Outdated paradigms and the Jordan Valley

I believe in a two-state solution. It seems so obvious to me. It is something that is as clear to me today as it was when I first began to grapple with the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict back in 1991. We have been through so much since the Madrid Conference and the following 29 years of on-off peace talks, but my bottom line remains the same.

The fear of the (moral) alternative drives me – one large bi-national state from river to sea, a state for all its citizens. There is, unfortunately a third option, the apartheid scenario, where a people controls another, where each have different rights and conditions. Sadly, out of the three, today’s reality, and the direction we seem to be heading in, most resembles this option.

I believe in The State of Israel, an expression of the Jewish people’s nationhood, its right to self-determination. In short, Zionism.

The Palestinians, another people that have experienced (and are experiencing) oppression, are also striving to establish a State of their own. They too have a right for self-determination, a Palestinian State.

These are the two States that I hope to see existing side by side in my lifetime. I believe each of the two peoples has an existential need to further this goal of the other. For Israel to continue to exist as a Jewish Democratic State with value in its existence, it needs to further the creation of a Palestinian State. For Palestine to come into existence, it needs to recognize the need for a safe Jewish State (i.e. with security and with a Jewish majority).

Why am I writing all this? Isn’t this what everyone wants? And what has this got to do with settlement in the Jordan Valley?

Let’s start with the first two questions; the two-state solution is on a life-support machine. It’s almost dead. The only thing stopping me accepting that it is actually dead is that if I did, I’d have to be on the first plane out of here. I am not willing to live in, on the one hand, a not distinctly Jewish State, or, on the other, an apartheid State.

Unfortunately, the stats don’t give me much optimism. There are today 400,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (let’s leave to the side a further 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem). The existence of these settlers, dotted all over the West Bank, has fatal consequences for the possibility of the Palestinians attaining Statehood.

It is not just that their existence breaks up the contiguity of a future Palestinian State – who wants pockets of people living under different laws and answerable to a different authority surrounded on all sides by a different State? And what about the Palestinian people that would naturally be part of the new State but due to their proximity to the aforementioned settlers would become part of the neighbouring Jewish State without actually having to move?

No, carving up the West Bank cannot be the answer. But for me the real issue lies elsewhere. The Palestinians, together with the international community, both backed up by international law, are unequivocal in stating that the future Palestinian State needs to be established based on the pre-67 borders (the 1949 armistice agreements – otherwise known as the green line). The sooner Israel accepts this reality, the more chance we have of reaching a solution that takes everyone’s needs into consideration. As part of the negotiation process, land swaps have and will continue to be mooted, and I think that that is ok, but I believe that Israel needs to accept that the default position is that Israel needs to be prepared to relinquish the land it conquered in 1967 for the sake of establishing a Palestinian State.

Now let’s try and relate this specifically to the Jordan Valley. Abu Mazen and the Palestinians, the International Community and International law all define the Jordan Valley as being occupied territory and see this land as being part of the future Palestinian State. More than that, even Israel sees it that way since, in the current negotiations, we are consuming considerable energy convincing the parties that Israel needs a military presence in the Jordan Valley, all but having given up on a civilian presence.

I believe that we can all agree that Israel needs to guarantee (with the understanding that there are no hermetic guarantees) its security in any future agreement / concessions. We can discuss the presence of a combination of US soldiers, Nato soldiers, UN soldiers, Israeli soldiers, technology to secure the border with Jordan, or a combination of the above, which is the current debate on the issue in the media. But the topic of settlements in the Jordan Valley is not this discussion. The discussion on settlements in the Jordan Valley is this: Why does there need to be a continued civilian presence in the Jordan Valley?

And here comes my greatest bewilderment of all. I can understand people rejecting any or all of my arguments above. On the need for a two-state solution, of not wanting to carve up the West Bank, of basing the future Palestinian State on the 67-borders – I can partake in arguments about these issues no problem. I can explain why I think what I think and I will listen intently while others do the same. But the most incredulous argument of all is being presented as un-refutable proof that the Jordan Valley is vital to Israel’s strategic security. And what is this un-refutable truth? We have a document that was written almost 50 years ago that says so. That’s it. I swear that I am not being facetious when I say that I couldn’t even make this stuff up. I’ve spoken to many people about this, and many base their firm belief in settlement in the Jordan Valley on ideas that were penned in the 1960’s. Now, don’t misunderstand me, not everything written in the past is irrelevant. We can learn about democracy from the Ancient Greeks, or workers rights from struggles that have taken place throughout history, and to a certain extent, you can learn about tactics of war from past operations however…

It would be an understatement to label the Allon Plan as anachronistic. It is so much less relevant than that when it comes to judging the need for civilian settlements in the Jordan Valley in the year 2020 and beyond.

I have searched, over years and years of having heard this used as a rebuttal to my call for vacating the Jordan Valley, for the wisdom and relevance of this plan, trying to understand the man Yigal Allon and his ideas surrounding the plan, in the hope that the secret justification would be revealed to me. But that search has continually led me to dead-ends.

The Allon plan justifies civilian settlements in the Jordan Valley in the name of defending Israel’s Eastern border from attack. Who today is making this claim? The international community? No. The United States and their security advisors? No The Palestinians? Clearly not. The government of Israel? Also not (I remind you that they are currently arguing about a military presence in the Jordan Valley – it being already clear that there is no way to justify civilian settlement (apart from some staunch right-wingers unwilling to concede even an inch of land or populist politicians looking to make political gain). Even the Council of Peace and Security made up of some pretty heavyweight security experts are unequivocal about their position (again, arguing mostly about whether there is even a need for Israeli security personnel and not about the need for Israeli civilian settlement – the answer to that question for them is obvious – no need).

All of Israel’s wars up to Allon’s death included ground invasions, so it would only be fitting for a man with personal experience of the military and wars to single out this threat as a danger that needs to be addressed. Iraqi forces coming through Jordan to attack Israel was not just a theoretical threat, Allon was a commander in the War of Independence which included just that.

What are the chances of a similar scenario happening again in the present day? We have a peace treaty with Jordan, which actually includes a clause that considers troops from a third country on Jordanian soil as a declaration of war with Israel. It seems ridiculous to me to have to point out that a war with Iraqi ground troops would take place in Jordanian territory, hundreds of kilometers away from Israeli territory. But even so, who today is talking about Iraqi/Syrian/Jordanian/Saudi ground troops leading an attack at Israel through the Jordan Valley? No one. No one. No one. What a ridiculous idea!

Fifty-two years later, the Middle East is unrecognizable to what it was in Allon’s day. Ballistic long-range missiles and chemical warfare have replaced ground troops as the real threat to Israel militarily, and no tiny settlements in the Jordan valley are going to alter the power balance there.

About the Author
Anton Marks is a British-born Israeli and a founder member of the largest urban kibbutz in Israel. He has been an informal educator for the last 25 years, and has recently returned from Shlichut in Maryland for the youth movement Habonim Dror. His passion for Zionist education, Tikkun Olam, Jewish history, identity and culture are a recipe for engaging and challenging articles.
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