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Cleveland Jewish News: “Jewish Think Tank Urges US to Support Israeli Sovereignty in Jordan Valley”

As the debate over whether or not Israel should apply sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria intensifies as the proposed July timeline for instituting the decision approaches, a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) says that the extension of Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley would actually “advance” U.S. national security interests.

“Our conclusion is that the Jordan Valley is of immense strategic importance to Israel’s security, Jordan’s security and to the stability of the Middle East, particularly amid the changes in the region over the last seven or eight years,” said Josh Block, a senior fellow at JINSA.

Block told JNS that as America is pulling back from the region, Israel is being required to step up, and that Israeli control over the Jordan Valley would be “essential” for both its security and U.S. national interests.

Furthermore, Block said that the muted global reactions to other controversial moves, such as moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019, suggest that the gains for the two democracies will likely outweigh the risks.

“The value of the move and the benefit outweighs the costs,” he said.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan to ameliorate the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish state can begin to consider applying sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley, as early as July 1.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has strongly backed the Trump plan, has signaled that he is considering going ahead with applying sovereignty—or existing law—to some 30 percent of Judea and Samaria that is already under Israeli control as per the Oslo Accords. However, debate and discussion among Israeli and U.S. officials remain ongoing. Many key allies of Israel, including those countries in the European Union, the Arab world and even U.S. Democrats have expressed criticism of the move.

‘A formidable barrier’

In its one-page report, JINSA avoids the political debate, and instead focuses on the strategic implications for Israel and the United States. It concentrates on applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, not other areas of Judea and Samaria, such as large settlement blocs or smaller Jewish communities.

According to JINSA, the rationale for Israel to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley is “purely strategic,” based on the threats from Iran, the geostrategic importance of the Jordan Valley, and threats to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority from terror groups such as Hamas.

“The Valley’s depth creates a formidable barrier and provides a far more defensible boundary than the so-called Green Line, or pre-1967 line, especially in the current geostrategic context of an increasingly violent and unpredictable Middle East,” states the report.

Israel gained control over the Jordan Valley in the 1967 Six-Day War. Many Israeli leaders have long supported a plan to retain control over the Jordan Valley in any peace agreement, viewing it as strategically important to protect the Jewish state’s eastern flank. The Jordan Valley lies in “Area C” of the West Bank under the Oslo Accords, where Israel retains full civilian and military control.

Furthermore, the report also downplays international objections to Israel’s sovereignty plan, especially from Arab allies such as Jordan or the Arab Gulf states.

“Despite opposition voiced by Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and some Gulf Arab states, the convergence of their interests with Israel against Iran and Sunni Islamic extremism, and thus their warming ties, are too vital to countenance a full break over Israeli policy in the Valley,” reads the JINSA report.

This week, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who has a very close relationship with Netanyahu, visited Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah to discuss the sovereignty issue.

On several occasions, Abdullah has warned of “massive conflict” if Israel went ahead with its plans, and has even threatened to downgrade or nix its peace treaty with Israel.

Block dismissed these threats from Jordan, arguing that “nobody wants Israel on that border more than the king of Jordan. Nobody wants a radicalized Palestinian state.”

Indeed, despite the protestations by Abdullah, Jordan relies heavily on Israel to help with intelligence gathering, security coordination and natural resources such as natural gas and desalinated fresh water.

“The U.S. and Israel are heavily invested in Jordan’s stability,” said Block, noting the threats the country faces from domestic and foreign terror groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State (ISIS) to large refugee populations it hosts.

Similarly, Block pointed out that the protests from some in the Arab Gulf states have been overblown and there are signs that emerging allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, would not alter its warming ties with Israel over the sovereignty issue.

“The interests of Israel and the Gulf Arab states don’t change based on these extensions of sovereignty,” he said.

Despite the strategic importance, recent Israeli media reports have suggested that Israel would forgo extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley in favor of three major settlement blocs. While this may be due to Jordanian objections, the issue of the Jordan Valley has long appeared to be a consensus issue within Israel. Ahead of Israel’s September 2019 election, Netanyahu indicated that the first region he would extend sovereignty over would be the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu’s former chief political rival and now coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has also voiced support for extending sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.

While concern remains over the international objections to the sovereignty plan, as well as other pressing issues—namely, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has affected the Middle East along with other major areas in the world—Block said that the strategic environment for Israel to apply sovereignty, especially in the Jordan Valley, has never been more important.

“One of things you have seen is the dramatic changes of the security status and balance of the region,” he explained. “As Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons, as Islamic groups have changed the balance of power in the region and the Arab spring has created a very different and very threatening situation where the stability of nation-states can’t be taken for granted.”

The Trump Mideast peace plan is “different from how both Republican and Democrat administrations have approached this issue in the past,” said Block, arguing that Israel needs to seize on the opportunity of current administration’s plan.

The security situation, he emphasized, “would be enhanced by Israel’s move.”

By Sean Savage

Published in Cleveland Jewish News