Opinion

Netanyahu’s threat a reminder of why Palestinians need a deal

Netanyahu’s threat a reminder of why Palestinians need a deal

Author

Pre-election politics in Israel is nothing if not predictable. It is almost expected that the incumbent seeking re-election will try to boost his popularity by launching a military strike or by building more illegal settlements. Alternatively, or on top of such actions, the incumbent prime minister might resort to making preposterous post-election promises, such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley.

This is not to say that Netanyahu’s threat should not be taken seriously. As any political analyst will attest, we are living in unprecedentedly unpredictable times where anything can happen.

This is particularly true given that the countdown has begun also for the election season in the US. As we all know, being pro-Palestinian does not win any politician votes in Washington, but being pro-Israeli does. In any case, the current US administration has made it crystal clear that unless the Palestinians are willing to sign a deal, there is not much it can do to help.

The Palestinian leadership has so far rejected invitations from White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s team even to be at the negotiating table. This naturally gives the Israeli leadership — which is likely to be less interested in such negotiations — an excuse that it is the other side which does not want peace.

This brings me to the point I have repeatedly made in this column: Palestinians should play ball. Yes, they are unlikely to get all that they bargain for, but they will not come back empty-handed either. And even if they do, they do not necessarily have to accept the terms.

The longer it takes to reach a peace deal, the more harmful the results will be

Faisal J. Abbas

US and Saudi sources familiar with the Kushner initiative told Arab News earlier this year that the plan would entail sacrifices by the Israelis as well. Also, at no point did any of these sources confirm that there was any plan to annex parts or all of the Jordan Valley. Rather, as reported, they said there would be a proposal involving recognition of the State of Palestine, and a negotiated land swap between the two states.

For decades now, observers have been warning that the window for peace is closing. As painful as the reality may be, Palestinians must be pragmatic and accept the truth that the longer it takes to strike a deal, the less they will be able to get out of it. This has now been historically proven.

Furthermore, the longer it takes to reach a peace agreement, the more harmful the results will be, indeed have already been, for neighboring countries, especially Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Israelis must act quickly and decisively too, because regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, the prospects for a two-state solution are rapidly receding. Unless Netanyahu, or whoever becomes the next leader of Israel, has a plan to throw nearly 5 million Palestinians into the sea, the demographics on the ground will make coexistence impossible.

What complicates the situation further is that the Netanyahu team continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land to secure votes. While this has helped him become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, it has made peace with the Palestinians all the more difficult to achieve.

To put the problem in perspective, one need only consider the relatively small number of settlers who had to be relocated when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Or the few thousands who had to be evacuated from the Sinai Peninsula when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin dismantled 18 Jewish settlements there in 1982.

Under Netanyahu, the number of illegal settlers in the West Bank is said to have grown to 800,000. Such a large population makes relocating the settlers a daunting challenge, and makes negotiations to establish a viable, contiguous state more difficult for Palestinians.

Under the circumstances, a plan to annex the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights or any other piece of Arab land may serve candidate Netanyahu very well from a political standpoint. But there is no gain for Israel going forward, for such a move would only make normalization of ties with Arab countries more difficult, while Iran remains a major threat to Arabs and Israelis alike.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

What Israel’s Jordan Valley annexation plan means for a Palestinian state

Palestinians say Netanyahu’s plan will have serious implications for a Palestinian state’s viability with regard to water, agriculture, natural resources and tourism. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

What Israel’s Jordan Valley annexation plan means for a Palestinian state

  • Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out his threat if he wins the Sept 17 election
  • The annexation plan will destroy all hope of a viable state, say Palestinian officials

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area of the occupied West Bank has left Palestinian development planners in disarray.

The threat, if implemented, will rule out the two-state solution as a political concept, and have serious implications for a Palestinian state’s viability with regard to water, agriculture, natural resources and tourism.

Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday that if he is returned to office in the Sept. 17 election, he will “immediately” extend “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.” The Jordan Valley accounts for about one-third of the West Bank.

Opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud party is neck and neck with the opposition Blue and White party, and may struggle to form a coalition. His controversial pledge could get him the backing of right-wing parties.

Jad Ishaq, director general of the Applied Research Institute, said the land that Netanyahu referred to in his televised speech accounts for a big chunk of the West Bank.

“From the standpoint of Palestinian agriculture, this is the breadbasket,” Ishaq told Arab News.

Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with about 28 villages and smaller communities.

Ishaq, who advises Palestinian officials, said Netanyahu’s threat, if carried out, would kill off the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

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“Simply put, this will deny us our water rights in the Jordan River, and limit our potential for mining
our national resources and for recreational tourism in the Dead Sea,” he added. Ishaq put the potential annual income from these activities at an estimated $2 billion.

“This Israeli annexation plan stunts the sustainability, contiguity and integrity of a future Palestinian state,” he said. 

“The plan leaves it without any control over the borders with Jordan, and converts Palestinian areas into an entity comprising cantons that won’t survive.”

Depriving Palestinians of the right to derive financial advantage from Dead Sea minerals would amount to a major economic blow, Ishaq said.

“At present, Dead Sea minerals are being divided between Jordan and Israel. Each country earns an average of $1.5 billion annually,” he added.

Sani Meo, publisher of the tourism monthly This Week in Palestine, said access to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley is vital for the development of Palestinian tourism. “There’s huge potential for tourism here that would be destroyed,” he told Arab News.

Meo expressed concern that the absence of internal tourism will exacerbate existing problems.

“The only opening for us is to the east, and now that’s being blocked,” he said. “We can’t get to Gaza and we can’t travel to Lebanon. Every time we discover a strategic opening, they (the Israelis) shut it.”

Netanyahu’s threat “will cause more tensions. This is short-sightedness on the part of the Israelis,” Meo said.

“By destroying the small signs of hope, the Israelis are building up more pressure inside a veritable pressure cooker. They’re unable to understand that it will eventually bring about an explosion.”

Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 war. More than 2.5 million Palestinians now live there, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers.


Hardline Guards make early gains in restricted Iran election

Updated 6 min 19 sec ago

Hardline Guards make early gains in restricted Iran election

  • A clean sweep for hard-liners would confirm the political demise of the country’s pragmatist politicians
  • However, Iranian authorities have yet to announce the turnout in the race for the 290-seat legislature

DUBAI: Candidates affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards looked on course to win a parliamentary majority on Saturday, reportedly leading in the race in Tehran and towns and villages elsewhere, after a vote stacked in favor of the anti-American hard-liners.
An Interior Ministry official said a list of candidates affiliated with the Guards led in the capital, and lists linked to hard-liners captured 55 seats in towns and villages across the country following Friday’s vote.
A clean sweep for hard-liners would confirm the political demise of the country’s pragmatist politicians, weakened by Washington’s decision to quit a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
However, Iranian authorities have yet to announce the turnout in the race for the 290-seat legislature — a litmus test of the popularity of hard-liners closely associated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Khamenei.
Iran’s rulers, under intense US pressure over the country’s nuclear program, need a high turnout to boost their legitimacy, damaged after nationwide protests in November.
Such a result would help the Guards, already omnipresent in Iranians’ daily lives, to increase their already substantial influence in political, social and economic affairs.
The demonstrations, which called for regime change, were met with a violent crackdown overseen by the Guards which killed hundreds and led to the arrest of thousands, according to human rights organizations.
Iranians long for stability after a succession of political and economic crises.

Mounting US pressure
In the latest challenge for Khamenei, Iran announced 10 new cases of coronavirus were detected, one of whom has died. The new infections bring the total cases of new coronavirus in the country to 28, with five of the total having died.
Khamenei faces mounting pressure from the United States over Iran’s nuclear program and discontent over mismanagement over the economy is unlikely to ease as sanctions squeeze the Islamic Republic.
President Donald Trump raised the stakes in his standoff with Tehran when Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport in January.
The spokesman for the watchdog Guardian Council Abbasali Kadkhodai predicted that the turnout will be around 50%, telling state television on Friday that the Iranian nation had disappointed its enemies by voting in large numbers.
Turnout was 62% in the 2016 parliamentary vote and 66% of people voted in 2012.
Large gains in Friday’s vote may also hand hard-liners another bonus — more leeway to campaign for the 2021 contest for president, a job with wide day-to-day control of government.
Parliamentary elections have little impact on Iran’s foreign or nuclear policies, which are set by Khamenei, and major pro-reform parties have been either banned or dismantled since 2009.
But the vote shows shifts in the factional balance of power in Iran’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
The Guardian Council, a hard-line vetting body, has disqualified 6,850 hopefuls out of 14,000, ranging from moderates to conservatives, from contesting parliament polls. About a third of sitting lawmakers have also been barred.