Netanyahu's Desperate Jordan Valley Move Cynically Trades Electoral Gain for Peace

Published September 11th, 2019 - 09:39 GMT
 Israeli soldiers stand guard in an old army outpost overlooking the Jordan Valley between the Israeli city of Beit Shean and the West Bank city of Jericho (AFP photo)
Israeli soldiers stand guard in an old army outpost overlooking the Jordan Valley between the Israeli city of Beit Shean and the West Bank city of Jericho (AFP photo)


Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially became Israel’s longest serving prime Minister, overtaking the country’s founding father David Ben Gurion. This month, he has shown the extreme lengths he is willing to go to in order to maintain his grip on power.


Mr Netanyahu’s appearance at a campaign event in Ashdod, one of the largest population centres in Southern Israel, on Tuesday night, was short lived and interrupted by reports of rocket fire which led to the Prime Minister’s emergency evacuation. Yet the historic statements he made there will cast a long and dangerous shadow. In a speech broadcast live on the country’s main TV channels, Mr Netanyahu stated ‘Today I announce my intention after the establishment of a new government to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea’.

In a speech broadcast live on the country’s main TV channels, Mr Netanyahu stated ‘Today I announce my intention after the establishment of a new government to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea’.

This step would be taken ‘immediately after the election, if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel.’ The northern Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area which Mr Netanyahu seeks to annex accounts for almost 30% of the territory of the West Bank. It is estimated that approximately 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israelis live in the area.

Though Israel’s Prime Minister claims that due to the exemption of Jericho and other nearby villages from the annexation proposal would mean ‘not annexing even one Palestinian’, any significant revision of the land area of the West Bank would necessitate the movement, displacement, or imposition of Israeli control over the area’s Palestinian population.

extending Israel’s territorial control along the Dead Sea would leave the West Bank as an enclave surrounded exclusively by Israeli controlled territory, severing overland connections with Jordan

Most importantly, extending Israel’s territorial control along the Dead Sea would leave the West Bank as an enclave surrounded exclusively by Israeli controlled territory, severing overland connections with Jordan. Mr Netanyahu and his political allies insist that asserting control over the region is vital to Israel’s security interests, referring to the territory as Israel’s ‘eastern defensive wall’ and an ‘essential strategic asset’.

Claiming that Israel had faced invasions from Jordanian territory before, Mr Netanyahu asserted ‘We haven’t had this kind of opportunity since the Six Day War and we may not have the opportunity again for another 50 years.’

In reality, the announcement does not reflect a changed security situation for Israel on its eastern border. It is a high risk, desperate political gambit designed to ensure success for Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party in next week’s Israeli parliamentary election.

Seeking a historic fifth term as Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu is battling for political survival. In the last round of Israeli parliamentary elections in April, Likud secured 36 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, just one more seat than its main rival, Blue and White, led by former Israeli Defence Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz.

Coalition governments have long proved the norm in Israeli politics, but following the failure of negotiations in May, the parliament voted to dissolve itself and Mr Netanyahu called a snap election to break the impasse. Analysts predict that forthcoming elections will again be close. Disquiet has grown in Israel over Mr Netanyahu’s attacks on the judiciary and police force and his populist gesturing against elites and racist incitement against the country’s minority populations.

Yet the battle for Mr Netanyahu is not just political but personal - he faces the prospect of being indicted on three separate corruption charges, pending an attorney general hearing in October. Shoring up electoral support may provide Mr Netanyahu with the cover necessary to gain immunity from these charges.

Yet the battle for Mr Netanyahu is not just political but personal - he faces the prospect of being indicted on three separate corruption charges, pending an attorney general hearing in October. Shoring up electoral support may provide Mr Netanyahu with the cover necessary to gain immunity from these charges.

To win another term and avoid the prospects of having to form a national unity government with Mr Gantz’s Blue and White, most experts suggest that Mr Netanyahu will need the support of a number of right-wing factions including a newly consolidated national Orthodox Party, Yemina; United Torah Judaism, an Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox party, and Shas, another orthodox party representative of the country’s Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities.

Another hard-right outfit, Yisrael Beiteinu, has wavered in its support for Likud. Whilst this group, representing the interests of Russian speaking immigrants supports Likud’s tough stance on issues of settlements, borders and national security, it opposes exemptions from military conscriptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis and fears an increasing influence of religion on Israeli political life, dividing it from Likud’s religious allies. However, announcing the annexation of a significant portion of the West Bank may create a higher degree of unity amongst these groups.
 

Such announcements are extremely popular on the right of Israeli politics and are seen as signs of the government’s commitment to Jewish settler populations in the West Bank and as important in making Jerusalem more geographically central in relation to other Israeli controlled territories.

Such announcements are extremely popular on the right of Israeli politics and are seen as signs of the government’s commitment to Jewish settler populations in the West Bank and as important in making Jerusalem more geographically central in relation to other Israeli controlled territories. Tuesday’s pronouncements build on earlier pledges offered before April’s elections to annex all of the settlements that Israelis have established in the West Bank.

The move has proved so popular on the right in Israel that Mr Gantz claims that Mr Netanyahu stole his own idea, stating in an official press release, ‘Blue and White have made clear that the Jordan Valley is part of Israel forever. We are happy that Netanyahu has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognise the Jordan Valley.’

In April 2019 Netanyahu's Likud tied with Blue and White alliance of Benny Gantz, both winning 35 seats. After a failure to form a coalition a snap election was scheduled for next week. /AFP

Though the move may pay dividends for Mr Netanyahu in the short term, it is likely to have disastrous long-term consequences. In the first instance, it is likely to break the air of trust necessary to proceed with Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Palestinian political representatives will likely be pressured away from engaging with an increasingly expansionist Israeli state willing to flout international resolutions and legal regimes.

Mass land seizure and a significant decline in Palestinian controlled territories will prove disastrous to the prospects of a two state solution, supported by many Palestinians only on the grounds that they will maintain control over all territories currently under Palestinian authority. More importantly, Israel’s increasingly assertive policy pronouncements on Palestine are likely to galvanise support for those movements in Palestine most hostile to the Israeli state and willing to use violence to achieve their aims.

An official statement by Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum noted ‘The statements made by Netanyahu about annexing the West Bank and the Jordan Valley will neither change reality nor stop the resistance of our people against the Israeli occupation and schemes.... United, the PA along with the Palestinians must tackle Netanyahu’s aggressive policies and isolate and delegitimize the Israeli occupation.’

Frustration has marked responses by Israel’s neighbours over the announcements too. Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi argued that the plan would ‘push the whole region towards violence’ and added that the League of Arab states was ‘unanimous in condemning Israel’s Prime Ministers announcements’, whilst a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, claimed that the Kingdom ‘utterly condemns and rejects the Israeli Prime Minister’s announcement’.

President Donald Trump is yet to release an official statement on the issue but White House officials have argued that they do not see the move as likely to jeopardise peace talks or security in the region. If Mr Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and close relations with Mr Netanyahu are anything to go by, it is unlikely that the USA will stand in the way of the Israeli Prime Minister’s plans.

Stephen Dujarric, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General aptly summarised the issues at play over the announcements: ‘Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect. Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution.’

Stephen Dujarric, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General aptly summarised the issues at play over the announcements: ‘Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect. Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution.’ For Mr Netanyahu, long a master of reactionary populism, these outcomes seem a worthwhile price for the maintenance of political power. 

 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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