It’s time to settle into the Jordan Valley

Little has changed since the first communities were founded in the area in 1967, despite the broad ‎consensus among the Israeli public that the valley is ours. ‎

An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

Whether Israel applies sovereignty to the Jordan Valley or not, the reality of Israel’s population there ‎must be rectified, and urgently. The residents of the Jordan Valley, who have turned an arid, hot land ‎into a modern agricultural powerhouse, planted with tens of thousands of acres of date groves, table ‎grapes, vegetables, fruit and herbs that are exported as far abroad as Europe, will testify to that. But ‎the enormous area of the Jordan Valley Regional Council—860,000 dunams (332 square miles)—is still ‎sparsely populated, with just 6,000 people spread over the 21 communities established since 1967.

There is a big difference between the ever-so-lofty declarations made throughout the years about this ‎strip of land’s importance to Israel’s national security and the minimal settlement there. Even a ‎declaration of sovereignty, important as it would be, will have a hard time overcoming that ‎discrepancy. When it comes to the Jordan Valley, Israel has emphasized open spaces and territory, but ‎neglected mass settlement. ‎

While regional councils in Judea and Samaria, some of which are 20 to 30 times smaller than the Jordan ‎Valley, boast populations of over 50,000, the Jordan Valley is at a standstill. The dream of Ra’anan Weitz ‎and Yigal Allon, who envisioned the area as home to 50 communities and a population of over 50,000, ‎has never come to fruition.

Various Labor governments were satisfied with anchoring some 100,000 ‎dunams (39 square miles) for farming, whereas the Likud failed to make the local council Ma’ale ‎Efrayim into the capital of the valley. Instead of developing into a city of tens of thousands, only 1,400 ‎people currently call Ma’ale Efrayim home. No cities like Ma’ale Adumim or Ariel, or even nearby Beit ‎She’an—where 20,000 people live in a similar climate—have arisen in the valley. ‎

All this has resulted in doubt and hesitation. Where there is no mass settlement, the future is ‎uncertain. In contrast, it’s clear to everyone the settlement blocs in the greater Jerusalem area—Gush ‎Etzion, western Samaria and Ariel—will sooner or later be under Israeli sovereignty and officially ‎become part of the State of Israel. ‎

The Jordan Valley is a matter of consensus when it comes to Israeli public opinion, but actually, until ‎Trump became president of the United States, the various governments of Israel were willing to negotiate about ‎its future. One U.S. secretary of state once told his Israeli counterpart that in theory, all the residents of ‎the Jordan Valley could be relocated to a few dozen high-rises in central Israel.  ‎

In theory, he was right, and to change that theory we need to change course. If sovereignty is applied ‎to the Jordan Valley, it can serve as an anchor for change, but it won’t happen on its own. The orchards ‎of argan trees at Netiv HaGdud and Petza’el or the medicinal herbs grown by the wonderful people on ‎Moshav Na’ama are not enough. Nothing has really changed since the beginning of the Jordan Valley ‎settlement enterprise. The small communities are still hidden between the hills, the groves and a few ‎nature preserves. Sovereignty must also be a time for change in the valley. ‎

Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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