Annexation of the Jordan Valley – empty campaign promise or real intention?

Jordan Valley

Before the elections, Netanyahu promised his voters to annex the Jordan valley. But what does that even mean?

Annexing means that you declare the area to be a part of your country. You offer the local inhabitants citizenship and you make sure that health care, police force, judicial system and other government services are extended to these areas. It becomes a part of your country. Russia did this to Kaliningrad. Poland did this to large parts of Prussia. The USA did it to Hawaii. In 1967 Israel did this to east Jerusalem right after the six-day war, as Israel had no intention of ever giving it back.

But this did not happen in the other areas. They remained under Israeli military rule, officially not a part of Israel proper. The Palestinian inhabitants were dependent on the Israeli government, but had no voting rights. Neither were they free to enter into Israel proper. The idea back then was to hold the land as a trump card, and give it back in exchange for peace treaties. This did eventually happen with the Sinai Peninsula in 1979, but not with the other areas, as Israel’s other neighbors refused peace.

In 1981 Israel annexed the Golan Heights, and in 1993 the Palestinian Autonomy was created. Palestinians living in areas given to the PA live under a Palestinian government and they have Palestinian passports that are recognized worldwide. This includes most large Palestinian cities in the West Bank, and all of the Gaza strip.

The areas left that are still under Israeli military control, are known as the C-areas of the West Bank. It’s about 60% of the area of the West Bank, and includes all Israeli settlements with almost half a million Israelis, as well as a number of small Palestinian villages with about 100,000 Palestinians (estimations move from 80,000 to 150,000).

The Israeli military in those areas have a duty to protect the Israeli citizens, but have no obligation to help the stateless Palestinians. This has led to power abuse in some cases, and claims about “apartheid” in these areas. Annexing area C, or at least part of it, would solve this problem. It would give these Palestinians Israeli citizenship, and they would be allowed to vote in Israeli elections, just like the Israeli Arab citizens in Nazareth or Haifa. Israeli government institutions would be obliged to treat all citizens equally, and government services such as roads and health clinics in the area would be expanded.

When Netanyahu proclaimed dramatically that he would annex the Jordan valley if reelected, he didn’t mention the fate of the Palestinians. He spoke of the importance of an eastern border, and what it would mean for the settlers. He spoke of doing this in cooperation with the US government. But he did not utter a word about how many Palestinians would be offered a citizenship through this program, or how many Palestinians even live in this area.

Those who want a two-state solution see this as an additional Israeli “land grab.” They would rather see an evacuation of Israeli settlements in all these areas. Five EU countries as well as the UN have already condemned the move.

The parties to the right of Netanyahu have asked what has prevented him from doing this earlier, and reminded their voters of similar promises he has made before elections, such as expanding construction in the E1 area east of Jerusalem which never materialized.

Naftali Bennet, of the far-right Yamina party, talked already in 2013 about a plan to annex all of the C-areas, and he spoke directly about offering citizenship to Palestinians. Many Israelis seem to be afraid of this plan, as it would give more voting rights to Palestinians, and there would be high costs for Israeli tax payers. On the other hand, many have pointed out that in the short run, it just might be the most humane thing to do in order to alleviate Palestinian suffering. Politically, a two-state solution with evacuation of settlements can’t occur any time soon, due to the PA’s refusal to negotiate, and due to Israeli refusal to go down that road again after the bad experience of the Gaza disengagement.

Will Netanyahu annex the Jordan valley, and if so, will it mean a better life for Palestinians? If so, how many? Only time will tell.