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Ascending Mount Sarbata with Jordan valley below
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Uzi Dayan being filmed by a German crew on Sarbata with the expanse of the Jordan valley in background
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Uzi Dayan on mount Sarbata with Jordan valley and Jordanian mountain range in background
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Uzi Dayan, born on Moshav Nahalal in 1948, the nephew of General Moshe Dayan.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editor's Report: What to make of Netanyahu's pledge to annex the Jordan Valley?

by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 25, 2019

Near the end of Israel's recent election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu made a pledge to annex the Jordan Valley (with the exception of Arab villages and cities such as Jericho) right after the elections. The Jordan Valley, the strip of territory in the West Bank that runs alongside the Jordan River ( which is territory Israel captured during the Six-Day War in 1967 and since has controlled), comprises some  25% of the West Bank.

Many considered Netanyahu's promise to be no more than electioneering since  Netanyahu has had many years in power in which he cold have annexed the Jordan Valley if he was serious about it. Netanyahu responded that the time was now ripe, implying that under President Trump's yet to be released peace proposal, Israel would get the green light to annex the Jordan valley.Yet, it's worth noting that there has not been any on the record confirmation of support from anyone at the White House  for Netanyahu's Jordan Valley annexation decision.

The official position of Benny Gantz's Blue White party as expressed in their platform is that "the Jordan Valley will be the eastern security border of Israel." But , as Dr Aaron Lerner has written "The platform of Blue White thus only means military access to the Jordan Valley. If anything, the choice of the phrase 'security border' indicates an intention to leave open the possibility of the evacuation of the civilian Israeli population from the area."

There is no doubt in my mind that the Jordan Valley has great strategic value in protecting Israel from threats that could emerge from the east from aggressive state and non-state actors alike. In 2014 I attended a security briefing  with Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan for journalists on Mount Sarbata, a high point in the West Bank overlooking the Jordan valley. Looking westward from Sarbata, you can see as far as Jerusalem.

From the towering peak of Sarbata, Dayan, who was head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, IDF deputy chief of staff, and National Security Adviser to then Prime Minister Rabin, laid out why Israel must keep military control of the Jordan Valley, which he believes is "critical for Israel to maintain defensible borders."

Dayan explained that a withdrawal from the Jordan Valley would be a major error. The “Arab Spring” which "has led to civil wars and unprecedented bloodshed and increased terrorism" has created real "uncertainty," and as Dayan said in a time of uncertainty there is one thing you don't do- " you don’t give up strategic assets.”

Dayan pointed out that the Jordan Valley has a very small Palestinian population,such that it is not the case that by keeping the Jordan Valley Israel would be ruling over a significant Palestinian population.

On the other hand, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has said that that any future Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, such as the Jordan Valley would have a “major impact” on Jerusalem’s ties with his country and Egypt.

The notion of maintaining control of the Jordan Valley enjoys  significant backing among Jewish Israelis, as it  is  considered a key security asset, providing a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east, including from Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As Ben Sales of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has written, " Nearly half of Israeli Jews and 11 percent of Israeli Arabs favor annexing the Jordan Valley if Trump supports it, according to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute. Twenty-eight percent of Jewish Israelis and a majority of Arab Israelis oppose the idea."

 Palestinians say there can be no independent state that doesn’t control the border. With annexation of the Jordan valley Palestinians say they would lose a fertile area, which has many Palestinian farms and is one of the few remaining areas of the West Bank with open space for development.

Critics of  Netanyahu say that annexing the Jordan valley would kill the already moribund peace treaty and the two state solution.

Since Netanyahu right now does not have a clear path to forming a coalition, he may well not be in any position to annex the Jordan valley any time soon, such that his election pledge to annex the Jordan valley will fall by the wayside . If neither Netanyahu or Benny Gantz can form a coalition, (which is certainly a possibility), there will be a third election, and it remains to be seen whether annexing the Jordan Valley will become an issue yet again.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.