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Israel-Arab relationship: The woes of the West Bank

Israel, Arab, relationship, West Bank, Netanyahu, Arab League,  Jordan River, Palestine, defence news, Jordan Valley

By Amb. Anil Trigunayat

Politicians have the unique gift of making tall promises especially in the run up to the elections. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is no exception to the rule except that in this particular case he might just practice what he preached.

However, as far as the issue and statehood of Palestine is concerned he would rather take more land than merely the 1967 borders. The Arab world and the Palestinians have been hoping for the reversal of Israeli positions to pre -1967 when Israel had inflicted a stunning defeat on combined opposition. Despite international concerns over the decades, the settlements have nibbled away the Palestinian territory. Hence Yesterday’s pledge by Netanyahu that, if re-elected, he would apply Israeli sovereignty over the biblical Judea and Samaria by annexing the Jordan Valley and the already occupied parts of West Bank down to the northern dead sea. Jordan valley comprises the strip of territory on the west side of the Jordan River on the west bank. As such Israel considers Jordan valley’s control as essential for its security while considering it as its “ Eastern border”

Since Netanyahu is seeking re-election on September 17, many considered it an attempt to sway the far right voters by legitimizing the sovereignty over the disputed areas. He said, “If I choose I will contain the Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea”. What intrigued observers was that he referred to do so in coordination with the US that is supposed to unveil the ambiguous “Deal of the Century or Palestinian or Kushner Peace Plan” after the Israeli elections even as the US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt resigned and National Security Adviser John Bolton was booted out yesterday. Whether Bolton exceeded the Trumpian brief in this case too is a matter of conjecture since he was a hawkish friend of Netanyahu.

Not surprisingly the protest and condemnation of the proposed annexation were muted although the Arab League met in an emergency session and issued a statement. Jordan being directly in the line of sight had most to lament about since more than sixty per cent of its own population comprises of people of Palestinian origin and all its Kings have held the Palestinian cause as sacrosanct despite having a Peace Treaty with Israel. King Abdullah II is also the custodian of the third holiest mosque in Jerusalem and a direct descendent of Prophet Mohammed.

No wonder, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was most vocal in condemning the Israeli move that will dangerously escalate “violence and conflict’ and will undermine all peace efforts. He reiterated the Jordanian stand calling upon the international community to exert “real efforts” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution that guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, as the only way to achieve peace”. The announcement, among other Israeli unilateral measures that include the expansion of illegal settlements and the Israeli forces’ violations against Jerusalem’s holy sites, are a threat to regional and international peace and security, he added.

The Peace process has been virtually dead but for some excitement by Kushner plans as no one really is looking for peace but a “deal” that the Palestinians feel will be one-sided in favour of Israel. Hence they boycotted the meetings with US emissaries and the Manama investment meet. Trump has also throttled UNRWA and shit PLO offices out from his radar thereby applying direct pressure on Palestinian President Abbas to come on board. Moreover, the Middle East is going through its own war pangs with Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, US-Iran spat and the Saudi led blockade of Qatar has become the hot spots. The strategic priorities of the hitherto supportive Arab countries have changed. Consequently, the Palestine issue has gone down the ladder of support as several of them have begun to look for a viable modus-vivendi with Israel. By shifting their embassy, President Trump’s de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has changed the complex matrix and even the possibility of a two-state solution in the near future has receded. He also declared Golan Heights as part of Israel at the expense of beleaguered Syria. Given their own political and economic woes the Palestinian issue, in its typical concept, is on the back burner even as its new high decibels supporters like Iran and Turkey may wish to take the centre stage.

Even if the Palestinians might claim, that if Israel annexes the Jordan valley that comprises almost one-third of the West Bank all agreements would come to an end –it may have no real impact on Netanyahu’s plan of action. He fully understands the current dynamic that plays in his favour. Many would, however, hope that the announcement was merely a political tactic and a last-ditch effort to hedge the bets to woo the voters by Netanyahu and that he might just let the status quo continue even if he returns to power. For now, more uncertainty prevails.

(Author is former Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta. Views expressed are personal.)