I’ve predicted failure for Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for peace negotiations and a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the (many) reasons past efforts to “broker” a deal have failed is because Israel makes a handful of demands that are beyond the pale and obviously unacceptable to the Palestinians, thus triggering a break-up in talks.
One of the demands Israel is making this time around is that any final agreement allows for a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, an area constituting some 20% of the West Bank. Understandably, the Palestinians reject this, since “it is impossible to say that an occupation has ended when the occupying army is still there,” writes Mitchell Plitnick.
Israel says it needs the military presence in the Jordan Valley for security reasons, to protect itself from terrorism and invasion. But Dov Weisglass, who was a top advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, writes this week that there really is no security justification for a military presence in the Jordan Valley:
What would it be intended for? Preventing terrorism? Not really. The Jordan Valley is almost unpopulated (with the exception of the Jericho area). Terrorism in the Jordan Valley has always been small in scale in comparison with other areas of Judea and Samaria; and the Israeli force would not be supposed to reach these other areas or serve in them in any case.
Would the force be intended to prevent an invasion into Israel? For many years, until 2003, Israel was greatly troubled by the size of the Iraqi ground forces, and the fear of an invasion was tangible; but not today. Once Iraq ceased to pose a military threat to Israel, there is no state or other military force east of the Jordan River that could invade Israel or pose a land-based military threat to Israel. Certainly not the kingdom of Jordan, which enjoys strong security ties with Israel.
If, heaven forbid, the kingdom of Jordan collapses and hostile forces penetrate its territory and the danger of attack by land is resumed; or if, heaven forbid, missile, rocket or shell fire starts from there, then the IDF, with its full force, will be required to carry out a serious military operation, either defensive or offensive. It will not be the garrison force, limited in its scale and capabilities, which will engage in this. In general, past experience shows that sparse military forces, deployed along a long defensive line, do not contribute to security.
So why is Israel demanding continued military occupation? You might call it a stalling tactic. The way things are now, Israel militarily occupies the whole of the West Bank and uses the backdrop of endless “peace negotiations” to do so in perpetuity until it can expand and have sovereignty over all of the land from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea. So Israel seems to deliberately foil a final agreement because the charade of negotiating for peace allows it to continue the occupation and colonization of what is left of historic Palestine. If a final deal is successful, Israel can’t annex the West Bank at some point in the future.
As Yousef Munayyer has written at The Daily Beast, “Israel needs negotiations to provide cover for its continued colonization of Palestinian territory and create the impression that its presence in the West Bank is temporary and its withdrawal around the corner.”