17:38 GMT22 February 2020
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    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party is set to introduce a bill that would apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley that makes up some 30 per cent of the predominately Palestinian West Bank.

    For the bill to turn into Israeli law, it first needs to be approved by a special parliamentarian committee. Once this is done, it will need to pass three readings at the Israeli Knesset gaining a majority of votes.

    David El Hayani, the mayor of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, welcomed the initiative but said it was the government's moral obligation to the residents of the area.

    Here to Stay

    "When the state invited people to settle here, there was never an understanding that one day we will be asked to evacuate this land. It took the government 52 years to keep their word, but I am excited that it is finally happening".

    The annexation of the Jordan Valley - captured from Jordan in 1967 during the Six-Day War - first came into the spotlight in September, when ahead of Israel's second round of elections, the premier vowed to extend Israel's sovereignty over the area if reelected, a move that was met with criticism from the Palestinians, and suspicion from Israel's left and right-wing circles.

    Back then critics dismissed Netanyahu's announcement as an empty campaign promise, with some asserting that Netanyahu had multiple opportunities to carry out the move during his more than decade-long tenure in office.

    Time to Act

    But El Hayani believes conditions were not ripe enough in the past to move ahead with such a plan.
    "For eight years we had a very anti-Israel US president in office", he said referring to the tenure of Barack Obama, adding that the former leader objected to any unilateral moves by the Israeli government and demanded a complete freeze of Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

    "Now, however, the situation is different, and the current US administration allows us a freer hand".
    Palestinian demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel protest in al-Mughayyir village near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 3, 2020.
    © REUTERS / Mohamad Torokman
    Palestinian demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel protest in al-Mughayyir village near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 3, 2020.

    In 2018, Washington under Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and a year later it acknowledged the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. 

     

    In the next couple of days, the Trump administration is also getting ready to roll out its "deal of the century" plan that would attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict taking a more favourable stance towards Israel.

    According to the plan, Israel will not only be allowed to keep Jerusalem as its capital, with Palestinians getting access to the city but will also be able to annex the Jordan Valley and some 40 per cent of the West Bank, considered Palestinian land under international law.

    Palestinians have already warned against crossing any red lines and announced they would initiate a day of rage once the peace plan is released.

    But El Hayani says it should bother neither Israel nor the US.

    "They threatened with days of rage when Washington announced it would move its embassy to Jerusalem. Trump was warned that the Middle East would burn and that violence would grip American embassies around the world. But at the end of the day, nothing happened".

    Dire Repercussions

    However, this is not entirely true. Trump's announcement that the American Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem led to the eruption of the so-called March of Return protests in March 2018, where thousands of Palestinians from Gaza took to the fence separating the Strip from Israel, demanding the US backtrack on its decision and solve the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

    During one year of protests, more than 190 Palestinians were killed with more than 28000 others wounded.

    Now, with recent talk of the Jordan Valley's possible annexation, Israel's security experts warn that history might repeat itself.

    In his interview to a local Israeli radio station, the former head of Israel's spy agency, the Mossad, Danny Yatom warned that any unilateral actions might not only escalate tensions with the Palestinians but could also lead to the deterioration of ties with Jordan, whose king Abdallah II has expressed his objection to the move, on many occasions.

    Israeli female border guards take position during clashes with Palestinians protestors on January 12, 2018 north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    © AFP 2019 / ABBAS MOMANI
    Israeli female border guards take position during clashes with Palestinians protestors on January 12, 2018 north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank

    Israel's left-wing groups voiced similar concerns in the past warning of dire repercussions and saying the move would "weaken Palestinian moderates and bolster radicals who are willing to fight Israel [militarily]".

    Annexation is Good for Everyone

    For El Hayani, however, this is only background noise.

    "There will always be people, especially those from the left, who will tell you how bad it is for Israel. When the truth of the matter is that the move is not only good for the Jewish state but is also beneficial for the Palestinians".

    According to estimates, the agriculture sector in the West Bank employs some 25000 Palestinians; 6000 of them work in the Jordan Valley, although in high season numbers can climb up to 12000 people. And El Hayani believes that by creating jobs for the Palestinians, Israel has improved their living conditions.

    "We see it in the houses they build and the cars they drive. They don't want to lose that. They look at Arabs in Israel and want to be able to move freely like them as they understand that the corrupt and undemocratic Palestinian Authority will never allow them to do the same".

    Israel is also set to benefit from the move, believes the mayor. By giving the 100 thousand Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley an Israeli ID card and an opportunity to work and benefit from all social services, the Jewish state gives Palestinians hope for a better future that will inevitably lead to the area's stability.

    "Palestinians care about the most trivial things in life. They don't need an Israeli ID to be able to vote at the general elections. All they want is to have a decent job and a life full of dignity and quality. We can certainly give them that".

    However, this can be hampered, says El Hayani, if the former chief of staff Benny Gantz comes to power in the upcoming elections in March.

    However, this can be hampered, says El Hayani, if the former chief of staff Benny Gantz comes to power in the upcoming elections in March.

    Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party is seen after delivering a statement near Tel Aviv, Israel January  25, 2020.
    © REUTERS / Corinna Kern
    Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party is seen after delivering a statement near Tel Aviv, Israel January 25, 2020.

    Although the Blue and White party chief backs the annexation of the Jordan Valley, he believes that such a move should have the blessing of the international community.

    For El Hayani, this is unacceptable. "Russia has no right to talk as they annexed Crimea and Europe... well, it will never give its approval. These are the people that boycott our products and want to prosecute Israel at the International Criminal Court...".

    "We should stop taking this under consideration as the US has been backing us. And once you have their back, you have nothing to worry about. All you need to do is seize the opportunity and act".

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Tags:
    Benny Gantz, West Bank, palestinians, Palestinians, Jordan, Israel
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