Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does like a visual presentation.
And as Israelis prepare to vote next week in the second general election they’ve had this year, Netanyahu has been at it again.
Now, as has been pointed out many times, people will say almost anything to get elected.
Nevertheless, his promise to annex the Jordan Valley, and the revelation that he would already have done so had it not been for the Israeli attorney general, provoked angry denunciations from around the world.
A “dangerous” (Saudi Arabia) and “serious” (Jordan) escalation. A “racist” (Turkey) promise that would be “devastating” (UN) for peace.
As for the Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Hanan Ashrawi called it “reprehensible,” while in Qatar, former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal refused to be easily quotable, saying “resistance” was the only way to “thwart” the plans of the occupation.
Old plans for new times
It’s almost as if these parties were surprised. But Israel has always had designs on the Jordan Valley.
The valley is a hugely important area. It is fertile. It has phosphates. It has the Dead Sea. It has religious and tourist sites of historical importance. It is the eastern frontier and the gateway to the rest of the region.
Palestinians who live there struggle to stay on their land against constant Israeli efforts to force them out.
It is not just land. It is home. It is natural resources. It is produce and livestock. It is strategic location.
In any plan proposed after the 1967 war, from all quarters of Israeli strategic thinking, the Jordan Valley was always meant to fall under Israeli sovereignty.
The architects of those plans, Yigal Allon, Ariel Sharon, Matityahu Drobles, as well as the founders of the Gush Emunim (bloc of the faithful) settler movement are no longer with us.
But their designs are. And they’ve guided Israeli policy throughout nearly three decades of a peace process that may have slowed Israeli expansionism, but never ended it.
Now, more than a quarter of a century after the Oslo accords were signed, and some 20 years since they were meant to be implemented, the schedule is changing.
We are witnessing the next phase of ending the Palestinian issue on Israel’s terms.
The timing is propitious. Right now Israel is enjoying a US administration that has also given up on the Oslo process, having – correctly – determined that it has failed.
It is, in fact, not really meant to be a peace plan. It is rather a proposal for how the rest of the world, especially the Arab world, especially Arab Gulf countries, can best help Israel manage its occupation going forward.
The next logical step for Israel, therefore, is to seize what it wants.
Or more precisely, since the Jordan Valley is in Area C, formalize the seizure of what it already has.
Area C is the 60 percent of the West Bank which has remained under full Israeli military and civil control since the Oslo accords were signed.
Which is what Netanyahu is now promising to do.
He will meet no meaningful resistance.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO, is right when he says there can be no Palestinian state without the Jordan Valley.
That is, there can be no viable Palestinian state with a sustainable economy without control over borders and natural resources of the kind the Jordan Valley offers.
But saying this is not a strategy. The Palestinian Authority has long been paralyzed by commitments to interim agreements no one else takes seriously.
Indeed, no one any longer takes the PA seriously, for one simple reason: the only meaningful move left for the PA is to disband itself. It is the only card left on a weak hand. And no one is prepared to play it.
Everything else is bluster. And everyone knows this.
That is why no one believed for a second that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas would carry through on threats he made in July (and before that in 2018, and before that in 2016) to end security cooperation with the Israeli military.
Palestinian leaders may now hope that Netanyahu loses his re-election bid (and after him Trump).
But the alternative is no better, even if it may provide cover for continued procrastination about the future.
Counting on the world to save the day once US and Israeli leaders seem more accommodating is also not a strategy.
Israel has proven adept at salami slicing its way out of commitments and through opprobrium.
No one any longer raises an eyebrow when new settlement construction is announced. The time when the world was up in arms at the separation wall is long gone.
The world has failed Palestinians. But pointing that out is also not a strategy.
The only thing Palestinian leaders of any stripe can do now is prepare for the day after. Most importantly, prepare a plan to enable Palestinians to stay on their land.
Because their removal is the next logical step for an Israel unhinged.