In his talks during his visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will certainly be discussing the application of Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria as part of the Trump peace plan. It should be stressed that the application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley is not some right-wing whim, but rather the implementation of a strategic plan (the Allon plan) created by the Labor Party. The late Yitzhak Rabin believed in the plan, and the Jordan Valley settlements were established by the Labor movement. Most of the Israeli public (over 70 percent) see the valley as Israel’s only viable security border to the east.
Control over the few crossings in the Jordan Valley region can prevent infiltration into Israel. The valley is also close to the heart of the country, the Jerusalem-Gedera-Haifa triangle, which is home to 70 percent of Israel’s residents and 80 percent of the nation’s economic infrastructure. As the crow flies, the Jordan River is only 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Jerusalem. The demographic question completes the strategic advantage; the few Arabs who live in the Jordan Valley do not comprise a demographic burden to the Jewish state.
The argument that since Israel made peace with Jordan it does not need the Jordan Valley ignores the huge potential for political upheaval in the Middle East. Instability in the Hashemite Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, and the return of Syria to the radical camp as it recovers from its civil war, could revive the eastern front. The American withdrawal from the Middle East allows the Islamists greater maneuverability against western allies.
Those who support handing the Jordan Valley over to the Palestinians are dismissive of its security importance and are putting their trust in Israel’s technological capability to locate and neutralize threats from afar, in a way that would supposedly make control of the valley irrelevant. But this ignores the history of military technology, which shows movement back and forth between the superiority of offensive and defensive capabilities. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the valley, it needs to retain control over the road that leads from the coast to the Jordan Valley and goes through the united Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
This is the only east-west highway that has a Jewish majority to both sides and on which it is safe to move forces from the coast to the valley in an emergency. Ma’aleh Adumim, which was established by the first Rabin government, is an important stop on that axis. So it is important to connect it to Jerusalem by applying sovereignty to the E-1 area (five kilometers, or three miles, of desert) and build there. Jerusalem also holds strategic value.
Most Arab nations will object, but they accepted the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The possibility that the United States will pull out of the Middle East leaves Israel as almost the only obstacle to Iran’s aspirations to regional hegemony.
We can also expect the Palestinians to object. The ongoing negotiations that lead nowhere and the continued violence have led to almost total agreement in Israel that the Palestinians aren’t ready for any historic compromise with the Jewish state. Maybe the application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley will make it clear to them that time is running out.
In any case, a unity government applying Israeli law to the valley will signal broad Israeli agreement and determination to keep that region part of the state. Now, as part of the Trump plan, the Americans are willing to back up this step, so it would be a mistake to call it “unilateral.” This is an opportunity we must take.
Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Institute.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.