the West Bank, especially in the wintertime. In the meantime, we are trying to sit and analyze exactly what is the effect of these restrictions so we can come up with some solutions.- Published 20/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ismail D'aiq is director of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, PARC.
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