João Campos Rodrigues
Netanyahu speaks of a “unique opportunity” to annex the Jordan Valley – “a serious violation of international law,” warned Antonio Guterres.
Next week Israel is voting for the second time in less than six months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to set up a governing coalition. Negotiations were not facilitated by Israeli prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit preparing to move forward with several charges of corruption against Netanyahu – while his critics accused him of wanting a majority to grant immunity to himself. The campaign was further heated by Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. This would constitute “a serious violation of international law,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
About 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, an area occupied by Israel since 1967. About 400,000 Israelis live in the region, in fortified settlements, considered illegal by the UN. The Jordan Valley region represents about 30% of the West Bank, and it is where, under the Oslo peace accords – ratified by both sides in the early 1990s – a Palestinian state would be built.
«They are trying to legalize the occupation with annexation. They want to say ‘This [Jordan Valley] is part of Israel, it’s not occupied territories,’” Palestinian Ambassador Nabil Abuznaid told the SOL. “There will be no land left for peace and for a Palestinian state. It’s the end”. The Palestinian Authority representative – as it is in the Oslo Accords – assures that if Netanyahu’s plan goes ahead, and the passivity of the rest of the world continues, it will “destroy any faith in international law and the international community.”
If the Palestinians’ hope of having their own state is destroyed “it will be replaced by people who do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, who see violence as the only way,” warns Abuznaid – who fears “a new cycle of violence” with Netanyahu’s plan. “I don’t know how we will convince the ordinary Palestinians to accept Oslo, to accept the situation as it is,” he says.
However, many have lost faith long ago. «The whole world is supporting him [Netanyahu]. What can the Palestinians do? ‘Asked Hussein Atiayat, a 65-year-old Palestinian heard by The Guardian. Atiayat lives in the Jordan Valley, and like so many of his neighbors is a refugee, expelled by Israeli soldiers from his home village decades ago.
If Netanyahu gets what he wants, Atiyat village, Auja, will be part of a narrow strip of territory around Jericho, surrounded by Israeli territory (see photo). “We will be locked in our village,” Atiyat predicts. “Life will be miserable.”
Should the annexation of the Jordan Valley materialize beyond Jericho, the entire West Bank will be surrounded by Israel. “People will be under siege,” says the Palestinian ambassador, explaining that “Jordan would lose its historic border with Palestine.” Something that would allow Israel to control even more directly the access of people and goods to the West Bank, as is the case with Gaza.
“Israel is a very narrow country and the Jordan Valley is the last line of defense against powerful Arab countries,” Israeli ambassador to Portugal Raphael Gamzou tells SOL. “I suggest you look at the statements made in the context of the election campaign,” he added, considering that the Jordan Valley “is of strategic importance to Israel” and “there is consensus on this importance among most [Israeli] political parties.”
On the right, Netanyahu’s proposal found enthusiastic support. In the center, his main opponents of the Blue and White coalition, led by Benny Gantz, rushed to say that the idea had even been theirs after all. “The Jordan Valley is part of Israel forever,” reads a statement from the centrists quoted by Time magazine – in which the prime minister is congratulated for “changing his mind and adopting the Blue and White coalition plan.”
While the Israeli ambassador sees the importance of the Jordan Valley above all in terms of the security of his country, the Palestinian ambassador stresses that this “is an important region for agriculture, for Israeli settlers – and serves [Netanyahu] to win votes”.
Many Palestinians complain that these resources are already in Israel’s hands. “We face ongoing challenges, particularly in accessing and maintaining our wells to irrigate our crops,” Al Jazira Hussein Saida, a Palestinian farmer from the Jericho region, said: “Our wells are indeed under Israeli control ‘.
However, while trying to legalize his control of the territory, Netanyahu also promised “not to annex a single Palestinian”. That is, the Palestinians will continue to live under the tutelage of a country of which they are not citizens, governed by an executive that they have not voted for. “The Palestinians cannot be on both sides,” replies the Israeli ambassador, questioned on the issue. Gamzou underlines that it is not coherent for the Palestinians “not to get involved in the peace process, to reject everything a priori and to seek the status of full citizens”.
When the Israeli ambassador accuses the Palestinian authorities of “rejecting everything a priori”, one of the things he refers to is the much-talked-about peace deal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, promised by US President Donald Trump – considered one of the presidents closest to Israel in recent decades.
Trump called it the “deal of the century” – but his project was immediately rejected by Palestinian leaders after drafts were known through the media. The idea of the White House would be for economic incentives – in the order of $ 50 billion (about € 45 billion) – to make Palestinians forget what was apparently missing from the plan: a Palestinian state.
Despite the failure of the initiative, Netanyahu seems well aware of the importance of a US administration that is as favorable to him as the Trump administration. “It’s a historic opportunity, a unique opportunity,” said the Israeli Prime Minister, when he promised to annex the Jordan Valley. «Netanyahu will support Trump with some Jewish votes in the United States. Now Trump is helping Netanyahu get more votes. Unfortunately, the Palestinian people are paying the price,” says the Palestinian ambassador.