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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.

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