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Why is the Jordan Valley important to Isra-el?


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Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that should he be re-elected in nearing elections, he would annex the occupied West Bank's Jordan Valley - forcibly claiming the territory as part of Israel.

At the time, Netanyahu revealed a map of 30 illegal Israeli settlements north of the Dead Sea that would be integrated into Israel as part of his plan.

Netanyahu failed to form a government in September, and Israel headed to the ballot box in March for the third time in the span of a year.

In April, the political deadlock was broken and a national unity government was formed with Netanyahu and former army chief Benny Gantz to alternate in the role of prime minister after 18 months - with the incumbent Netanyahu taking the seat first.

Netanyahu reached an agreement with his former rival Gantz to form a coalition cabinet that would advance an annexation plan starting in July.

But why is the Jordan Valley so important? What would annexation mean concretely, and who would it affect? And how is this Israeli move received by both Palestinian and international leadership? 

What is the Jordan Valley?

The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea are parts of the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. The occupation of Palestinian territories has been condemned, notably through UN Resolutions 242 and 338, as violating international law.

Jordan, which used to rule over the West Bank until 1967, still acts as the custodian for Muslim and Christian holy places in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City

Historically, the Jordan Valley used to refer to an area between the Dead Sea and the slopes of the mounts of Hebron and Jerusalem to the west. It also used to include areas between the towns of Bisan - now referred to by Israel as Beit Shean - and Safad, along the western edge of Lake Tiberias; and stretched south between Ein Gedi, an oasis on the Dead Sea, to the Negev desert. These southern- and westernmost points now fall inside Israel.

The Jordan Valley currently accounts for around one-third of the West Bank (almost 2,400 square kilometres) - the majority of its land falling within Area C, as defined under the 1993 Oslo Accords, which remains under full Israeli military control.

In January, US President Donald Trump unveiled his full Israel-Palestine plan - colloquially known as the "deal of the century" - which proposed for Israel to claim about a third of the West Bank in exchange for the recognition of a disjointed Palestinian state with no control over its borders or airspace.

Who lives in the Jordan Valley?

The announced Israeli annexation plan is limited to areas north of the Dead Sea, where 30 Israeli agricultural settlements house around 11,000 settlers.

To date, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers live in sprawling settlements and outposts in Area C, often in confrontational proximity to the three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The transfer of civilian populations to occupied land is considered illegal under international law.

Historically, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) guerrilla fighters operated in the Jordan Valley to launch armed attacks on Israeli settlements, most famously on Beit Shean, before the PLO was forced to move its headquarters out of Jordan into Lebanon in the early 1970s after violent clashes with Jordanian forces.

Today, some 56,000 Palestinians reside in the Jordan Valley, including in the city of Jericho, where their daily lives are deeply impacted by Israeli occupation policies. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli army, is responsible for overseeing building permits, water, agriculture, road construction and other civil matters in Area C.

The Israeli army and COGAT regularly place hurdles on Palestinians' access to their lands and water for everyday use and for farming and agriculture, and they stage military exercises in the area, turning village lands into closed military zones.

Why is the Jordan Valley so important?

The West Bank's Jordan Valley is rich in minerals and agricultural soil and is a highly strategic area, as it lies along the Jordanian border.

Israel has long prepared the ground for the annexation of the border territory, building a network of highways such as the Allon Road to separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank.

Jordan shares 335km of borders with Israel and the West Bank, and Amman's security coordination is highly treasured by Israel's military and intelligence.

The areas slated for annexation amount to around one-third of the West Bank and include a 97km stretch along the border with Jordan, including two crossings - the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and the al-Karameh Bridge, also known as the Allenby crossing.

Naftali Bennett, Israel's former Minister of Defence, said in January that Israel is “facing crucial days of establishing its permanent borders and applying sovereignty to Jewish settlements” in the West Bank.

Should annexation be fully implemented, Israeli laws would be applied to these areas, instead of orders and regulations issued by COGAT.

Since World War II, there have only been three cases of annexation throughout the world: Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990; Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014; and Israel's seizing of Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights and Lebanon's Shebaa Farms, since 1967.

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The housing of a Palestinain Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley is destroyed during a demolition operation led by Israeli security forces.

This is a common sight for some Palestinian Bedouin communities.

Middle East Eye spoke to the Bedouin community of Khirbet Humsah whose homes and livestock pen were destroyed six times between November and February.


“This is a very important and strategic area for the Israelis. Israel has been very clear about its plans to annex the Jordan Valley, so people should not be surprised when it comes and destroys Khirbet Humsah time and time again.”

 

Middle East Eye (@middleeasteye) • Instagram photos and videos

 

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The Jordan Valley

Palestine's stolen food basket 

We hear about the demolition and annexation of the Palestinian side of the Jordan Valley every few days on the news. What else can we learn about this geographical area of rich fertile soil fit for cultivation all year round?

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