A selective settlement policy focusing on areas within the Israeli consensus, including Ma’aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley, can be pursued with little foreign interference.
Hopefully, the next government will annex the Jordan Valley and implement the Allon Plan, which ascribed strategic importance to the valley.
The Jordan Rift is the security belt of Israel on the east. Control of the very few passes from the valley westward can prevent an invasion of Israel. The strategic imperative is complemented by demographic realities. Very few Arabs live in the inhospitable valley. Therefore, inclusion of this area in to Israel does not burden the Jewish state with a demographic problem.
Many pundits claim that Israel no longer needs the Jordan Valley as a shield against aggression from the east. They argue that the peace treaty with Jordan renders the dangerous threat of the eastern front and its proximity to Israel’s centers of population and economic infrastructure a thing of the past.
Yet this is a very short-term perspective, motivated by the desire to convince Israeli public opinion that the Jordan Valley is militarily dispensable. Such a view ignores the immense potential for political upheaval in the Middle East, the greater political role of radical Islamists and the growing pressures upon the Hashemite regime. The destabilization of Hashemite Jordan and Saudi Arabia and an emboldened radical Syria – and the reemergence of the eastern front could follow.
Advocates of turning over the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians discount its topographical importance by referring to current military technology that allows precision strikes from a distance. They argue that the ability to launch defensive strikes from the coast eliminates the strategic need for the Jordan Valley as a means of defense. Yet, these armchair strategists overlook the history of military technology, which shows a clear oscillation between the dominance of offensive and defensive measures over the centuries. The belief that the technology of today, which indeed temporarily reduces the importance of topography, will remain unchallenged constitutes a dangerous strategic fallacy.
Designing stable defensible borders in accordance with the current, but transient, technological state of art and political circumstances is strategically foolish. Therefore, if Israel wants to maintain a defensible border it also needs to secure the road from the coast to the Jordan Valley, via an undivided Jerusalem and via Ma’aleh Adumim.
The political circumstances seem ripe at the moment for an Israeli decision to extend its sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. The lengthy negotiations with the Palestinians led nowhere and there is consensus in Israel that the Palestinian national movement is not ripe to accept a historic compromise with the Jewish state. Furthermore, there is large consensus among the Israelis that the valley is strategically important and therefore should be part of Israel.
The 2004 promise of US president George W. Bush’s 2004 to allow the incorporation of settlement blocs is to be capitalized upon in this context. President Donald Trump also seems to favor territorial changes in accordance with realities on the ground, and extension of Israeli sovereignty can be coordinated with the Trump administration. Moreover, the Americans can be persuaded to tacitly go along with linking Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem if a clear strategic vision based upon the principle of territorial compromise is presented.
While the strategic wisdom of indiscriminately settling the Land of Israel is not compelling, a selective settlement policy focusing on areas within the Israeli consensus, including Ma’aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley, can be pursued with little foreign interference.
Such a policy should be complemented with the removal of illegal posts located outside the areas of consensus, and even with a gradual freeze in allocations to isolated settlements. Such a policy reflects the preference of a large majority of the Israelis.
Published in The Jerusalem Post 15.09.2019
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photo: Created by Nice4What. Adapted from map created by NordNordWest. [CC BY-SA 3.0]